INDIANAPOLIS -- In his first two months as general manager, Bob Quinn has been restructuring the Detroit Lions front office.
Between moves on the business side made by team president Rod Wood and moves on the football operations side by Quinn, the Lions operations will have a different look. On the football side of things, there’s a reason for that.
Coming from the New England Patriots, the approach to scouting is different. The Patriots mostly look at players as how they fit into the construct of the team and the league as a whole more than a round value. The scouting process is collaborative in New England with Bill Belichick making the final calls.
It’s a place Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson called “unique” because it forced him to learn football from a vantage point of various skills a player has that might fit well into multiple roles on a roster. Quinn said Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, a former Patriots staffer, taught him about the Patriots' way of scouting. He instructed him to look at player attributes to see if they fit a role -- even if it is a spot the player hasn’t played before.
Quinn said Wednesday that Licht “was a big influence on my career.”
And in his first general manager job, Quinn wanted to make sure the understanding of what he wanted meshed with the staff, which is a reason to explain the amount of hires in the front office with connections to New England. There’s a matter of understanding and a matter of trust.
That’s most important with Quinn’s first big hire, Kyle O’Brien, who was brought in to be Detroit’s director of player personnel last month.
“It’s extremely important because we’re talking about the same language about players, so that’s something trying to instill in the current Lions staff, which is a lot of good people there,” Quinn said. “We went through draft meetings last week so we’re trying to get everyone talking the same language about players.
“For me to sit there in front of the meeting room and talk the whole time, I need another voice that’s been in the same rooms I’ve been in in the past and can talk about the players in the same respects.”
That’s O’Brien, the Harvard graduate who worked with Quinn for almost a decade in New England. They’ve been equals along the way, even when O’Brien left for Kansas City and then Jacksonville before reuniting in Detroit.
O’Brien will be the one that understands him and challenges him. He’ll be the one that pushes him and makes suggestions because they have that common connection.
“They came in together in New England,” Licht said. “They were very young, right out of school as scouting assistants. Very close to each other.
“They developed a strong bond, a good working relationship and respect, based on their working relationship, not just hiring a friend that you knew growing up. It was a good, strong relationship based on the respect that they have as evaluators and as workers.”
This is how it was with a lot of the New England-influenced general managers across the NFL. Robinson remembered staying up late with Quinn watching tape with the Patriots and in spare moments discussing how if they worked hard, they would maybe run their own franchises one day.
Almost every Patriots personnel who has left to become a general manager -- Thomas Dimitroff, Licht and now Quinn -- has brought along another person from their time with the Patriots to be their No. 2. Dimitroff eventually brought Scott Pioli in. Licht hired Robinson, who left this offseason to become the Tennessee Titans' general manager.
And Quinn hired O’Brien.
“We spent some long hours watching film together and going on scouting trips, coming to the combine, doing pro days. In the scouting business, it’s one of those things where it’s hard to describe,” Quinn said. “You become really fast friends with your coworkers because you’re around them so much. So to have those guys as friends as well as colleagues and coworkers, it’s relationships I’ll have whether I’m with the Detroit Lions in 20 years or some other team.
“Those guys are friends first and foremost as well as colleagues I can bounce things off of being a first-time GM.”