Let’s hope The New Detroit Lions’ front-office approach is better than the Same Old Lions

Detroit Free Press

A few years ago, the Detroit Lions tried to rebrand Ford Field as “the New Ford Field” after they gave the old stadium a little nip-and-tuck and a couple shots of Botox.

This year, it sounds like the Lions are trying to give their whole organization a makeover. Maybe a little tummy tuck, a brow lift, a chemical peel — and voila!

I give you: The New Detroit Lions.

[ Lions president Rod Wood: Patricia, Quinn showed what culture we didn’t want ]

And I won’t even charge the team my usual $100 million renovation and rebranding fee.

As we all know, there was a big shakeup after three years of the Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia regime. Even before the hiring of Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell, there was an emphasis for better communication and teamwork throughout the organization.

One of the reasons for this is that there was a strong distinction made between the so-called football people and everyone else in the organization. That probably wasn’t the best way to achieve an inclusive working environment in which even the lowest people on the totem pole feel they have a stake in the team’s success.

But with The New Detroit Lions, things seem to be shaping up differently. The team brass has talked about “service leadership” and inclusiveness and working better together at almost every turn. On Wednesday, team president Rod Wood again didn’t miss a chance to tout the improved collaborative environment in the organization.

“I think it was something that was important to (owner Sheila Ford Hamp) and important to me, that we have a team,” he said. “And by a team, I mean the whole team — the head coach, the general manager, (senior vice president) Mike Disner in his role, (special assistant) Chris Spielman as an addition to the staff — working together and then expanded beyond that to coaching staff and the scouting staff.

“I can tell you, having sat in meetings during free agency and sat in periodically in some of the draft meetings, everything that we’ve described that we wanted is what’s happening. There’s great collaboration, there’s great participation. Everybody’s voice is being heard and I think the results so far on what we’ve done and the results of (that) will come later on will prove that point out.”

First, let me say I abhor the word “culture” in sports. It’s an empty word that really means one thing: Doing things the way a specific person wants them done. In this case, that person is Hamp. At some point along the way in the arc of sports history, it became not OK for team owners to directly dictate how they wanted things done. It somehow became associated with meddling, but more likely it rose from the trend of billionaires buying teams as investments with little knowledge about the product they were purchasing.

[ Why the Lions will have one less home game soon under new schedule plan ]

As we all know in Detroit, the popular narrative among fans who’ve suffered through 60 years of failure is that the Fords don’t care. Hamp’s mission since she took over as principal owner in June has been to change that narrative by being as visibly involved as possible in as many parts of the organization as possible. I wonder if someone gets a demerit if her name isn’t mentioned at least once in every news conference.

We get it. Hamp cares. In fact, her presence has been so ubiquitous that it was almost comical the way Wood had to defend her involvement Wednesday.

I know there was a lot made about Sheila sitting in on some of those meetings,” he said, “and I think it’s important to make sure you guys understand that she was sitting in because she was invited to sit in and I was invited to sit in by Dan and Brad. That’s part of the culture. They want us around and they want us to be aware of what’s going on.”

Um … yeah. Because what first-time GM and coach wouldn’t be dying to have his owner be part of his meetings as he’s trying to learn how to navigate a brand new job?

Let me assure Hamp and Wood that it’s OK if they sit in on as many meetings they want. Heck, let them run some linebacker drills. Couldn’t get worse, right? It’s their prerogative if they want to be more knowledgeable about the process and it’s probably a good thing. As long as Hamp doesn’t demand that the Lions draft a long snapper, I’m sure we’ll all be cool with her involvement.

My second thought about this collaboration for The New Detroit Lions is that no one knows whether it’s going to make a lick of difference. The only constant in the NFL is change, and specifically changing to the opposite of the last thing you tried. Even Wood conceded that nothing’s a given about this new approach.

[ Florida’s Kyle Pitts, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase make case for the Lions to consider at No. 7 ]

“You never know until it happens,” he said, “but so far I couldn’t be more pleased with how it’s working out and the culture that we’re creating. It’s still difficult in this COVID-19 world where not everybody’s in the building and a lot of things are occurring via Zoom like this (new conference), but it still feels the way we wanted it to feel.”

Great. It feels the way they want it to feel. Doing things the way they want them done. That’s culture, my friends.

And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, this might work out for The New Detroit Lions. Because let’s face it, the Same Old Lions haven’t cut it for 60 years.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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