The amount of current and former players who publicly celebrated the dismissal of Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn last fall was telling, and Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said Wednesday that living through the Quinntricia era helped the organization reset expectations for what it wanted culturally in its football program.
Wood stopped short of saying things had grown “toxic” under Patricia, as one reporter suggested, but he made it clear the Lions wanted to change both the way they went about business and the results on they produced on the field.
“I’m not going to comment on the perception of the prior culture and whatever it’s labeled,” Wood said. “I just know that going through that experience informed us on what the culture we wanted, I’ll put it that way, and how we pursued the candidates that we ended up hiring for our head coach and general manager.”
The Lions hired Dan Campbell as head coach and Brad Holmes as general manager in parallel searches that set the two up in what was essentially an arranged football marriage.
The organization’s new , with Campbell, Holmes and senior vice president of football and business administration Mike Disner who was elevated to his role after taking part in the searches that led to the hiring of Campbell and Holmes all reporting to Wood was important both to Wood and owner Sheila Ford Hamp, Wood said.
Chris Spielman also joined the organization in a vaguely defined role as special assistant to the chairman and president. Spielman, who sat in on position meetings last winter and has attended pro days this spring, also reports directly to Wood and Hamp.
“I can tell you having sat in meetings during free agency and sat in periodically in some of the draft meetings, everything that we described that we wanted is what’s happening,” Wood said. “There’s great collaboration, there’s great participation. Everybody’s voice is being heard and I think the results so far of what we’ve done and the results of what will come later on will prove that point out.”
Wood said Holmes and Campbell invited him and Hamp to sit in on free agent meetings this spring.
“That’s part of the culture, they want us around,” he said. “They want us to be aware of what’s going on. And I’m not saying that, that wasn’t the case before, but it was a sea change from her seat to want to drop in on things. She was invited to participate. And I think it’s a good way of building the culture that we wanted. I think everybody wants to be heard, everybody wants to be included and that starts from the top with Sheila all the way down.”
Wood spoke Wednesday via Zoom at the conclusion of the NFL owners meetings, where he shared thoughts on a number of other topics:
Disner, not Holmes, joined Wood and Hamp as the third member of the organization who took part in the league’s two-day virtual meetings. Quinn was involved in virtual meetings last spring.
“Given the nature of this agenda I had Mike Disner join us cause we had a lot of discussion around league economics and salary cap issues,” Wood said. “In future meetings, it’ll be Sheila and I and we might add somebody based upon the agenda, but Mike was on this call.”
Wood said he hopes that Ford Field will once again be able to host capacity crowds this fall. The Lions opened the season in an empty stadium and graduated to hosting only about 750 friends and family members by the end of the year due to state and local COVID-19 restrictions.
Wood said he has maintained open dialogue with the governor’s office and mayor’s office about capacity restrictions, and had a call about the topic Wednesday.
“I think if we continue on this trend, there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to have large gatherings of fans this fall,” he said. “Whether it’s a full stadium or not, I’d certainly hope it’s going to be way more than 750 friends and family, that’s for sure.”
To that end, Wood said the FEMA vaccination site at Ford Field has been a success, with 5,000 to 6,000 doses a day being distributed. Wood said he has been vaccinated, and he said the Lions will encourage players to get vaccinated when they return for offseason workouts April 19.
Teams are not allowed to require players to get vaccinations.
“That’s something we’re certainly going to focus on once the players get back in the building and together with the players association doing everything we can to keep them informed (of) the safety measures that are in place with the vaccines,” Wood said. “It’s a personal choice, but we’ll do everything we can to encourage it.”
While teams with new coaches (like the Lions) will not have the benefit of having a second minicamp as in past years, Wood said there has been talk about giving those teams expanded dates to work with players after June’s minicamp.
The Lions have not yet decided if they will use those dates, if they become available.
Wood has made no secret of his desire to bring the NFL draft to Detroit, and it could happen in three years.
“We’re hoping to be a serious contender for the 2024 draft and we’re still in the mix for that,” Wood said. “Hopefully we can bring that to Detroit and by then everything’s fully re-opened and we can have hundreds of thousands of people downtown.”
Hamp, it should be noted, is a member of the NFL’s Super Bowl and Major Events advisory committee that decides who holds events like the draft.
It’s been four years since the Lions updated their uniforms, and another change could be coming next year. The NFL requires a five-year wait before teams change uniforms, and while Wood said he has “given some thought” to potential changes, “I haven’t really gone into the design phase yet.”
“That certainly is something that once the window opens up, we’ll probably take a step back and look at the current roster that we have and changes we plan to make,” he said. “Do we continue with the color rush, etc? It’s on my mind, but nothing official.”
Calvin Johnson’s enshrinement ceremony to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is four months away, and Wood said the Lions are “working actively with Calvin and his team on celebrations at the Hall of Fame.”
Johnson and the Lions have had a strained relationship since the team made him repay $1.6 million of his signing bonus upon his 2016 retirement. After he was voted into Canton in February, Johnson said he and Hamp had recent dialogue and he hoped to salvage the relationship.
Wood called conversations between Johnson and Hamp “a positive step” and said “we’ll continue to celebrate with him and I think the relationship is headed in the right direction.”
Finally, the Lions froze ticket prices for 2021, making the second straight year of no increase.