Detroit Lions showing they’ve learned from mistakes with new approach to GM, coach search

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The NFL, like most businesses, is about people, and if the Detroit Lions learned anything from the past five years — and their most recent coach and general manager searches — it’s that the personalities of the people they hire matter a whole lot more than the accomplishments they have on paper.

In 2016, the Lions hired a good man in Bob Quinn as their general manager, but their search for Martin Mayhew’s replacement was lacking.

They interviewed three people for the job, and with a new president in Rod Wood and new owner in Martha Firestone Ford, largely took the word of a septuagenarian consultant with no ties to the organization on who was the best fit.

Quinn was a respected member of the New England Patriots personnel department, where he steadily climbed the ranks of the NFL’s most successful franchise. His resume was sublime, but he wasn’t ready for the Lions’ job.

When it came time to hire a head coach two years later, Quinn went and plucked an apple from the same Patriot tree he grew on, not caring there were other orchards to farm or what was at that apple’s core.

It’s easy to be duped by shiny objects in the NFL — where the buddy system is a way of life — and the Lions fell victim to the bling of Quinn and Patricia’s Super Bowl rings.

Quinn won four in New England, and Patricia won three, but the Patriot Way never took hold in Detroit, which is a familiar story across the league.

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Now, with Quinn and Patricia looking for work elsewhere, the Lions are neck-deep in coach and GMsearchesthat Wood said Tuesday have been “very different” than the ones he was part of before.

Mechanically, there are more people involved in the Lions’ present-day searches than there were in the 2016 GM hunt or the 2018 search for a coach. Owner Sheila Ford Hamp, adviser Chris Spielman, cap guru Mike Disner and Wood have been essential parts of this process, whereas it was just Wood and Quinn two years ago.

The Lions have interviewed eight candidates for the GM position and three for head coach so far, and have at least five more interviews scheduled in the coming days. They met with three candidates when they hired Quinn and six (including two in-house candidates who had no shot at the job) when they hired Patricia.

Wood and Hamp have a better idea of each job’s function, too.

“Being a general manager is not necessarily just picking players and putting a roster together, there’s more involved than that,” Wood said. “So finding people who exhibit some of the skills that are required to be a good manager of people and processes, not just picking players. And then ultimately, with the head coach, I think leadership and somebody that can work with the general manager and somebody that has had experience either as a head coach or you can project that experience as a coordinator into being a head coach” are things that matter.

More importantly, Wood said the Lions have changed the criteria they’re looking for in their next hires.

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The focus now is on “leadership, culture, teamwork, awareness of each other’s strengths and weaknesses” and a host of other easy-to-define, hard-to-identify traits that the Lions hope will lead to some sustainable success.

“The people that we’re looking for and people that we’re bringing in to interview, I think, exhibit those traits,” Wood said. “And as I said I think in one of the previous calls, that’s very different than how we approached the search for Bob and Matt, where we were more focused on candidates because of their accomplishments as opposed to the criteria that had been established before we started interviewing with them.”

None of that guarantees the Lions will nail their next set of hires and won’t have to go through this process again in three to five years. Skeptically, having covered this team for 11 years and knowing how hard it is to consistently win in the NFL, I will continue to keep the coach/GM candidate file I have on my desktop updated.

Personally, I would have liked to see more young and up-and-comers on the Lions’ interview list; guys like Ed Dodds and Joe Schoen, who have been at multiple stops, on the GM side, and Brian Daboll, Joe Brady and Arthur Smith (who may yet interview) for coach. College coaches like Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Stanford’s David Shaw are absolutely worth talking to, too.

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None of those men would be easy to bring to Detroit, and it’s likely one or more spurned the Lions’ backdoor advances.

But fundamentally, the organization is at least taking the right approach to its searches. Cast a wide net. Seek out multiple opinions. Realize not every good candidate is the right fit for you. Don’t be swayed by public opinion. And above all else, value people and the relationships they can create.

We’ve seen how disastrous it can be when that’s not the case.

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

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