What Rod Wood’s comments tell us about Detroit Lions’ approach to hiring GM, coach

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
| Detroit Free Press

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Free Press sports writer Carlos Monarrez tackles three questions following the end of the Detroit Lions’ 2020 season.

Will the Lions ever mend their relationship with Calvin Johnson?

I hope so because it’s an awkward situation that looks like a black eye for the Lions every time it comes up. Everyone has their opinion about whether the franchise’s greatest receiver should have paid back a seven-figure portion of his $16 million signing bonus when he retired early. Some people say he didn’t earn the money. Some say it was petty of the Lions to ask for a refund. You can go back and forth on this for days.

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But here are the two main reasons for the impasse: Johnson says the only thing that will mend the relationship is the Lions paying him back his bonus money, while team president Rod Wood said Tuesday that mending the relationship is “going to require both of us to get together on that.” The key to solving this impasse is Johnson’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which I believe is a sure thing that will probably happen in the near future. As a wise colleague once told me, deadlines make deals. So at some point between the time Johnson is elected and his enshrinement, I think the Lions will write him a check and make things right at last.

What do you think of the Lions’ approach to finding a GM and coach?

It’s a lot more thorough than it was the last time. Wood said Tuesday he has learned more about the hiring process and more people are involved this time, including owner Sheila Ford Hamp, special assistant Chris Spielman and vice president of football administration Mike Disner. The Lions are interviewing more candidates this time, and Wood listed some qualities for each position that stood out to me. He wants a GM who’s “a good manager of people and processes, not just picking players,” and a coach with “experience either as a head coach or you can project that experience as a coordinator into being a head coach.”

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My read on this is they want a GM who’s a great communicator and can get people to buy into the overarching vision for the franchise. And they want a coach with a track record of having run a team so that Wood and Hamp aren’t surprised by any of the coach’s methods or tactics down the line. Wood also said the Lions aren’t tied to hiring one position first and the organization wants “people that can work together and be partners, and not one working for the other necessarily.” At the very least, it sounds like the Lions have a flexible blueprint to guide the first part of this rebuild.

Does NFL intentionally treat the Lions differently?

Wood said he doesn’t think the NFL “intentionally (treats) us any different than other teams” when he spoke about the league’s refusal to delay the game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a day and referee Adrian Hill’s horrendous roughing the passer call on Tracy Walker. It was a good, political answer with the key word being “intentionally.” And I agree.

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I don’t think NFL executive or refs have it out for the Lions and are twirling their mustaches while they plot against Detroit. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. In conversations I’ve had with commissioner Roger Goodell and others in the NFL hierarchy, I’ve felt they respect the Fords as steady and long-tenured stewards of one of the league’s oldest franchises. And that has nothing to do with their success on the field. But I do think the Lions’ lack of success has kept them from being accommodated as much as some glory franchises and their players don’t get the benefit of the doubt as much as some star players on teams that win consistently. Again, I don’t think these are necessarily intentional slights. But slights — whether they’re intentional or not — always hurt.

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

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