Former Detroit Lions exec: I’m tired of us being an NFL laughingstock

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
| Detroit Free Press

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Larry Lee wants to talk.

Like a lot of Detroit Lions fans, he’s hurting these days and he wants people to understand why.

But Lee is also very much unlike most Lions fans because he’s a former player and a former personnel executive.

So Lee wants to talk. He wants to sit down with Lions principal owner Sheila Ford Hamp. And he has a lot he wants to say.

Lee, 61, was born and raised in the NFL as a Lion. He was a draft pick, an offensive lineman and then a personnel executive with the team. He wants to share his extensive experience and understanding of the team with Hamp and president Rod Wood, who are searching for the team’s next general manager and coach to guide the organization out of a 20-year languishment that has produced only three playoff appearances and a winning record in five seasons.

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“I would love to get in front of them and explain not only the past but talk about my experience and my relationships and turn that place around,” Lee told the Free Press recently. “I’m tired of being the butt of all the jokes. I’m tired of being the laughingstock of the league.

“I’m not pleased at all where the state of the Lions is right now. I’ve talked to a lot of former players and it hurts us, you know? I’ve worn the colors. And I’ve not only worn the colors, I’ve been upstairs. You hate to see that place like that.”

Lee is interested in the Lions’ GM job and the NFL Alumni Association’s Detroit chapter recently drafted a letter to Hamp endorsing him as Bob Quinn’s successor. As for the specifics that Lee would discuss with Hamp and what his plan for the organization might be, he preferred to keep that private.

“I’ve got quite a bit of advice,” he said. “I would like to just kind of keep that to myself. I think I’ve got some great advice and some things that would absolutely turn that place around.”

Lee said he would borrow on the wealth of knowledge he acquired when he served in a variety of roles with the Lions, from player development assistant to vice president of football administration, where he helped negotiate contracts and scout talent.

Although he has been out of the NFL formally since 2001, Lee has served as a consultant for several teams. He currently works with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which champions diversity in hiring across the league.

But it’s his deep ties to all facets of the Lions’ organization — and his link to their most recent successful past in the 1990s — that Lee feels makes him uniquely qualified to understand the organization’s history and needs.

The Lions selected Lee in the fifth round of the 1981 NFL draft, and he played for them until 1985. After an eight-year career, he returned to work for the Lions in the 1990s in administration under president Chuck Schmidt and in personnel under Ron Hughes.

“I strongly feel like no one knows that place like I do,” Lee said. “I’m a rare bird. I played and then when I was in the front office what made the difference was when you’re in the front office of a team you’re either a personnel guy on the left like the Kevin Colberts (of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and the Rick Spielmans (of the Minnesota Vikings), those guys, personnel guys, or you’re an administrative guy like Rod Wood or (Atlanta Falcons president) Rich McKay. Well, I did both.

“I swung both between Ron Hughes and Chuck Schmidt and I was the guy right below each one of those guys. On the personnel side I was involved in all the cuts, trades, transactions, free agency, talent evaluation on the left. And then on the right, I was right under Chuck Schmidt doing contracts and I had the operations team, travel, training camp, the video department, the equipment room. All of that reported to me. So I’m probably more qualified to be a general manager than a lot of the general managers because I did both. Most guys do one or the other.”

Lee was part of the administrative purge that came with Matt Millen’s hiring in early 2001. But during Lee’s time in the front office, the Lions were a consistent winner and playoff team in the 1990s that accrued impressive talent such as Herman Moore, Robert Porcher, Jason Hanson, Luther Elliss and Stephen Boyd.

Lee considers himself a link between the players of his era — like Billy Sims, Doug English, and Bubba Baker — and the players he helped draft and guide, including Barry Sanders, Moore and Chris Spielman. He said he has remained close with many former Lions players.

“And then the third part of it is I’m a former player,” he said. “I played on the field as a Lions player. So there’s no one with that resume. And I’ve (stayed) around; I’ve never left the city of Detroit.

“So I’ve been around and I’ve always observed the Lions from inside and out. I became close with a lot of their players who still keep in contact with me and with some players that aren’t here anymore but are still playing in the league with other teams, (they) still keep in touch with me.”

More than that, even though Lee has not worked directly with the Lions or the NFL since 2001, he has worked on the periphery of the NFL in various ways from prepping players for the draft to spending a lot of time advising Colbert, his close friend, at the combine as well as numerous other people throughout the NFL.

“So I’m very much in touch,” Lee said. “Even though I haven’t been with the team in a while, I’m still very, very much in touch with the NFL and I’ve mentored countless players in my time away from the Lions to now to include guys like (Michigan’s) Rashan Gary; I got him ready for the draft and the whole thing.

“I’m around. So I have not left football, I just haven’t worked for the Lions. And so I would love — it’s a piece of my heart — I would love to get out there and make a difference.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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