Hiring Chris Spielman brings hope to Detroit Lions’ future — and some heart and soul

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel
| Detroit Free Press

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I haven’t said this in a long time: I absolutely love the direction of the Detroit Lions.

Less than a year on the job, owner Sheila Ford Hamp is on a roll, making smart decisions and improving this organization.

First, she fired general manager Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia. That’s an instant addition by subtraction.

But more significantly, she just hired Chris Spielman to be a member of the front office and he will participate in interviews for the team’s general manager and head coach.

Thank you, football gods.

Spielman brings this search, as well as the front office, instant credibility, not to mention some heart and soul.

Officially, Spielman will be a Special Assistant to Chairman and President & CEO. And he will report directly to Lions President & CEO Rod Wood.

“I’ve had Chris on my mind for a long time about a role with the team, and the timing seemed right, given the change that we’re going through right now,” Wood said in a call with reporters.

Spielman will have far reaching responsibilities, similar to how the Tigers employ Kirk Gibson, Willie Horton, Jim Leyland, Lance Parrish and Alan Trammell.

Tigers general manager Al Avila uses those former Tigers greats in different ways, as a  walking embodiment of the team’s history, as a sounding board and a trusting voice. Trammell has done everything from working as an instructor  with first-round pick Spencer Torkelson, to going on scouting missions to look at college prospects, to traveling around the minor leagues looking at prospects and giving advice to young kids.

Which seems smart. Use all of his talents.

And Trammell’s voice carries weight.

Spielman’s should too. You don’t think Spielman could help change the culture? Or even go in the film room and help give some tips to the linebackers? Or even see through when a GM is blowing smoke to an owner? Or just sense when a team is giving up?

Of course he can. That’s what makes this news so intriguing.

Because he can improve this organization in several ways, starting with the GM search.

“Chris will be actively involved,” Wood said. “He will sit in on every interview.”

‘I have a vision’

Now, I’m can help but wonder: What if this would have happened sooner?

Do you think the Lions would have passed on a quarterback and taken a cornerback in the 2020 draft? I firmly believe the only reason the Lions did that was because Patricia and Quinn were under a win-now mandate. And yes, Hamp deserves some blame for that.

Maybe, if Spielman were in place, he could have pulled ownership aside and said: “Think big picture. Think long term. Matthew Stafford is getting older. You don’t get many chances like this.”

Or even before that, when Hamp brought back Quinn and Patricia, Spielman might have told Hamp: “You are out of your freakin’ mind. This team would be better without Patricia.”

OK. Maybe, that’s just wishful thinking.

“I have a vision that matches exactly what Rod and Sheila envisioned,” Spielman told reporters. “And that’s the only way that could work because we’re completely in sync of the direction of the culture of the building and something to be proud of for everybody that’s a Lions fan.”

Heart and soul

After Hamp fired Patricia and Quinn, she held a press conference and said something concerning. “Ten days ago, we looked like we had a good chance to be playoff bound,” she said Nov. 28, even though the team had lost four of five games.

That showed me she couldn’t see the trajectory of this team.

Sure, you can argue Quinn and Patricia should have been fired sooner — like last winter, as I have suggested numerous times.

And you can argue that if Patricia would have been fired sooner, the Lions might actually have more wins. Because this team is certainly playing better with him gone.

But that is just hindsight.

This is a time to look forward. And that’s what is most encouraging about this hire.

Spielman understands the misery of Lions fans. He has lived through the mediocrity, although he did play in five playoff games during an eight-year Lions career. He is smart and knows football. More than anything, I trust him. And as a former player, he brings some heart and soul back to this organization.

‘Find the best team’

In a memo to employees Monday, Hamp said “the process will play out over the next six weeks or so, with the result being a well vetted and proven head coach/GM team that can finally take the Lions where we all so earnestly wish to go — to the top!”

On the surface, I found that memo encouraging. She should be thorough and look at as many candidates as possible for both jobs. But when you parse her words, what does it mean that they are looking for a “proven” head coach and GM? Does that mean the coach must have head coaching experience? Might that prevent them from finding the next, great young coach?

I found that concerning until I heard from Spielman.

“I think we’re trying to find the best team, and if that means there are two first-time individuals, that’ll be what happens,” he said.

As a former player, he understands the game.

As a TV analyst, he’s had a chance to talk to countless coaches and assistants, picking their brains and expanding his network.

“I’m not qualified to be a general manager,” he said. “I do know what works and what doesn’t work by being 30 years in this business and traveling around to 32 teams year-in and year-out and having a brother in the business and watching and learning in conversations with him about what works for him (and) what doesn’t work to be able to kind of build what our goal is, that ‘One Pride’ thing. That one culture.”

You know what type of coach the Lions need? The kind who can make Spielman want to run through a wall in the interview process. That’s the right candidate.

Thankfully, Spielman will be in the room now.

And finally, there is reason for hope.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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