Mitch Albom: Detroit Lions fans need more than empty words from owner on coach, GM hires

Detroit Free Press

Mitch Albom
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Prove us wrong. Win games. Win them next season. Show us development. Show us innovation. Convince us the Detroit Lions’ talent is better than it’s been coached. Demonstrate how “a play here or there” can actually go in the Lions favor, instead of constantly going against them for a loss.

Do all that, and Sheila Ford Hamp and the rest of her front office will have our great admiration. Until then, on face value, the new regime they just announced is, in a word, underwhelming.

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Underwhelming. That’s not an insult. It’s an impression. Brad Holmes, the new general  manager, seems a likable guy with a lot of enthusiasm. Dan Campbell, the new head coach, once a tight end for three seasons here, seems a tough, dedicated guy, also with a lot of enthusiasm. I’m told he’s a Metallica fan, for what that’s worth.

But when you hire men who are down the depth chart on their current teams, men who have never done the job you’re hiring them to do on a permanent basis, men who few other teams in the NFL were courting, you can’t expect fans to jump up and down.

[ Lions hire Campbell as coach and fans have gripes, jokes and a little bit of hope ]

Simply put, this is another leap of faith for an organization that, frankly, lost its pulpit a long time ago. Lions fans have watched the Ford family shift like frogs on lily pads from “players coach” (Wayne Fontes) to “disciplinarian” (Jim Schwartz) to “experienced head coach” (Steve Mariucci) to “old veteran” (Jim Caldwell) to “young up and comer” (Matt Patricia.)

Their general manager selections have gone from “bad-but-entrenched” (Russ Thomas) to “bad-and-laughable” (Matt Millen) to “inexperienced-from-within” (Martin Mayhew) to “inexperienced-from-without” (Bob Quinn.)

They all failed.

What got them hired

Now we are asked to trust in something new. All right. It’s not as if there’s much choice. I like and respect Chris Spielman a great deal, and spoke to him Thursday to ask why Lions fans should believe this time, and not treat this like Charlie Brown seeing Lucy holding the football and saying, “Go on. Kick it.”

Spielman, recently hired as a special assistant to Hamp and team president Rod Wood, said: “With Dan Campbell, if you ask anybody in the league, his reputation is of a guy who’s been training to be a head coach his entire career. It’s interesting that Sean Payton trusted Dan to run the show. When Sean was in a meeting or whatever, it was Dan Campbell’s show. He has that natural leadership to motivate and go and find the coaches that he needs to have.”

3 QUESTIONS: Lions hire Campbell, but why didn’t anyone else want him?

About Holmes, Spielman added: “Innovative guy that has a ton of energy. Willing to have a collaborative effort, and work hand in hand in the head coach, not necessarily caring who gets credit or who has what power. Respected around the league, especially for identifying talent. Everyone can agree on the 10’s. It’s the 6, 7, and 8 guys that we don’t all agree on.”

Good qualities, no doubt. And ones that have made them successful in their previous staff positions.

But taking over the top? Isn’t that a different deal? Being the general manager, even if Holmes gets help, is a mountain compared to being in charge of college scouting.

And a six-year deal for Campbell as a head coach? Isn’t that something you give a guy once he’s proven he can win?

SHAWN WINDSOR: Dan Campbell’s philosophy sounds nice, but does it win in playoffs?

And winning, let’s remember, is what this is about. It’s not like Campbell and Holmes are inheriting a playoff team. The Lions defense is just awful. Their offense has some big talent and some big holes. They have the No. 7 pick and a limited number the rest of the draft.

On top of that, these two men have never worked together. They are inheriting each other without input. Holmes was hired just a few days before Campbell. As far as I know, they may never have met more than casually.

Of course, last time, Quinn got to hire his friend, Patricia.

And we see how that worked out.

A leader, but what else?

In talking with Spielman, and listening to Hamp and Wood, I got the feeling they identified the characteristics they wanted in a coach and GM, then went looking for guys who fit the mold. They even listed those characteristics and evaluated the candidates as such.

Here is what Hamp said about Campbell: “He will help promote the culture we want to establish across our organization … an identity with which everyone can align themselves.”

Here is what she said about Holmes: “We were looking for a natural leader, an engaging communicator and someone who could help us lead a culture shift.”

If you just took those words — “culture” “identity” “engaging communicator” — they could apply to a new division head at Ford, or a new chairman of a board of directors.

The thing is, football is different. It doesn’t run through the human resources department. Nice guys get fired. Guys with good organization get fired. Engaging communicators get fired. Guys who work hard get fired. All the time.

NFL coaching requires more than leadership skills. There’s a feel to it, an intangible, a sense of what will work and what won’t, a confidence in knowing who is a clutch performer and who isn’t in the heat of the moment. And being a general manager is more than making draft picks.

But the choices have been made. And we want them to work out. We really do. It’s kind of ironic the Lions installed a new head coach the same day the nation installed a new president.

Except the president only got a four-year deal.

But just like our fellow Americans, we Lions fans take a deep breath and hope for the best. Prove us wrong. That’s all we ask. Prove our doubts, our fears, our decades of lousy history wrong. Improve. Excite. Win.

Marty Mornhinweg, another failed Lions coaching experiment, once said of his job, “The bar is high.”

No, it isn’t.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

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