In the early 1990s, I was working in one of my first journalism jobs at the Pasadena Star-News, a small newspaper just outside Los Angeles. The paper had hired a new editor and he called a staff meeting with the sports department in an ominous, dark-paneled conference room I didn’t even know existed.
No one knew what to think. Was he announcing layoffs? Radical new changes?
It turned out to be little more than a meeting to formally introduce himself to us. But one thing he said has stayed with me forever.
“I want all of you to leave,” he said as the room turned completely silent. “You should all want to leave a small paper and go on to greater things.”
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He was talking about ambition. He wanted us to do such a great job that we would be hired by some of the country’s biggest and best papers: the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and, maybe if you were truly exceptional, the Detroit Free Press.
But it wasn’t only about our ambition. It was his, too. He wanted his staff to be so great that we not only put out a great paper but that we became known as a fertile place that produced promising, young journalists.
I thought about that meeting recently when the Detroit Lions nearly lost offensive coordinator Ben Johnson to the head coaching ranks. I thought about it again over the weekend when they lost director of college scouting Dave Sears, who got a big promotion when he was hired as the Arizona Cardinals’ assistant general manager.
Sears played a vital role overseeing much of the Lions’ draft, which has gone extremely well the past two seasons under GM Brad Holmes. Sears’ departure flew a bit under the radar because he wasn’t as well known as Johnson, but judging by how often readers chastised me for writing about Johnson’s likelihood to leave, I can imagine many probably aren’t thrilled Sears is leaving.
I completely get fans’ perspective. You never want to lose the people who make your team successful. But, as my old editor could tell you, losing your best people is the sign of a strong organization.
I know we’re not used to thinking of the Lions in this way, but that’s what they’re slowly becoming. And if your hope is for the Lions to turn into a consistent and successful franchise, you had better not only get used to their players, coaches and staff getting poached by other teams, but you should embrace it.
Based off the collective sigh of relief you could hear echo throughout Detroit when Johnson returned after his three interviews didn’t produce a new job, Lions fans aren’t there yet. They aren’t ready to part with their successful contributors just as they’re starting to get a small taste of success and hope.
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But I have good news for you. Even if you fear the loss of a key coach or staff member, be assured that your coach doesn’t.
Before Johnson had any interviews lined up, I asked Dan Campbell at his season-ending news conference if losing Johnson might signal that the Lions are a desirable place to coach for candidates looking to do a great job and move on to bigger things?
“With where we’re trending,” Campbell said, “I’d like to believe that anybody outside looking in sees what’s going on here and they understand. … I think word gets around and I think yeah, this is a place you would like to be. No matter who you are.
“I think free agents would like to be here, I think moving forward. I believe that. I think we’re turning the corner on that and when you’re a team that’s trending the right way and you play football a certain way. I think that’s appealing. I’d like to believe that.”
One of the things I like about Campbell is that he isn’t afraid to accept realities, no matter how grim. He isn’t afraid to fire a coach if he isn’t performing well and he isn’t afraid to lose a coach or a player because they’re performing exceptionally. Sports is a very itinerant business and no one in the profession expects to stick around with one team very long, for good or bad reasons.
It’s hard to lose good people, but in the end it makes your organization better and more resilient. I’m glad my editor instilled that idea in me all those years ago. I hope Lions fans will come to accept it, too, and all the good that can come from it.
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.