Katzenstein: Lions' new boss must have proven record
With a 1-7 start, Lions employees knew what was coming.
They just didn't expect it to happen Thursday.
Whether it was at the end of the year or after another pitiful display on the field, most people in Allen Park understood there would be changes because results are the most important thing in the NFL.
Owner Martha Firestone Ford fired general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand on Thursday, a move that came four days after the team's worst loss since December 2009.
The move had to happen, which is unfortunate because sports fans too often forget the implications of firings. Not only did two men lose their jobs, but everyone who works for the organization will live in fear they're next.
Considering Mayhew and Lewand had built two winning teams — both of which failed to win a playoff game — since 2009, Ford had no choice. In the free agency and salary cap era, the league encourages parity, but the Lions have been unable to overcome their abhorrent history.
Timing makes sense
Whether the firings pay off is a different story, and that's part of the reason the timing is surprising.
It makes sense in some ways.
The players were off Thursday as part of the bye schedule, so they didn't have to deal with the shocking news.
But more important, it gives the Lions a head start on other teams that might pursue general managers. The downside? if the Lions hire someone who currently works for a winning organization, which probably would be the best idea, they'll likely have to wait until January to begin.
The reason why the timing was a shock is because the Lions still need to focus on day-to-day operations. As unlikely as it might sound, the Lions could find a free agent in the next couple months that becomes a key piece for the future.
Sheldon White, the interim general manager, is well-regarded as a personnel man, and was a candidate for a top post with the Eagles last offseason. But it'd be totally understandable if he and the scouting department are cautious about making many moves with their future in doubt. Although the Lions have some good talent evaluators — despite the recent draft record — the new personnel boss surely will want to bring in people he knows.
One leader needed
Presumably, the Lions will look to a search firm to assist in the hire, but Ford wouldn't answer questions — she's done that once since taking over for her late husband in March 2014 — after announcing the firings.
But, the Lions should hire one boss. The title doesn't matter, but having one person in charge will send a clear message the primary goal is to win.
The problem with the past administration was putting Lewand and Mayhew on level footing, even though Lewand — for any success he had building the brand, bringing events to Ford Field and other money-making ventures — had no personnel experience. That he had anything to do with managing the salary cap or negotiating contracts never made sense.
The new boss should have a proven record of identifying talent — the best way to achieve success. Whether that experience came as a scout, coach or executive shouldn't matter.
Despite the poor overall roster and history of losing, this should be an appealing job.
Mayhew surely will never get credit for it, but he did well to position the Lions in the 2016 draft — likely 10 or 11 picks, including compensatory selections. If the new boss can turn them into good players, the Lions may not be far from having a chance at returning to the postseason, though winning the NFC North always will be tough as long as Aaron Rodgers is the Packers quarterback.
The roster issues — particularly being too old on defense — also give the new guy freedom to shape the roster how he'd like, and the Lions will have money to spend in free agency, the only benefit of not re-signing Ndamukong Suh.
Obviously, players like Ziggy Ansah, DeAndre Levy, Glover Quin, Eric Ebron and Golden Tate can help in the rebuilding process. Presumably, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will be centerpieces, too, but their excessive contracts could play a role in their status.
What happens next is anyone's guess, but after the shock wears off, everyone in Allen Park has to focus on building for the future, even if they won't be a part of it.