Saying “it’s really good to be home,” former Detroit Lions All-Pro linebacker Chris Spielman left the broadcast booth Tuesday and joined the franchise as a special assistant to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood in a move that gives the team a familiar face atop the organization.
Spielman, who had been working for FOX as a color analyst, will report to Wood and will serve as an adviser to both him and Hamp while working with both the business and football sides of the franchise.
He will be involved in every interview for the team’s vacant general manager and head coaching positions, although Wood said those hired ultimately will not report to Spielman.
“That was why it was so critical to get him involved early because I wouldn’t want to bring him in after we’ve hired a general manager or after we’ve hired a coach and have them wonder what his role is,” Wood said. “That will be very clear to them while we’re interviewing the candidates, and he’s part of the process of hiring them, so he’s going to be invested in their success.
“And he’s going to be available to them as a resource however they choose to use him in the best possible way.”
Both Spielman and Wood said Tuesday that they believe there needs to be cohesiveness within the Lions — from the owner on down — with the same message throughout. It was a point Spielman stressed often during his half-hour Zoom call with the media.
Spielman and Wood both said they have a similar vision for the organization coming from the direction of Hamp and that they are trying to create a culture that embraces the city of Detroit and Lions fans as well as values they believe are important to the organization.
And that starts, Spielman said, with clear communication.
“Everybody has to understand the direction that we’re going. Everybody has to know what our culture is, and we can’t waver from that culture,” Spielman said. “Everybody has to know, ‘OK, what type of character do we want in the building, from everybody on down, everybody understands how the head coach and general manager have to be in unison.’ Now they can fight and argue, which is healthy, but I’ll tell you this, if I have any say, there’s going to be unity.
“It’s not going to be an us versus them. You can’t build a winning culture in us versus them.”
The 55-year-old Spielman admitted Tuesday that he is not qualified to be a general manager in the NFL — and that it wouldn’t be fair for him to be in that role. But he has been around football for three decades and traveling to see teams every year as part of his broadcasting role. He has been taking notes in journals and having conversations about what he believes good franchises have.
He also is familiar with what it takes to build a successful organization — which is potentially helpful in the hiring process — because his brother, Rick, is the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings.
“I know exactly what Sheila and Rod want,” Spielman said. “And hopefully I can help them and us get there to where we need to be.”
Spielman played for Detroit for eight years and was part of the team’s last divisional title in 1993 and only playoff win in the Super Bowl era (1991 season). He was a four-time Pro Bowler and was a first-team All-Pro in 1991. He played 10 seasons total in the NFL, starting 148 games.
After retiring, he became a broadcaster for both FOX and ESPN, and also served as the preseason color analyst for Lions games the past seven seasons.
“He brings great passion for people and the game of football and we are thrilled to have him on board to help lead our team,” Hamp said in a statement. “This position is a full-time opportunity for Chris that will allow him to work across various departments on both the football and business sides of our organization.”
The Lions approached Spielman about this possibility after firing general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia two days after Thanksgiving. Wood said he had been thinking about ways to get Spielman involved in the organization for a while, but the timing wasn’t right until then.
Over the course of multiple conversations — including a final sales pitch from Hamp — Spielman decided it was the right time to leave the booth to help an organization he considers “part of my identity.”
The Lions also announced that Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, former Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis and Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves will be advising during the team’s search for a new GM and new head coach.
Wood said he’s already had conversations with Graves about potential minority candidates and that they plan on talking to him “regularly.” Hollis’ experience running coaching searches at Michigan State was attractive and Sanders is someone who understands the team’s culture and identity.
“Any time I can have Barry around, it’s a good thing,” Wood said. “And so I’m glad that he agreed to do this. So we’ll be using them in different ways but all three can bring something to the table.”
Regarding the searches, Wood said they will take into account prior experience as a head coach or general manager but they aren’t looking at it as a prerequisite.
“Experience is a factor,” Wood said. “But not a determinant.”
Detroit has conducted three interviews for the open general manager position with their in-house candidates: vice president of player personnel Kyle O’Brien, director of player personnel Lance Newmark and director of pro scouting Rob Lohman. They, along with vice president of football administration Mike Disner, comprise the team’s group handling general manager duties until a new GM is hired.