Barry Sanders: Detroit Lions considering college coaches, Matthew Stafford plans to return

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Lions are considering all options when it comes to hiring their next coach, including current college coaches, Hall-of-Fame running back Barry Sanders said Wednesday.

Sanders, who is part of the Lions’ advisory group for picking their next coach and general manager, made the revelation in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

“From what I understand, there’s definitely some college coaches involved in our process of who Chris (Spielman) is looking at,” Sanders said. “He’s taking a good look at both. And so yeah, to answer your question, there’s some great college coaches out there that could step in and do the job and obviously there’s offensive and defensive coordinators in the league as well that are being looked at, so that’s kind of how we’re looking at it.”

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The Lions have interviewed at least six coaches so far, all from the NFL ranks: Interim head coach Darrell Bevell, ex-Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, New Orleans Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell and coordinators Robert Saleh (San Francisco 49ers), Eric Bieniemy (Kansas City Chiefs) and Arthur Smith (Tennessee Titans).

They have one final interview scheduled with Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and are known to have reached out to at least one college coach: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald.

A person familiar with those discussions told the Free Press that Fitzgerald did not interview for the job and is not currently a candidate.

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“I’m not sure what emphasis Chris would place on whether you’re coming from college or pros,” Sanders said. “For me, it depends on who’s available, but you don’t rule a guy out because he’s coming from the college ranks. A lot of the college coaches have spent time in both leagues. And I think now more than ever, the college game and the pro game are very similar in a lot of ways that you’re running your offense and your defense. And so it’s not as big of a jump as it may have been a generation ago.”

Sanders, on SiriusXM, said Spielman, who joined the Lions last month as an adviser to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and president Rod Wood, “is the one who’s kind of heading the search” despite not having any previous front office experience.

As for what he wants to see in the next Lions coach, Sanders said someone “who can really reach the players and who can garner their respect.”

“Someone who can really speak to the players and really meet them at their level,” Sanders said. “I mean, you have, in a given locker room, you have wide ranges of ages and experiences and talent levels, and even levels of motivation so that you can have someone that can really reach these guys and get them to understand it is a great opportunity coming to a program where maybe you haven’t won but you can establish that reputation.”

The Lions also are searching for a general manager, and likely will make the decision on who to hire as head coach in concert with their next GM.

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Both men then will shepherd the organization into 2021, where they will have to rebuild the defense and decide what to do with quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Stafford turns 33 next month and has two years left on his current deal. Sanders said he expects “for Matt to be back” in 2021.

“I don’t know sort of what he’s thinking as far as that,” Sanders said. “My understanding is that he’s completely and certainly planning to come back. The guy’s still playing at a high level. It’s great to see him this year remain healthy. So yeah, I mean, maybe that’ll be the thing that he needs or that he can benefit from, but I know that he’s still playing at a high level and so I would think that he would figure into any future plans for anyone coming in here.”

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

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