| Detroit Free Press
The business of the NFL works best with a bit of luck. The first-down marker is missed by an inch. The receiver drags his second foot inbounds just in time. The fumble bounces back in your arms. The holding call is missed … or made, stalling a drive, propelling a drive, ending a game.
On and on it goes, the randomness of our favorite game and its endless possibilities with all those moving parts, 22 players crashing into the other desperate to stake out an advantage. No matter the skill or design or execution, fate plays a hand.
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The Lions embraced this truth Thursday afternoon when they hired Brad Holmes to rebuild their organization. Because luck is needed in finding a general manager, too.
Not every team can hire a general manager who already has built Super Bowl contenders. Most have to take a chance on someone unproven. And Holmes is certainly that.
Just as Bob Quinn was, and Martin Mayhew, and Matt Millen. But then John Schneider (Seattle Seahawks) and Kevin Colbert (Pittsburgh Steelers) — the Lions were interested in both — were first-time general managers at some point in their careers as well.
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At some point, the odds have to turn toward the Lions, right? Though the Lions didn’t simply offer Holmes the job, clasp their hands and turn toward the heavens.
They hired him because of his (mostly) impressive record in scouting college football players for the Rams. They hired him because of the front-office structure — and philosophy — in L.A. that stressed analytics and homework and that everyone gets a voice.
They hired him because of his interview, when they saw and heard the personality traits they hope will bring a little light and communication skill to their headquarters in Allen Park.
“It was critical that we find the right person to fit our vision for this team,” Sheila Ford Hamp wrote in a statement. “It was evident early on that Brad is a proven leader who is ready for this opportunity.”
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The critical word here is vision. I’d argue Ford Hamp has one. She may not have articulated it completely to the fan base, but it’s there, and it’s not hard to spot.
Consider what she wrote in an internal memo in December: “As we were leaving the Bears stadium after last week’s win, we heard thunderous applause and laughter flowing out of the Lions’ locker room, something we have not heard for a long time. And even after a hard-fought loss to the Packers (Sunday), it was evident the team played with heart and never gave up.”
Hearing that noise made an impression. Not necessarily because the Lions finally won a game — it was the first after Ford Hamp had fired Quinn and Matt Patricia. But because of what the noise represented.
Ford Hamp wanted someone that could communicate, that could empower, that could develop, that could teach, that could share … ideas, strategies, goals. This is why interim coach, Darrell Bevell, is getting consideration for the coaching job.
And even if he does not, that he is part of the mix makes sense. He shares some of the same personality characteristics as Holmes.
The Lions headquarters has too often been a dark and joyless place, especially in its offices. And while Ford Hamp obviously understands the grind of NFL days are necessary, and that the game itself demands a dedication to repetition, the voices in charge of the locker room and of the building can offset the drudgery.
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There is a reason the team sounded different to Ford Hamp after Bevell took over the job. The team had life, a little more passion, even if it didn’t have enough talent. And she sought a similar quality in the general manager.
Personality matters. Tone of voice matters. Human beings absorb more information when they aren’t stressed, or tuned out, or irritated. This is true in any organization.
Yes, the essential skills have to be there. And Ford Hamp is betting that Holmes’ eye for talent and experience will key an uptick in talent on the roster.
But finding that talent doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it sure doesn’t happen with the eyes of a single person. Holmes’ job then, along with finding a coach and picking a roster, is to reset a culture. It’s to change the way staffers think about their time in Allen Park every day.
Ford Hamp no doubt wants to hear the kind of vibe she heard in Chicago that day in November. This is Holmes’ charge as much as anything else.
Because it’s not just about talent. It’s about belief. Though it’s not just about belief, either.
It’s about luck, at least to a degree, and acknowledging that if you can’t control every outcome on a Sunday afternoon, you sure can control the kind of culture and atmosphere you create. Overcoming a tough break or a little adversity is critical to winning most football games.
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That starts in the front office, extends to the coach’s office, and flows to the locker room, the film room, and the football field from there.
Holmes may not have experience as the final authority of which players get drafted and which players get traded, but he’s got plenty of experience in connecting to human beings in a high stress environment.
This is what Ford Hamp is betting on. She has a vision.
Will it work? Who knows?
But at least she knows exactly what it sounds like.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.
Meet Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes
Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes was hired to the role in January 2021 following a 5-11 season and firings of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia.
Tyler J. Davis, Detroit Free Press