The right hire can change things very quickly in the NFL.
The problem in Detroit is change, while certainly necessary for the Lions, is no guarantee things will start moving in the right direction and Marta Ford’s early missteps don’t exactly promote faith.
Ford fired general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand last week, while elevating two of their underlings on an interim basis, Sheldon White, the former vice president of pro personnel who is now interim GM, and Allison Maki, who got the title of COO after being a senior VP of administration and CFO.
“The organizational changes I made last week reflect not only our disappointment with this season, but also underscore our commitment to each of you,” Ford wrote in a letter to season-ticket holders this week. “You deserve much better. Your support, loyalty and passion for the Lions over the years has been nothing short of remarkable. You have done your part. Now we must do our part. You deserve a Lions football team that is a consistent winner and one that competes for championships.”
In a football sense, the money guy, or in this case gal, certainly matters but White is the one ticketed as the face of the football operations and asking him to move forward in-season when the trading deadline is passed is the very definition of meaningless.
Interim tags are bad enough for coaches but at least someone like Dan Campbell’s work is tangible when he takes over during the season. Other than talking about a future he may have no role in, White’s only duties at this point are bringing in street free agents in case of injury, perhaps pilfering a practice squad player of two from another organization, and preparing the Lions for a draft that someone else might be steering.
“There’s somebody out there, and we’ll see him,” White said at his introductory press conference Thursday when asked how he could affect the roster right now. “It may be our team or someone else, some other team, but there’s some player out there that can help us win, that can help the team win, and they’re going to before the end of the year.
“It’s our job to grind and find those guys. Are they on the street, are they on practice squads, are they in our building already and we just need to give them an opportunity to play? Myself and (head coach) Jim Caldwell, we’re constantly evaluating our own roster looking for someone that maybe is already there that can help us win a game. But they’re out there and we just have to keep grinding. So I want to see how some of the guys play.”
As you can see even White had a tough time selling his impact at this point of the campaign and changing GMs during the season is purely an optical exercise, designed to feign action to an angry fan base.
This is no defense of Mayhew, who hasn’t been good enough and should have been replaced after the season. But, if you truly believe White is the right guy to lead this organization back to relevancy, show the courage of your own convictions and elevate him without any kind of safety net (the interim tag).
It’s certainly conceivable that Ford has already made up her mind and decided that White is going to be the permanent GM but none of us know that and neither does White.
“She told me she’s hiring me as the interim general manager, but the reality of it is this isn’t a Supreme Court Justice appointment,” he said. “The only person with a lifetime appointment in this building is our owner. So the way I look at everybody, we’re all interim general managers, we’re interim coaches, we’re interim players and it’ll eventually be over and we’re telling stories.
“Some have more rope than others, but like I mentioned, it’s not a Supreme Court appointment. We have to win. So will I be a candidate? I’ll give you the best way to be a candidate, and that’s to win these games. Obviously, if we don’t, then I won’t be a candidate. But if we win these games or we find ways to get better and improve our roster, maybe I will be. But like I mentioned earlier, I’m more worried about today and maxing out myself today, and then tomorrow I’ll worry about it then.”
And that reality is why it came across as meaningless when White started discussing the futures of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson — futures he may have as much control over as you and I.
“I’ll leave that to another day,” White said when asked if he believes the two highly-paid franchise cornerstones will back in 2016.
A prudent answer because Ford left White’s own status for “another day.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen. Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for The Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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