The Detroit Lions are headed toward another regime change after the club fired general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia on Saturday, once again moving toward a rebuild for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1991 season, a divisional title since the 1993 season and has yet to go to a Super Bowl.
It’s being led by an owner in her role for less than half a year, Sheila Ford Hamp, and team president Rod Wood, who had no significant football experience when he took over the job in 2015. So what will they do to try to ensure this attempt at finally getting things right for the Lions will go differently than the many other attempts to fix things?
Here’s an attempt to explain what happened in the past few hours and days, what it means and where Detroit might turn next.
So how did the Lions get here?
Well, mistakes have been made. Many mistakes. Hamp even acknowledged that -- going further back than just the Bob Quinn-Matt Patricia era. She acknowledged her parents were not perfect owners and she is trying to make different decisions.
“Hindsight is 20-20. Yes, mistakes have been made. I’ll be the first one to admit when I’m making mistakes, too,” Hamp said. “I’ll look at that, but I really would rather look forward and try to really dig into what’s in front of me and make this hopefully a home run for us. But it’s going to be a lot of work. Rod [Wood] and I are rolling up our sleeves already and we’re going to get to work immediately.”
Before looking forward, though, an acknowledgment of how Detroit failed to this point. The Lions fired head coach Jim Caldwell after the 2017 season and Quinn said at the time it was because Caldwell hadn’t beaten the good teams on the schedule and he was looking at finding a coach to take Detroit to the next level.
To do that, he hired Matt Patricia. Patricia promptly took this team and made it worse than it was when he took over, alienating team leaders, trading away good players and stubbornly sticking to a system that just wasn’t working. Which, Hamp admitted, ended up not working for Detroit.
“Things were not going well; it was not what we wanted,” Hamp said. “We were hoping to be playoff bound -- I guess we still have a slight mathematical chance. But things were just not seeming to go in the right way.”
So what happens immediately?
Darrell Bevell is the team’s interim head coach the rest of the season and said Wood told him he could be a candidate for the full-time job -- although Bevell himself said he knows that will likely depend on the final five games. Bevell will retain his duties as offensive coordinator calling plays and said defensive coordinator Cory Undlin will also remain calling plays. A combination of Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle O’Brien, Director of Player Personnel Lance Newmark, Director of Pro Scouting Rob Lohman and Vice President of Football Administration Mike Disner will handle general manager duties and report to team president Wood.
Hamp said there are no designs on changing Wood’s role with the Lions, but they could be shifting some things in the “organizational chart” as part of their complete deep dive into what needs to happen to make Detroit a winner.
Hamp said she expects the team to compete in the last five games under Bevell -- something she told the players when she met with them virtually Saturday and only quarterback Matthew Stafford talked along with Bevell on Monday. Players were not made available Saturday, but this is going to be a major conversation point the entire week -- and Wood deemed the meeting “very positive” when players spoke up.
The shakeup also likely means no major deals are getting done -- read: Kenny Golladay -- until a new staff is in place considering there's currently a patchwork group of front-office people who might or might not be around next season, depending on what the new general manager wants to do.
It also frees up Hamp and Wood, who will be leading Detroit’s search for a new regime, to conduct things a bit more openly than any behind-the-scenes work they might have had to do in the past.
Unless Detroit has its eyes on people not involved in the NFL at the moment, it also means interviews and hires aren’t going to be made until after the regular season ends.
How will Hamp and Wood approach the search?
Hamp said the Lions will have “an extremely thorough and comprehensive search.” What will that look like?
Hamp would not limit the type of candidate Detroit is looking at for either general manager or head coach, admitting there were probably more media questions than she had answers for at the moment. Wood said they have yet to engage a search firm, but Hamp said they are open to it.
She said they would be open to college or professional coaches in their search. Hamp indicated “we have some ideas on what we’re looking for,” but said those weren’t clearly defined at this point.
The Lions will be required to interview diverse candidates due to requirements from the NFL, but don’t be surprised if they do more than the bare minimum.
“We will follow the Rooney Rule not only in its spirit,” Wood said, “but beyond that as we search for our candidates.”
Back in June, Hamp said she would support her team signing Colin Kaepernick if it was what the general manager and head coach wanted to do. She also arranged for Henry Louis Gates Jr., a college classmate of hers and the director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard, to speak to the team in August. She also provided all of the Lions with Gates’ latest book, "Stony The Road," to read.
In other words, she takes diversity very seriously.
The Lions also will be open to different organizational structures -- meaning the traditional general manager-head coach structure or something more creative or singular -- again offering them flexibility with various candidates.
Before they made the change, Hamp said the franchise did “a thorough financial study of things and think we’re prepared to handle whatever we need to handle” considering the nation is in the middle of a pandemic. You can read this as, yes, the Lions will pay what they need to pay for a general manager and head coach even though Patricia and Quinn had contracts until 2022.
What does this mean for Matthew Stafford?
Stafford’s contract is up after 2022, which means the Lions are entering long-term-extension-or-what’s-next territory here. Stafford will be 33 next season, so it could be time for a split between the team and the best quarterback it has had in the Super Bowl era.
Hamp praised Stafford, calling him “tough as nails” and admitting “it’s been tough for him.”
Hamp was asked about Stafford and his future Saturday and punted on the question -- smart because the decision on his future should be in the hands of the next general manager and head coach.
“Since I’m not the coach, I’m probably not the right person to ask that question to,” Hamp said. “So, we’ll see what the new coach has to say.”
On Monday, Stafford did much the same, deflecting all questions about his future with the franchise beyond this season by saying he’s focused on the team’s last five regular-season games and the work that needs to be done. He also declined to answer whether or not he’d be willing to go throughout another reconstruction of a front office and coaching staff, which seems likely to happen.
Since he was drafted, Stafford’s gone through head coaching transitions from Jim Schwartz to Jim Caldwell to Patricia and now Bevell. With coordinators, he’s gone through Scott Linehan, Joe Lombardi, Jim Bob Cooter and Bevell. And this will be, potentially, his third general manager after Martin Mayhew and Quinn.
“I’m going to limit myself to anything,” Stafford said. “…I’ll answer that probably better for ya after the season. There’s too much work to be done at the moment. If I’m worrying about all that kind of other stuff, I’m not worrying about trying to beat the Bears and that’s unfair to my teammates, my coaches, ownership, our fans, everybody so I’m going to put my best foot forward and try to beat the Bears this weekend and we’ll figure out all that other stuff out down the road.”
If the new regime wants to start with a younger signal-caller, fans should savor the last five games with Stafford, who has done everything right off the field and been a really good player on the field for Detroit for over the past decade-plus.
“I want to do the right thing by this organization and that’s the bottom line,” Hamp said. “Hoped that this season would have been played out differently, but it hasn’t. It just felt like now is the time to make the change and to really begin to look forward.”
What about the rest of the season?
Bevell, in meeting with the Lions over Zoom on Saturday and Monday, stressed he wants the players to go and have fun while they are playing -- and that hard work and having fun are things that can happen together.
He told his team to forget about what brought them to this point and he wanted them to recalibrate themselves for Wednesday, when they’d be able to be in the building for the first time with Bevell as the interim head coach. And Bevell hinted at finding more explosive plays and consistency in his offense.
“I’m taking it as an audition. I did tell them [Monday], ‘Everybody’s watching. Everybody’s watching them, whether it’s our team, whether it’s other teams, other organizations, because everyone is in different situations, contract situations, that kind of thing, and the game keeps moving,’ “ Bevell said. “We have no other opportunity than just to be at our best, and that’s what I’m going to do."