How Chris Spielman’s TV career prepared him for new role in Detroit Lions front office

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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As Chris Spielman made his way around the country the last five years as an analyst for Fox, the former Detroit Lions linebacker kept a running journal of things he learned from his production meetings and in private talks with players, coaches and executives in the NFL.

“They’re right across the room here,” Spielman said during a video conference. “I mean, it’s like, if you walk in here and I spread it out, it’s like ‘A Beautiful Mind’ Part 2 because there’s so much knowledge to be gained out there.”

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The Lions are hoping to tap into that knowledge as they use Spielman’s football expertise to help pick their next head coach and general manager.

Spielman stepped down from his role at Fox on Tuesday to accept a newly created position as special assistant to Lions president Rod Wood and owner/chairman Sheila Ford Hamp.

Wood said Spielman will wear several hats for the organization, including “working with some of our large corporate partners and sponsors and helping motivate everybody in Ford Field that’s working more on the business side.”

But the first order of business for Spielman and the Lions is finding the right coach and general manager to lead the franchise into 2021 and beyond. 

[ I don’t love the Detroit Lions’ hiring of Chris Spielman. Here’s why. ]

“My role is to help Sheila envision, and Rod, what they envision for the Detroit Lions, and identify who gives us the best chance for success,” Spielman said. “I would be naïve and I would be lying to you if I said we’re going to guarantee this and we’re going to guarantee that. I’m not interested in guarantees because there’s no guarantees.

“What I’m interested in is giving my services to give the Lions the best chance to build something of a culture (that will) succeed. And then we have to work hand in hand to find those two guys, match them up, and make the best decision possible.”

Spielman will take part in all future interviews for head coach and general manager, and will meet separately with the three internal GM candidates the Lions interviewed last week.

The Lions also announced a three-person advisory panel Tuesday that will help vet candidates for both positions. The panel, which consists of Hall-of-Fame running back Barry Sanders, ex-Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis and Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves, will not take part in interviews.

“Each bring different things to the table,” Wood said. “We’ll be using them in different ways.”

WHAT’S THE GIG? Explaining Spielman’s role: He will help identify next coach, GM

As for Spielman, Wood said he had been thinking about bringing the four-time Pro Bowler formally into the organization for some time and “the timing seemed right, given the change that we’re going through right now.”

Wood reached out to Spielman “a couple weeks ago,” and Spielman, Wood and Hamp had several conference calls in recent weeks to hammer out his role and discuss their vision for the team.

Spielman, 55, and a member of the last Lions team that won a playoff game in 1992, said he had been approached several times in recent years about jobs in football, but the timing and fit were not right until now.

He said a conversation with Hamp over the weekend, when he was in Cincinnati for his final Fox broadcast, “put it over the top for me.”

“The City of Detroit, the fans of Detroit, that’s something that I think I still identify with, I feel a part of, and for lack of another word, it’s really, really good to be home in that regard,” Spielman said. “I have a vision that matches exactly what Rod and Sheila envisioned, 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.”

[ Spielman: ‘I’ve always respected’ Matthew Stafford ]

Spielman declined to evaluate what went wrong during the tenure of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia, who were fired as Lions GM and coach Nov. 28. And he said he has no interest in eventually becoming a general manager himself, like his brother, Rick, the GM of the Minnesota Vikings.

But in his travels around the NFL, Spielman said one of the themes that came up repeatedly, and one thing he will value in the next Lions’ hires, is the ability to communicate clearly.

“Every guy that I spoke to, in the top three of their things that make a great organization … there’s got to be communication,” Spielman said. “Everybody has to understand the direction that we’re going. Everybody has to know what our culture is, and you can’t waiver from (that culture). Everybody has to know, ‘OK, what type of character do we want in the building?’ From everybody on down. Everybody understands this is how the head coach and the general manager have to be in unison.

“Now they can fight and argue, which is healthy. But I’ll tell you this, that there’s going to be — well, if I have any say — there’s going to be unity. It’s not going to be an us versus them. You can’t build a winning culture in us versus them.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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