Lions' Quinn rose through ranks by being quick study
Allen Park — Although he had the title of graduate assistant, Bob Quinn was effectively an equipment manager for the UConn football team when Randy Edsall took over as head coach in 1999.
Quinn was a graduate student in his second year working with the football team, but the first-year head coach would regularly ask Quinn about players because he interacted with them on a daily basis.
Between the equipment work and the detailed information, Edsall started to see Quinn’s work ethic over the course of the season.
“I said, ‘Here’s a guy that has a plan, has a vision as to what he wants to do and is passionate about it,” he said. “When you have somebody like that, you know that you want to help them try to be successful and put them on a path for them to go and achieve the goals that they want to accomplish.”
So, with Quinn needing an internship for his master’s degree in sports management, Edsall recommended him to the Patriots, Quinn’s hometown team after growing up in Norwood, Mass. After spending January to June 2000 in that internship, the Patriots hired him full time.
Now, after 16 years working the personnel department in New England, Quinn will be in charge of the football operations for the Lions.
The rise from the equipment room to the Lions’ front office was meteoric for the 39-year-old Quinn. Mike Enright, who oversees UConn’s athletic communications department, compared Quinn to Theo Epstein, who became GM of the Boston Red Sox at 28.
But now that Quinn has the job, his approach will be measured. In his introductory news conference, Quinn said he has not yet decided whether he’ll retain coach Jim Caldwell, who went 18-14 in two seasons and has two years left on his contract.
Quinn wouldn’t put a time table on a Caldwell decision, saying he wants to evaluate Caldwell’s entire history as a coach.
That approach seems counterintuitive to Lions president Rod Wood’s description of Quinn as someone who was prepared with a clear vision of how he’d run the team. But Wood understands that Quinn couldn’t make such an important decision until he was in place at Lions headquarters where he’d be privy to all the information available on Caldwell.
“Once he has enough information that he didn’t have before, he’ll be able to make quick decisions,” Wood said.
Meanwhile, Quinn was in no rush Monday to make promises, one thing that often beset new coaches or executives in the NFL. As much as he wants to build a championship team in Detroit, his time in New England showed him how to do so.
“Things in New England … didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It’s a step-by-step, day-by-day, month-by-month process. One of many things I learned in New England was that we’re always striving to get better. Whether it’s scouting, whether it’s coaching, whether it’s in the weight room, nutrition, analytics; if we can get one step better every day, that’s putting this organization in the right direction.”
The Lions hope Quinn can do in Detroit what he did in New England. Even though coach Bill Belichick was the one making decisions, Quinn was on the personnel staff for all four of their Super Bowl victories.
“Obviously, (he’s) bringing what he’s learned at the Patriots, but not replicating it,” Wood said.
Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford said Monday she was ready for the team to have a fresh start after firing GM Martin Mayhew, whom the team promoted after he’d been the lieutenant to the previous personnel boss Matt Millen.
But, Wood explained the Lions didn’t just hire Quinn because he worked for the Patriots, where he spent the last four years as the director of pro scouting.
“It wasn’t an allure,” Wood said. “It’s not surprising to me that he has all the credentials and skills that he has and that he worked at the Patriots. I think working at a winning organization helped train him to be ready for the general manager spot.”
Teams around the NFL have tried to mold themselves after the Patriots, but nobody has matched their success.
Scott Pioli became the GM for Kansas City in 2009 after being the Patriots vice president of player personnel, but he held that job for just four seasons, including one trip to the playoffs.
Thomas Dimitroff became the Falcons GM in 2008 after being New England’s director of college scouting, and Atlanta has won just one playoff game.
Tampa Bay has finished below .500 in the first two years with Jason Licht as GM. He was a longtime scout for the Patriots.
“You really can’t do it unless you have a Bill Belichick, and there’s only one Bill Belichick,” said Floyd Reese, a former GM for the Oilers and Titans that spent 2009-12 as a senior football adviser in New England. “But there are certainly a lot of very, very strong areas that you would take out of New England and you would implement in any program that you were going into — any place in the country, any level.”
Among those things Quinn will try to implement is a team approach to the draft and free agency. He said he’ll never take credit for adding a player to the roster because 10 men were typically involved in a decision before Belichick made one.
“To be honest, the ‘Patriot Way’ is a way of life,” Reese said. “You just can’t point to three things and say, ‘This is the Patriot Way.’”
Edsall, who was head coach at UConn from 1999-2010 and Maryland from 2011-15, remembers Quinn standing out when he came to scout both schools because he’d ask different questions that showed he’d done research.
During Quinn’s time with the Patriots, the only player they drafted from either of Edsall’s teams was cornerback Darius Butler, a second-round pick in 2009. But Quinn’s leave-no-stone-unturned approach remained the same, Edsall said.
Reese said working for the Patriots helps prepare scouts for GM positions because their duties extend beyond their title. Plus, Quinn has worked in college and pro scouting, and even though he hasn’t cut people, he said the process in New England taught him how to do so.
And when he starts signing players and cutting them, his rise from the equipment room at UConn will be complete.
“I thought that he was a guy that was just unassuming from the standpoint that he did his job,” Edsall said. “He always understood the chain of command. He would do things the way the organization told him, and I think that’s why he rose through the Patriots organization the way he did.”