Here’s what could change Detroit Lions’ general manager search

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Ten days after the Detroit Lions fired Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn, the organization still is very much in the early stages of looking for their replacements.

But one theme has emerged as I canvass people across the league about who fits the Lions and what the organization is looking for in its next hires: They might lean toward an experienced hand at one or both positions.

After the failed Patriot experiment — during which the Lions rolled the dice on a young, first-time general manager, who hired a young, first-time head coach, who was too obstinate in his ways — it makes sense to want a more seasoned hand who can shepherd the franchise through what looks to be a significant rebuild.

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The Lions have gone the inexperienced route at general manager this entire century ( first with Matt Millen, then Martin Mayhew and most recently Quinn) and have three playoff appearances and no postseason victories to show for it. First-time coaches Patricia, Jim Schwartz, Rod Marinelli and Marty Mornhinweg had more losing seasons than winning ones, and the only near taste of success the Lions had was under a veteran coach in Jim Caldwell.

No one believes experience will be a requirement, especially at the head coaching position, where San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator (and Dearborn native) Robert Saleh has emerged as the people’s choice for the job.

The Lions will kick the tires on some ex-general managers in the coming weeks before getting to a talented crop of potential first-time hires. Jerry Reese, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, will be a candidate, as CBS Sports reported over the weekend (though an interview is not yet set). Ex-Houston Texans GM Rick Smith and the ex-Cleveland Brown duo of John Dorsey and Ray Farmer could be candidates as well.

Now, it’s possible that since most of those candidates (all but Farmer) are currently out of work, they simply are dominating the front office conversations at the moment.

But the Lions have leaned heavily on the NFL in general, and executive vice president Troy Vincent in particular, for advice in the early stages of their search.

The league has seen the Lions flounder for far too long and — with two inexperienced football people in charge (owner Sheila Ford Hamp and president Rod Wood) — is trying to provide some guidance to put the organization on the right path. A steady hand like Reese, a keen talent evaluator like Dorsey or a long-time player, coach and administrator like Smith would give the organization a clear direction.

None of that means the Lions definitely will go with an experienced GM. There are some very capable and respected young talent evaluators who should be on the Lions’ short list, including Indianapolis Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds, Kansas City Chiefs director of football operations Mike Borgonzi, Chiefs assistant director of player personnel Mike Bradway, Baltimore Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters, Minnesota Vikings assistant general manager George Paton and the Seattle Seahawks duo of Scott Fitterer and Trent Kirchner.

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There also is the reality that, with as many eight GM jobs slated to open this offseason, many of them much more appealing than Detroit’s, the Lions might not get their pick of candidates in this hiring cycle.

Two people who will be heavily involved in coach and/or GM searches this offseason told me over the weekend they view the Jacksonville Jaguars job — with an abundance of cap space, a likely top-two draft pick, plus additional draft capital, an owner eager to spend and the potential to start anew on both the coaching staff and front office — as the best job available. The Houston Texans GM and coaching jobs, with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, the soon-to-be-open New York Jets head coaching job (with likely No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence) and a potential opening with the Los Angeles Chargers (and Justin Herbert) would rank ahead of the Lions’ job, too.

Hamp said last week that she has no plans to replace Wood as president, but at least two of the aforementioned candidates have reservations about coming to Detroit without a change in power structure, where either they or another more football-oriented team president is in place.

Wood is in no danger of losing his status within the organization and he always will be trusted voice for Hamp. But it’s possible he wears a slightly different hat going forward, as chairman and CEO, for instance, in order appease a GM and maybe the league itself.

As for Saleh, I fully expect him to get one of the three or four or however many coaching interviews the Lions hold. He has close ties to several top GM candidates, however, including Dodds, Peters, Fitterer and Kirchner, and there is no guarantee he would pick Detroit if given the chance to pair with one of his preferred talent evaluators in place he’s already worked like Jacksonville or Houston.

We still probably are a week or more away from the Lions’ first GM interviews — no agent wants his client to interview in early December, then wait four weeks for the season to end before the team finishes its other interviews — and longer before they get a chance to sit down with coaches.

But time is ticking on a hire that will happen soon enough.

Other thoughts from the first week of the Lions’ coaching search:

– CBS reported that the Lions’ brass “continues to trust” Ernie Accorsi as an adviser and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. Accorsi ran a sham of a search back in 2016 when he officially interviewed just three people: Quinn, who worked for Accorsi’s former colleague, Bill Belichick; Kevin Abrams, who was Accorsi’s right-hand man with the Giants; and then-interim Lions GM Sheldon White. The Lions were turned down for several other interviews, and Quinn may have emerged as the best candidate anyway, but that was hardly the all-encompassing search the organization needed at the time. As a reporter who covers the Chicago Bears said over the weekend, both the Lions and Bears should get refunds from Accorsi for his work. Accorsi also ran the GM search that yielded Ryan Pace in Chicago.

For the record, I reached out to Accorsi last week about what went wrong with the Lions’ most recent regime and have not heard back.

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– Even if he does get the full-time job, there is a chance Darrell Bevell could return as -offensive coordinator in 2021. Bevell has long-standing relationships with Saleh and Eric Bieniemy, two of the top head-coaching candidates on the market. Both were among those who sent Bevell congratulatory text messages when he was named interim head coach Nov. 28.

– I keep a running list of young coach and GM candidates on my desktop, and I’ve added a few more to my list in the last couple weeks. I believe it’s too early, or the circumstances are not right, for these evaluators to get GM jobs this hiring cycle, but all have good reputations that should help their climb down the road: Las Vegas Raiders director of pro personnel Dwayne Joseph, Raiders assistant director of pro personnel Trey Scott, New England Patriots consultant Eliot Wolf, New York Jets player personnel executive Zach Truty, Baltimore Ravens director of pro personnel Vince Newsome.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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