What Now For The Detroit Lions?
By Tayyib Abu
The Detroit Lions parted ways with their General Manager Bob Quinn and Head Coach Matt Patricia yesterday. Tayyib Abu looks at the team’s options when trying to find a brain trust that can bring success to The Motor City…
Ultimately, Matt Patricia and Dan Quinn were not good enough – it’s that simple. The end came this past Thursday, when Detroit was humiliated at home by the Texans. In a city where Thanksgiving means as much as Christmas, getting blown out is unacceptable. Sheila Ford was pictured covering her eyes. The NFL world knew right there what I knew ten days ago – time was up for the former Patriots.
Lions fans will be wondering who will come in. There is no doubt that the Lions job is a challenging role. In the Super Bowl era, Detroit has won one playoff game. The Lions have never won the NFC North – in fact, the last division title came when it was the NFC Central.
But, this isn’t an unatractive job. The Ford family are loyal employers. They will give someone time to do the job. Neither will they meddle in football affairs as some owners do. There is also the fanbase; Detroit is a blue-collar city that has an unbelievable passion for its teams. It is a tough, unassuming place but get it right and there’s a chance for someone to be a legend in a city full of sporting, music and business legends. After Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, they’re ready to welcome another from the football world…
With all this said, it is time for Detroit to look forward. Sheila Ford will need to make critical decisions. She needs to fill the two most important positions in an NFL franchise.
The general manager position is critical in the NFL. Front offices win championships. The Lions cannot plan ahead thoroughly without hiring the GM first. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates:
Jeff Ireland is currently the assistant GM of the New Orleans Saints. Ireland has been in the league in some capacity since 1994. The veteran executive has a wealth of experience having been at Miami, Dallas and Seattle.
The Lions need to find people that have experienced success and failure. The Patriot way failed due to the fact the Patricia and Quinn had never experienced hardship in their careers. Failures help make the person. Ireland had initial success in Miami before he got fired. Now he is at New Orleans, where he has played a pivotal part in building a juggernaut team in the NFC South.
In his time at New Orleans, the Saints have drafted Mike Thomas, Sheldon Rankins, Trey Hendrickson, Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore. Babe Ruth would be proud if he had hit that many home runs. The Lions need a program builder; Ireland has played an integral part in rebuilding a team around a veteran quarterback. Hey, isn’t there a half decent quarterback already in Detroit?
The former Falcons GM is available right now if the Lions want the next person in ASAP. Atlanta fired Dimitroff earlier this year, but don’t think that he failed down at Flowery Branch. Far from it; he should have a Super Bowl ring on his hand, had it not been for Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan to throw that game away. Dimitroff has won NFL Executive Of The Year twice in his career, and Atlanta had several winning seasons under him.
He also demonstrated great skill at rebuilding a team. After the 2012 NFC Championship appearance, the Falcons struggled, but he built another group that went to the Super Bowl. The Ford family will ideally want someone who can bring longevity to the role. And he worked at Detroit as a young scout in 1997. Could Dimitroff be tempted to come back as the top man?
The assistant GM at Indianapolis will be getting plenty of calls this offseason. Dodds and Chris Ballard have built a fantastic team in Hoosier country. The Colts looked lost five years ago. However, since then, they have been excellent.
Drafting players like Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Marlon Mack and Michael Pittman has put the Colts in a great position as they now have a core group of young talent. The talent evaluation in Indianapolis has been incredible. The Colts are finding value in low picks, while they have been able to attract good veteran players such as Philip Rivers and Xavier Rhodes. Detroit has young pieces that can be the future.
Chris Spielman would be the popular pick, and the fans would welcome Spielman back with open arms. Spielman would command instant respect from players and coaches.
Spielman would bring an in-depth knowledge of Detroit and why it hasn’t been successful. He currently analyses Lions games for the team’s YouTube channel, showing he already has a good understanding of the current roster. He will also have a strong sense of how to win in the NFL in 2020. Spielman commentates for FOX on the NFL every Sunday. Could he follow his former FOX colleague John Lynch from commentary box to front office? Lions fans would say yes a million times to bring a legend home.
Louis Riddick is the outsider, but there is no doubt the former safety is a sharp football mind. Riddick has the experience of being in the locker room as well as working in the front office – he was a former pro scout at both Philadelphia and Washington.
Riddick also spent a lot of his career jumping from team to team. He has experience of working in the right circumstances and dire circumstances, but there is one caveat with Riddick. He is currently one of the voices of Monday Night Football. That is one of the premier commentary jobs in the NFL. Riddick also expanded his role on the draft coverage earlier this year. With a larger role at ESPN and the upcoming announcement of the next TV contract, Riddick will be tough to prise from the worldwide leader in sports.
No great franchise has ever achieved greatness without a brilliant head coach. Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Belichick were all able to turn round struggling franchises. The Lions are once again looking for their messiah. Who will it be?
Robert Saleh will surely be in contention for head coaching roles in the offseason. Saleh has shone as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, despite being the first significant role he attained in the NFL.
The 49ers defense was the bedrock of the team last year. True, Saleh had excellent talent at his disposal, but he then put them in positions to dominate. Before joining San Francisco, he worked at Houston and Seattle. He was part of the Seattle staff when the Hawks won Super Bowl 48.
Saleh looks destined to be a head coach. He is a clear leader of men, plus he brings so much energy to his team. And the potnetial trump card? He is a Michigan native. Saleh is from Dearborn; he will understand the mentality of the Lions faithful.
Is Joe Brady the NFL’s next offensive wunderkind? Brady hasn’t even spent a year in the NFL, yet he is already turning heads. Brady was the passing game coordinator last year at LSU. He helped Joe Burrow have one of the most incredible seasons in college history.
Now he is at Carolina, and he impresses again. The Panthers offence is batting way above it’s average this year. They went to Arrowhead and hung with the Chiefs. His offense is well-coached, and they play to their strengths.
Moreover, he is getting the best out of a unit that is below average at best. It won’t go unnoticed that his unit ranks higher than the Lions offense, something he has achieved whilst predominantly missing his best player in Christian McCaffrey. Yes, Brady is young, but his track record so far is awe-inspiring. Should the Lions take a chance on Brady? It is risky, but do they want to miss out on a potential Sean McVay type of coach?
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is shining in Indianapolis. The Colts defense is a top-five unit in every critical metric. It is a unit that is propelling the Colts into Super Bowl contention.
Eberflus brings a ton of experience from both the college level and the NFL level and has worked with Rob Ryan, one of the foremost defensive minds in the last 20 years. Furthermore, Eberflus has worked on both sides of the ball in previous coaching roles. By all accounts, he is a brilliant guy to work with, and if Ed Dodds is the next GM, then there is a route for the 50-year-old to come to Detroit.
Where does one even start with Jim Harbaugh? The man is a football obsessive, but his reputation is taking a battering right now. The Michigan Wolverines football program is an institution. One hundred thousand plus pack the Big House expecting excellence. Nothing else is good enough in Ann Arbor.
However, Harbaugh has failed to find greatness in Michigan. The program is in the worst shape it has been in in my lifetime. Michigan will undoubtedly dismiss Harbaugh at the end of the year. He will want a route back to the NFL. That route could be 40 minutes away from where he currently works.
Harbaugh had a fantastic run in the NFL. Back to back NFC Championship appearances were the highlights. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012. I never felt Harbaugh was a good fit at the college level. He is far too intense for young adults to handle. But, Coach Khaki Pants still knows football. Harbaugh ticks the box as he has head coaching experience. He will also be desperate to rebuild his reputation. Ford Field could be the perfect place to do that.
WHAT ABOUT MATTHEW STAFFORD?
There will be a lot of chatter amongst Lions fans about whether the team should move on from the veteran quarterback. I still believe Stafford has three good years left in him, but I do think you shop him and see what you could get for him – teams like Indianapolis or San Francisco may be looking for an upgrade at QB.
Stafford is still an elite quarterback. He is an attractive proposition for head coaches. The opportunity to work with a star quarterback does not come around often. But the upcoming NFL Draft is very deep at the position. For quarterback-needy teams, Stafford could be the final cog that brings them a championship.
In conclusion, there are massive decisions to make in Detroit. The search must begin now, and the Lions should have the best available people for the job. This team has gone nowhere for 20 years, but the chance is there for the right person and it will be a desirable job. As winter takes hold in the Motor City, hope has once again sprung. Hope, the only thing that has kept Lions fans loyal to their team. Now, the owners need more than hope to find the next person for the wounded Lions.
Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1