Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes and the piece of fatherly advice he never will forget

Detroit Free Press

His dad always made sure he had the trendiest things, fiberglass skateboards and new dirt bikes that were the envy of the neighborhood. But one of the best gifts Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes ever received was the weight set his father, Melvin, bought him in eighth grade.

Holmes kept the weights on the screened-in back patio at his house in Florida. He worked out with them religiously in high school. And more importantly, he took to heart the message his father gave him with his gift that day.

“He told me, back then he goes, ‘Brad, it’s not about what you’re doing when everybody’s watching, it’s about what you’re doing when nobody’s watching,’” Holmes recalled in a sit-down interview with the Free Press this week. “Cause you can work out with the team or whatever, or practice and all that stuff, and he said it’ll be all about what you’re doing when no one’s watching. And I’ll never forget that. And just the work ethic part of it, that’s kind of what he instilled in me.”

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Five-and-a-half years after his father passed away following a series of strokes, Brad said Melvin remains a driving force in his life as he tries to take the Detroit Lions to heights they never have reached before.

It was Melvin, a former offensive lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who stoked Brad’s desire to work in an NFL front office when Brad briefly considered trying to go the practice squad route following his unheralded playing career at North Carolina A&T.

It was Melvin who told Brad not to worry about money when he was lamenting the pittance he made as a scouting intern with the then-St. Louis Rams.

And it was Melvin and that weight set that crossed Brad’s mind after he learned he was being named captain of his college football team.

Holmes, who was named Lions GM in January, was by himself running the hill outside North Carolina A&T’s stadium one day before his senior season. On one of his sprints, he reached the top of the hill just as then-Aggies offensive coordinator Allan Gerber was passing by in his car.

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“It was like simultaneously as soon as I came up and that’s when he was like, ‘Brad, what are you doing man?’” Holmes recalled. “I was like, ‘Coach, I’m just getting some work in.’ He goes, ‘Well, keep that work up, you’ve been elected captain.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’”

When Holmes finished his workout, he said the “walk back to the dorm made me reflect back on that moment when (my dad) bought me that weight set and was like, ‘Dad, you’re right.’”

“Brad Holmes to me was, if you didn’t know who Mel was, if you didn’t know who his daddy was, if you didn’t know his lineage, he was a kid that immediately, he walked in the door, carries himself with grace, carries himself with an air of seriousness,” Gerber said. “He had a job to do and was going to get it done. He was that guy that, while he was not blessed with 6-5, while he was not blessed with 4.5 (time in the 40-yard dash), he was blessed with a grit and a determination that you just knew he was going to be successful. And to read about his journey to what is now, probably the pinnacle of any career, does not surprise me at all.”

Joan Holmes, Brad’s mother, said Brad and his father bonded over football throughout Brad’s formative years.

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The two often watched games together, with Mel imparting his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and players on Brad.

When Brad played, Mel watched quietly from the stands, saving his coaching tips and suggestions for after the game.

And Brad chose to attend Mel’s alma matter and even attempted to follow in his dad’s footsteps as a business major, before his mother convinced him he was more suited for a career in marketing or communications.

For Christmas last year, Joan gave Brad a framed and enlarged picture of him sitting on his father’s lap as a youth, dressed in Pittsburgh Steelers pajamas, wide-eyed with a soft smile on his face.

Brad paused to avoid getting emotional as he shared what the gift meant to him this week.

“I knew how close he was with his father,” Joan Holmes said. “And I knew how much that would mean to him because he always felt that his father was his silent cheerleader (who) kind of geared him in the right direction.”

As Melvin’s health deteriorated late in life, Brad always made a point to check on his dad. And after Melvin died on Christmas Eve in 2015, when Joan was preparing a local minister to officiate Melvin’s funeral, Brad told her he wanted to give the eulogy and delivered a heartwarming oratory about his father’s love and guidance, complete with tales of the weight set and other gifts he gave Brad as a kid.

The weights are no more, lost in a move or disposed of many years ago. But to Holmes they still symbolize the long hours and late nights he worked when no one was watching, like his father encouraged him to do all those years ago.

“Just trying to be the best I can be at my craft in terms of, you can never watch enough film, you can never get enough information on a player. Making sure that when, in those draft meetings, that I’m presenting the best, most accurate information that I possibly can. That was my drive, I just always wanted to be the best,” Holmes said.

“I’ll never forget, when my wife, we started dating, she was probably one of the first few that really actually understood like, yeah, I’ve been out all week, working on the road, and it’s a Friday, I finally got home and it’s 11 o’clock and I’m working. At first, she was like, ‘I understand, it’s part of it.’ But yeah, that’s a part that, nobody’s watching. That’s part of it. It’s never really obstructed me or deterred me. It’s worked out so far.”

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

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