For the Detroit Lions the answers about how to build a winning franchise have remained elusive for decades. Perhaps more embarrassingly, the questions themselves seemed to be a mystery to all of those in the managerial levels of the organization.
Year after year and decade after decade the Lions carted out shiny new toys in the form of wide receivers and new coaches and mantras about what the fans in Detroit deserve while the real foundational flaws with the team went unaddressed. Loyalty – prized and in short supply in so many places – became a stumbling point for the team as executives woefully unqualified to lead were not only enabled but promoted through the ranks and came to define the entire organization. The Lions were not so much a story of dysfunction as mis-function.
Enter: Bob Quinn.
The young New England Patriots acolyte takes up the reigns of this underachieving franchise with no track record at this level and only his reputation as a student of the NFL & a hard worker to sell to fans. It’s natural, required really, to regard any new hire for the Lions with wary eyebrow as so many have come in as saviors only to leave with the same thousand-yard-stare as their predecessors. Fans & pundits wondered out loud how thick the puppet strings were from Bob Quinn’s shoulders to the offices of the Ford Family? Was he simply another sycophant brought to Allen Park to carry out the bidding of those more concerned with personal relationships than the business of football?
I cannot pretend to know whether or not Bob Quinn’s answers will bring make the Detroit Lions a championship contending franchise, I can tell you that, after decades of futility, that he may finally be asking the right questions.
The first such issue Quinn had to address was his head coach and whether or not Jim Caldwell would be retained. Many, myself included, thought that firing the head man would be the first order of business but Quinn zigged where those before him zagged and he fired everyone else. From player personnel directors to scouting to marketing Quinn went through an organization long overdue for a thorough cleansing and started from the foundation up.
For those wanting the blood of a head coach this will come of small consolation, but the fact is that a proper head coaching hire is the result of a solid organizational culture and not the creator of it. How could Quinn be expected to vet a new head coaching candidate when the very people that a new prospect would need to interview with had yet to join the organization? How will you know if a head coach can work with your personnel and scouting department and whether or not they are a good fit for your organization when your organization needs such a massive upgrade? The changes Quinn made lacked sex appeal but not impact.
Then there was the matter of the players themselves. Calvin Johnson opts to retire and in the process grants the Lions additional spending capital to go along with an already solid cap situation yet there was no blockbuster deal signed. No celebrity free agent carted out to the podium in Allen Park. Quinn took the best available wide received in free agent Marvin Jones and then went about addressing role players and depth up and down the roster. Again nothing flashy but, like the moves made in the executive levels of the organization, absolutely necessary.
The next step in the process was the 2016 NFL Draft where Quinn aggressively addressed the offensive & defensive lines early on and then roster depth with later picks. Not a single wide receiver was taken in the first round or any other by this year’s Detroit Lions. Who among us believes the previous administration would have been so cool to the idea in the wake of Megatron’s departure? How often had the previous Lions brass been lead astray with personnel moves made with as close an eye on PR as roster complexion? The Lions were last in the league running the football in 2015 and without some semblance of offensive balance no amount of quarterback or wide receiver talent was going to matter. This team has lacked what it takes to control the line of scrimmage for years and here was Bob Quinn surprising so many with the most unsurprising of conclusions – the Lions needed a big upgrade or talent & physicality in the trenches offensively. As a result, 3 offensive lineman were drafted in the 2016 and served notice not just to the players on the roster but to the fans as well that Quinn had identified more of the foundational issues.
Over and over again Bob Quinn has taken the prudent path in addressing issues that have plagued the Detroit Lions for decades. There is an order of operations being observed by Quinn & his staff with an eye to being thorough. He has changed much on many levels and his answers to these decades-old questions will only be tested in the years to come but, for now, it certainly looks like the man in charge in Detroit may be finally asking the right questions.