NFC North: Dave Boller
Detroit's decision to promote Martin Mayhew to replace general manager Matt Millen had at least one predictable byproduct: Mayhew left the Lions' college scouting staff intact despite years of an admittedly poor draft record.
Mayhew, a member of the Lions' front office since 2001, has focused his efforts on improving the team's process rather than replacing its people. NFL teams don't always announce changes within their personnel department, but a review of the personnel staff directory on the Lions' Web site reveals only one difference from their 2008 media guide: James "Shack" Harris was hired as a senior personnel executive, while former assistant director of pro personnel Dave Boller was let go.
Most notably, director of college scouting Scott McEwen has returned for his 23rd season with the team. Mayhew heartily endorsed his work during a news conference Tuesday.
Mayhew: "Let me just say this: I think Scott McEwen has done a phenomenal job for us, setting the board this year as he has in the past. I think he's just a tremendous evaluator. I like our college scouts. I think there have been some mistakes made in the past and there's been a lot of noise in the system, so to speak, but again, I'm totally focused on the future and not the past."
Mayhew has made several changes to the way the Lions make final decisions on players, encouraging more communication and dialogue than in the past. Earlier this winter, Mayhew also said the Lions will make a greater commitment to developing the players they do draft. "You don't give up on your guys," he said in January.
Today, there are six players remaining from the Lions' drafts between 2000-2006 -- an expanse that should comprise the core of the current team. Overall, 17 of the 72 players now on the roster were originally Lions draft choices.
Asked Tuesday how things will be different moving forward, Mayhew said:
"I think we'll be more efficient. I think we'll be much more prepared. I think we spent a lot of time already talking about how we stack players [in] the first 33. We've had several meetings on that. We're having our dialogue now. ..."
This isn't to suggest that Mayhew won't eventually make some changes. Historically, most NFL teams prefer to shuffle their personnel department in the spring, which is the start of "draft season." Wiping out a scouting staff in January would throw draft preparations into a state of unproductive upheaval. But based on Mayhew's comments, it seems unlikely that a massive overhaul is looming.
We're already getting a pretty good glimpse at Detroit's plans for 2009 and beyond on Day 1 of the offseason. If you're a Lions fan hoping for a complete overhaul following an 0-16 season, you're going to be deeply disappointed.
Although they fired coach Rod Marinelli, the Lions announced the departures of only four assistant coaches. By my count, that means 14 of Marinelli's assistants at least temporarily have jobs. That includes offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, who was re-assigned to offensive line coach, and special teams coordinator Stan Kwan. Two of the fired assistant coaches are directly related to Marinelli: Defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who is Marinelli's son-in-law, and assistant offensive line coach Mike Barry, who is Joe Barry's father.
Owner William Clay Ford also followed through with plans to retain chief operating officer Tom Lewand and interim general manager Martin Mayhew. Lewand was promoted to team president, while Mayhew was given the permanent general manager title. So while Ford said last week that he will add a front-office executive, you have to assume that person's role will be subordinate to Mayhew and thus only marginally impactful. (The firing of Dave Boller, assistant director of pro personnel, provides a clue as to the type of hire the Lions are looking to make.)
A few points can be safely extrapolated from these moves in advance of a late-morning news conference in Detroit:
- It's customary for teams to retain the rights to some assistant coaches immediately following the departure of a head coach. Sometimes the assistants are asked to perform final personnel evaluations for the front office. Occasionally they are interviewed for the head coaching position, and often teams try to protect valued assistants in the event that the new head coach wants to retain them. But to fire only four of 18 assistants, and to re-assign Colletto, makes you wonder whether the Lions will ask the new head coach to take on at least some of them. If that's the case, good luck hiring a dynamic head coach.
- Although Lewand deals mostly with the salary cap and contract issues, it's well known that he has the ear of owners William Clay Ford and Bill Ford Jr. As team president, you can expect Lewand to be intricately involved in every aspect of the Lions' operation. But Lewand faces an inherent paradox: Either he'll have to repudiate everything the Lions have done this decade, of which he played a significant role, or the Lions won't be adopting a new way of doing business.
- Mayhew is a complete unknown as it relates to running football operations. What type of team does he value? How does he evaluate talent? How will he change the way the Lions scout and rank players to avoid their annual draft problems? And what role did Mayhew himself play in those mistakes as the assistant to former general manager Matt Millen? Why would the Lions want any continuity from that era?
- From the outside, I continue to wonder what role cash flow is playing in these moves. The Fords' personal stake in the struggling automobile industry is well-known, as are the Lions' problems in selling out Ford Field this season. Are these moves the best for the organization? Or are they simply the most affordable? Promoting two long-standing members of the front office after the worst eight-year run in NFL history, along with retaining 14 assistant coaches, suggests the latter.