The Detroit Lions were purposefully vague in defining Chris Spielman’s role when he joined the organization last December as special assistant to team president Rod Wood and owner Sheila Ford Hamp.
Spielman spearheaded the Lions’ coaching and general manager searches. He traveled on the road to some college pro days. He was one of 10 people in the Lions’ draft room. He met with sponsors and served as a bridge from the football to the business side of the organization.
To many, he looked like a team-president-in-training.
And since training camp, Spielman has had a very visible role on the field as a pseudo assistant inside linebackers coach.
It’s an odd sight: One of the team’s most prominent executives — he is listed under the executive management team on the organizational flow chart, though he has no formal supervisory responsibilities — helping a position coach perceived to be his subordinate run position drills.
But Lions linebackers coach Mark DeLeone said Speilman’s on-field presence has been great for him and his room.
“Who could not have a great relationship with Chris Spielman?” DeLeon said Wednesday. “He’s the best. No, I mean, I love him. I think for me, he’s a lot of things. He’s a friend, he’s a resource. He’s somebody who I count on day in and day out as somebody I can talk to, cause there are certain players who no matter what era they played in, could play. Like, Chris is one of those guys, man. He understands the linebacker position.”
One of the greatest linebackers in Lions history, Spielman made four Pro Bowls in eight seasons in Detroit and was the defining defensive player during the team’s best stretch of football since the ’50s.
DeLeone said Spielman’s playing experience is a good compliment to his more traditional background as a coach.
DeLeone began coaching as a student assistant as an undergrad at Iowa and has worn a variety of hats for NFL and college programs over the past 12 seasons.
“I think there’s a lot of things that I’m really good at,” DeLeone said. “One of them was not playing football, so for me, it’s great when I think I’ve got a great idea, I’ve got somebody I can bounce an idea off of and talk to. I think he’s outstanding with our players, but more than anything, man, he loves this team so much and I think it’s great. Just to have him around me, around my guys, is awesome.”
While Spielman’s role was a concern for some job candidates during the Lions’ coach and GM searches, the current regime has publicly embraced his duties.
General manager Brad Holmes gave Spielman an emphatic hug after the Lions took Penei Sewell with the seventh pick of the draft; Spielman’s evaluation was key to the team’s drafting of linebacker Derrick Barnes in the fourth round and DeLeone said he and Spielman are “very aligned and very on the same page” when it comes to coaching.
“I feel like we do a lot of things together,” DeLeone said. “We talk a lot about it together. I think from an on the field standpoint, he’s there as a sounding board as somebody who always for me like, I can’t see everything but he helps me cover the whole field.
“Listen, he says it all the time, he’s the best QC (quality control coach) in the league.”