The Detroit Lions introduced new general manager Brad Holmes to the local media on Tuesday afternoon in a virtual press conference that spanned over an hour. Team owner Sheila Ford Hamp and president Rod Wood both chimed in to explain their process in hiring Holmes. Then the man himself took the stage.
Myself and Chris Perfett broke down our biggest impressions from Tuesday’s presser and tried to weed through some of “Coach Talk” to find some actual content in Holmes’ words. Here’s our reaction.
Jeremy: The first thing that really jumped out to me was Holmes’ infectious personality. You could really see why the Lions fell in love with him, and I immediately gained a lot of respect for him after he spent no less than five full minutes at the top of the presser to thank just about everyone who helped him get to this moment. You could tell this was a big deal for him.
What was your first impression?
Chris: Obviously you’re not hiring a general manager for public speaking most of the time, but these pressers are basically a second interview, just oriented towards fans and press. Passion is a hell of a drive, and football is a game that becomes your life when you’re a guy like Brad Holmes, who played all his life and spoken well of his love of the game (from his childhood to interviewing as a PR intern with the Lions to skipping school to watch the NFL Draft). Spinning a good yarn is crucial to conveying ideas and relating with others though, which is what I’d want in a general manager.
And that plays into my first impression. I felt like this conference was directed towards fans to show a new direction that the team wants to go in. It’s one with a passion on their sleeve rather than some tough-headed bollocks. But more importantly, Holmes spoke about working hand-in-hand with all involved parties, and wouldn’t commit to one strict vision or another (the dreaded “rebuild vs. retool” subject that kept coming up). Flexibility and teamwork were the key messages he wanted to convey, and I think that’ll go a long way when we get around to the presumed incoming coaching staff, who aren’t a package deal like Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn were.
Jeremy: Yeah, the whole teamwork thing is something I wanted to get into. It is abundantly clear creating a harmonious relationship up and down the organization was one of the lead goals of this entire search, and it makes you wonder how bad things were with the previous regime.
But Holmes comes from a Rams organization that was all about collaboration. He mentioned how scouts on the college side were still consulted on the pro side when decisions were made. That kind of culture is not easy to build, but it’s simple to see how that would be more efficient. Everyone rowing in the same direction and all.
I thought one of more enlightening answers from the entire press conference was when Wood was pressed on who would have final roster decisions for the team. The expected answer is “the general manager.” Instead, he said it would be a collaborative effort between the head coach and general manager. I’m not sure if that’s just them pushing the “teamwork” narrative there, but that could potentially produce an interesting dynamic between Holmes and expected-head coach Dan Campbell, who do not have a working relationship yet.
Chris: I think we’ve seen the fall of the strong-armed front office now in a few places. Word is the whole reason Jaguars owner Shahid Khan wants personnel say was because former president Tom Coughlin ran that whole thing with an iron fist, damn your own opinion. I digress, I just like philosophy changes in sports management.
I don’t expect Holmes to have all the answers here at the first press conference. He’s probably done his homework and talked at length about his plans for the team with ownership in the actual interview, but he still needs time to get a full grasp of the team - talk with the existing scouting department, make auxiliary hires, and yes, in a few days get to talk things over with the presumed head coach.
I think he understands the situation is fluid in Detroit. He’s walking in right on the cusp of very important questions - what to do about many expiring contracts, impending free agency decisions for Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay and the looming Matthew Stafford question. He’s frank with those answers, but also wants this team to be competitive next year.
Jeremy: And it’s probably worth noting that the groundwork of a Holmes-Campbell relationship has already been laid. Although the Lions said they would not discuss the specifics of their head coaching search, Ford Hamp did say that Holmes had spoken to some of their head coach candidates. Safe to assume one of those guys was Campbell. The Lions had to have sensed some sort of shared vision between the two.
But let’s go back to the rebuild vs. retool/“how long is this going to take?” part of the press conference, because I feel like that will be a big takeaway of many. Some were desperate to hear the general manager go up there and say, “The whole thing needs to be thrown out. We need a full rebuild.” Even one media member pushed him to say the words “rebuild,” but Holmes didn’t take the bait.
Here’s the full quote:
“The ultimate goal is to make sure that the most competitive team is on the field, and that starts right this year entering the 2021 season. (I’m) not viewing this as, “Oh, this will be a long-term (project). I don’t know how long this is going to take.’ That’s not the approach. That’s not the mindset going into it. The approach is to make sure that we can put the most competitive team possible out there on the field in 2021.”
Do you think Holmes really believes he can produce a good—or, at least, watchable—team in 2021, or is he simply not throwing his current team under the bus?
Chris: Yeah, probably not good optics to be throwing the whole thing under the bus. Was never going to happen.
I don’t rule anything out. The NFL is not the NBA, but our conceptions of rebuilds is very NBA-centric even in football. Rosters are more fluid than ever, high turnover through free agency, and outside of Stafford, there aren’t a lot of contracts that the Lions are tied to in the long term. The Lions also have a high first round draft pick, and Holmes comes from a Les Snead organization infamous for spending draft capital on immediate contributors.
With the right moves (and an answer for the Stafford question, vexing as it is), I could see a watchable team as a near future possibility for sure.
Jeremy: Unsurprisingly, those that were hoping for an answer on the future of Matthew Stafford never got one. He offered brief, basic compliments of Stafford game, but also made it pretty clear that he needs to evaluate the entire roster—including chatting with some players—before making any sort of determinations.
He was perhaps a little more revealing in his one-on-one interview FOX 2’s Dan Miller, when he simply said, “Everything is on the table,” regarding the Lions’ roster.
Chris: Yeah I don’t think it’s a good idea to start talking about what you’re going to do with your star quarterback before you even get to talk with him first to see what he himself wants too. Not very trendy right now in the NFL.
I do want to ask about his comments regarding head coaches. He told us a few things he was looking for in a head coach: “He has to have presence,” Holmes said. “Within that presence he has to have poise, he has to have confidence, he has to have command and he has to have mental toughness. He has to have intelligence. A strong passion to develop.”
Now obviously, the Lions (presumably) have their coach. Do you think he’s already telling us about the qualities he sees in Campbell, or does this speak perhaps to the desired chemistry he seeks with the incoming coaching staff?
Jeremy: That’s a great question, and one I was wondering myself. It’s worth noting it’s never been his job to evaluate coaching, so this is new territory for him. There’s really no way to know, but combined with some things he said with Tim Twentyman earlier in the day, it certainly sounds like he’s just describing Dan Campbell. That’s not to say that Holmes doesn’t truly value those qualities, but he also set the Lions up to have found the perfect head coach candidate.
The last takeaway I had from the presser was the kind of players he’ll be looking for. There was plenty of vague talk of analytics they used in Los Angeles, but what stood out was the one quality he held above all: intangibles and, specifically, passion.
“I think the intangibles are the separators of success at this level, and I think it’s very important from my background and my experience up to this point with the Rams, we always made an emphasis on investing in high-intangible football players.
You pointed out one thing that means a lot to me—it’s probably the most important—is passion. That is one intangible piece that I don’t have any margin for error in.”
Not something you’d normally hear from an analytics nerd.
Chris: We ballyhoo about “winning culture” quite a bit, bloggers tend to dismiss it as nothing more than a side effect of, well, winning itself; but I think the approach of seeking passion is admirable and a recipe for survival. It’s going to be important as this team hits patches of rough sledding, to make sure you don’t end right back up to where we were a few months ago, players, coaches, all with knifes out and drawn.
It’s not an easy ask. You need veterans willing to guide youngbloods, you need prospects who aren’t despairing that they’re being sent to the NFL equivalent of Siberia, you need to attract free agent talent and make the Lions a place worth playing for—worth working for. These players and coaches are more than just willing interchangeable parts. They have career goals, opinions, all that, you have to give them a reason to see the Lions as something worth playing for. Put that passion to use and you’re on the right track to make that a reality.