Of all the things the NFL and its constituent teams decide to speak of in clandestine double-speak and deceptive intrigue, the hiring of a search firm for front office personnel seems a strange item to invoke cloak and dagger. Here we are regardless, another episode of confusion and anarchy in the Michigan sports landscape.
A curious wrinkle has developed in the complexion of the Detroit Lions' search for a new front office as reports surfaced Friday that seemed to contradict earlier indications the the Lions had retained the services of a search firm to seek out potential candidates for the open front office jobs, which include the general manager and team president positions vacated by Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand. The situation has thrown some confusion into the mix with Detroit Lions beat writers, although more are sounding off from team sources that the news of a Lions search firm may indeed be premature.
On Wednesday, Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News reported that the Detroit Lions had retained the services of Heidrick & Struggles, a Chicago-based executive search firm. Katzenstein cited Gil Brandt, a senior NFL.com analyst, as the source of this news. The news was picked up by multiple outlets and seemed to be the logical evolution of news earlier in the week that the Lions had formed a panel to aid in their front office hunts. For a few days, everything was calm and right.
On Friday, the waters rippled. Larry Lage, Michigan-area sports writer for the Associated Press, reported that an anonymous source within the Lions organization had told him that the the team had NOT hired a search firm:
"The Lions have not commented on their search since team owner Martha Firestone Ford said a national search began last week. Two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press the Lions have not hired a firm to assist them with their search for new executives, contrary to published reports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the topic."
Beat reporters scrambled to work. MLive.com's Justin Rogers confirmed the Lage report from a league source. Dan Miller of Fox2 Detroit also confirmed the report, claiming that his own league sources informed him that the Lions were still weighing their options.
It's unclear where the disconnect is. Given the reports from Rogers and Miller, it seems apparent that the Lions do not intend to use the services of Hendricks & Struggle if they have indeed retained the services of that firm at present. It could also be that the early Brandt report is just incorrect, or that someone isn't telling the whole story for whatever reason; after all, the Lions spokesperson refused to comment on Brandt's report when it was first released. For his own part, Josh Katzenstein stands by his initial report until his source in Gil Brandt is debunked:
For now, Sheldon White remains the interim general manager for the Detroit Lions and believes his best chance to become a candidate for the full-time position is to win games. "If we don't, then I won't be a candidate," he told the press Thursday.
The Lions certainly have plenty of time for their search, given that the NFL regular season doesn't end for another month and change. It does however create confusion in fans who worry about anything that might give them a sense of dread, fear of a dark future and more desperation for the franchise.