Why Brad Holmes and Detroit Lions’ unconventional front office just might work

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel
| Detroit Free Press

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Wait a second. Did I hear that correctly?

Detroit Lions president Rod Wood was talking about Brad Holmes, the team’s new general manager, and he was describing how Holmes approached the draft for the Los Angeles Rams using analytics when something surprising happened.

Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp jumped in and said, “I was just gonna say that, definitely cutting edge, definitely different from, I think, pretty much, what we’ve been doing here. So Brad’s gonna bring a lot of new ideas and as I said, analytics are fabulous. And he always says get as much information as possible. But then there’s the intuitive part of it, too. And he’s got that as well.”

If there is any reason for hope that this is gonna work — and I understand if you are skeptical — but that statement was welcome news.

Different from what we are doing.


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Now, we don’t know if this new regime is going to work. I’ve been through several introductory press conferences with the Lions, for both general managers and coaches. And this was pretty typical, even on a Zoom call. The new general manager exuded excitement but was light on specifics. Ownership was thrilled, if not giddy.

And the new GM talked about “the process.”

Which is code for: This team has some pieces but it’s basically a mess. Have you seen that defense? Ugh. Please don’t judge me until I get my guys in here.

Yes, we’ve heard it all before.

But this felt different, if not encouraging for a different reason.

Because there was a different undercurrent at play. There was an acknowledgement that the way the Lions have been doing things — oh, for the last half-century — just isn’t working.

Brad Holmes is an exciting hire who wants ‘game wreckers’ ]

Here to find players, not a coach


New Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes on if team needs a long-term rebuild

Detroit Lions new general manager Brad Holmes talks Jan. 19, 2021, about if the team will engage in a long rebuild now that’s he taking over.

Detroit Lions

So now, the Lions have a new regime.

Holmes will take over as the general manager, and Dan Campbell, the assistant head coach and tight ends coach for the New Orleans Saints, is expected to be named the head coach.

If that’s how it works out, the Lions will have put together a young 44-year-old coach with an even younger 41-year-old first-time general manager, and it feels more like an arraigned marriage than a typical GM/coach duo.

Dan Campbell wouldn’t be a home run for Detroit Lions. But he wouldn’t be a Hail Mary ]

By the time the Lions hired Holmes to be the general manager, they had already zeroed in on Campbell to be the head coach.

Critics say Holmes is just rubber-stamping the next coach. Typically, teams hire a new GM and that person leads the search for the coach. But that’s not how the Lions did it.

I say: Who cares how it went down, if it works. I can cite countless examples of when a general manager picked a coach — typically, an old buddy — and it failed spectacularly.

See the Matt Patricia era.

“When the head coach (is) announced, it’s going to be with Brad’s awareness and support,” Wood said.

Is that different?


So be it.

Holmes is not coming to Detroit because of his ability to pick a coach. It’s his ability to find players.

‘Blew us all away’

Everything about this hire feels different, which is encouraging.

The Lions used a search firm to identify Bob Quinn.

This time, they created their own internal search firm: Hamp, Wood, Chris Spielman and Lions vice president Mike Disner, who is in charge of football operations.

They interviewed 12 candidates. And they had a specific set of characteristics that they were looking for in a GM. That, too, was new.

“He blew us all away,” Hamp said, of Holmes. “It was amazing.”

In his first press conference, Holmes was impressive. He came across as engaging, smart and humble. He seemed like a guy you would want to work for, like a guy who could bring this organization together.

Even though he’s never been in this role before, Holmes danced around a question about Matthew Stafford’s future like a seasoned general manager.

“Matthew, great player,” Holmes said. “What you really appreciate is, I think the talent level is easy to see. But you really appreciate how his intangibles show on film, just how urgent he plays, how competitive he is, the toughness that he shows. But it is my job to evaluate the entire roster. And through that process, you know, I have not had any discussions with Matt or any players, for that matter. So, you know, I just want to be fair to the process to make sure that we evaluate that thoroughly. But you know, obviously, Matt, very good football player.”

But that was encouraging, too. He didn’t say, “Matthew is our guy.”

He didn’t lock himself into a decision, which is important.

And smart. Keep all the options open right now.

Hamp setting Holmes up for success

There was some other news Tuesday. The Lions have shuffled their front office, which now mimics the Rams’ front office.

Now, I know what you are thinking: We just got rid of the Patriot Way.

And some will be alarmed by the new structure. But I couldn’t care less. Holmes is coming here for one reason — let’s say it once again — to find football players.

Does it really matter if he’s not involved in managing areas like travel, nutrition, training and equipment? Heck no. Let Disner deal with travel and nutrition.

If Holmes’ expertise is finding talent, let him concentrate on that.

Hamp followed her vision in trying to change decades of futility.

Yes, you can be skeptical.  Yes, you can be upset she didn’t hire the GM you wanted. Or even one with experience.

But there is some logic here. The Lions looked for certain qualities and think they have found them. And they have structured the front office to highlight Holmes’ strengths.

I, too, will remain skeptical because, well, I’ve watched this organization for decades now. This organization has been a smelly, heaping pile of mess for as long as I can remember.

But I gotta admit: I think this time, it might work.

Because Holmes has a track record of finding players.

And that’s the thing that matters the most. That’s the thing the Lions need the most.

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


Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes on his longtime history with the city

New Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes was introduced Jan. 19, 2021, and talks about his uncle Luther Bradley’s career here.

Detroit Lions

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