Relentlessness, passion behind Quinn’s rise to Lions GM

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
A photo of Bob Quinn playing basketball in the 1994 Norwood High yearbook.

Even in New England, Bob Quinn’s accent was a talking point.

The thick accent even earned Quinn a nickname — Bob from Norwood — from people in the Patriots scouting department because Scott Pioli, the former New England personnel executive, thought Quinn sounded like many of the Massachusetts radio callers.

“He’d look at me, shake his head, turn red and give his report,” Pioli said, recalling when he’d use the nickname in draft prep meetings.

As a native of Norwood, Mass., the Patriots were his hometown team, and that was part of the reason he took an internship with New England to complete his master’s degree at UConn. Less than a month after the internship started in 2000, Bill Belichick took over as coach and Pioli arrived in the front office.

Quinn was a “relentless worker,” Pioli said, so the boss hired the intern to a full-time job as a player personnel assistant. Then, Quinn kept climbing the ranks of an organization that has dominated the NFL since the turn of the century.

“He did a good job of, in his youth, doing more listening than talking,” said Pioli, who’s now the assistant general manager for the Atlanta Falcons. “As he grew and gained knowledge, he developed opinions. And he developed strong opinions, but not about everything. He developed strong opinions about things that he knew about.”

Now, Quinn, 39, will bring those opinions to Detroit with the Lions hiring him to be their new GM. The position is in stark contrast to his past jobs when he was reporting to other people, be it Pioli, Belichick or current Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio.

For the past 16 years, Quinn learned about the process the Patriots used to build a team. That quality helped him progress through the organization, but Pioli said he wasn’t shy when he had convictions.

“Even though he’s respectful, he can be passionate, and he can be chippy at times — in a productive way, in a good way,” Pioli said. “Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of confrontation, and that’s part of our organizational group philosophy. That’s part of the Belichick, (Bill) Parcells kind of thing. Because if it’s all Kumbaya all the time, it doesn’t always generate a lack of comfort that forces thinking.”

Interest in all sports

People in Quinn’s hometown didn’t expect him to become an NFL GM. He didn’t even play football.

“He was playing baseball so well that I just didn’t want to jeopardize that,” his father, Bob Sr., said.

So Quinn played baseball and basketball throughout high school, but Norwood High School basketball coach Dave Powell recalls that Quinn had interest in all sports.

Bob Quinn

“He did always have that passion for sports and following all sports,” Powell said. “It’s kind of a rabid area. It’s like Detroit in that sense, I think, that whatever season it is, they follow their teams pretty enthusiastically. He was kind of like that in those days.

“He hung around with a real athletic group of kids that were always talking sports. That’s all they did is talk sports, and they were all good students and they were all smart kids.”

In addition to playing sports, Quinn was on student council and was a peer educator. As a senior, he won best smile in the yearbook.

Powell was Quinn’s English teacher in ninth grade and advised the student council. Whether in sports or other areas, Quinn showed aptitude. On the basketball team, Quinn wasn’t a great scorer, but Powell said he trusted Quinn to defend the best player on the other team because he played smart.

Quinn was also a step ahead of his peers and typically knew when to be in the right place at the right time.

“I don’t think anybody that knows Bobby Quinn would look back and be surprised that he ended up being like an impact person in a sports organization,” Powell said.

Football started at UConn

Then, Quinn moved on to UConn, and when he started pursuing his master’s degree in sports management, the football connections began.

According to Dr. Bill Servedio, the former department head of sports, leisure and exercise sciences, most students in Quinn’s program would find some sort of job in sports at the university, be it as a graduate assistant or in ticketing, marketing or facilities.

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In 1998, Quinn started as a graduate assistant with the Huskies football team, but most of his duties were as an equipment manager.

The classes for the two-year graduate program were small, typically with fewer than 20 students per class. And Servedio said the plan was for students to find an internship in the field for their final semester with hopes they could turn it into a full-time job.

Some students found internships at colleges or with minor league baseball or hockey teams. Quinn’s wife, Julie, was in the program and later earned a job in administration with the UConn athletics department.

Other students worked with pro teams such as the New York Giants or Knicks. Quinn’s internship was with the Patriots.

“We always prided ourselves on finding them good locations with good potential, and I think Bob was very fortunate to get in there and do so well,” Servedio said.

Attention to detail

Quinn was fortunate, too, that Randy Edsall arrived as UConn’s coach in 1999.

After the overhaul in New England in 2000, when Quinn’s internship was to run from January to June, Pioli arrived and had control over the scouting department. Although he didn’t want to send away a graduate student receiving course credit, Pioli spoke with Edsall about Quinn because they coached together at Syracuse in the late 1980s.

At UConn, Edsall said he’d ask Quinn information about the players, and his detail impressed him. That same attention to detail helped Quinn be successful with the Patriots, a team that has specific ideas about the players they want at each position.

Right away, Pioli recognized that Quinn was ready, willing and able to do any tasks the team asked him.

“The other thing that I appreciated about Bob is that he didn’t entangle himself in either direction in the office politics,” Pioli said. “He just wanted to be on the side that was working. He wasn’t trying to convince me how important he was or throwing people under the bus for self-advancement.

“It wasn’t nepotism that got him where he is. It wasn’t the good ol’ boy network. It wasn’t politicking. It was, he earned that right.”

In 2002, Quinn became a pro scout, and from 2004-07, he was a regional scout. In 2008, he became a national scout.

Then, Pioli left to become the GM for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009, but Quinn kept ascending, becoming the assistant director of pro personnel from 2009-11 and the director of pro scouting from 2012-15.

Pioli said he avoided pillaging the Patriots scouting department and taking men like Quinn with him to Kansas City because of the relationship he had with people in New England. Now, Quinn will have to decide how he wants to build his scouting staff.

Initially, the challenge is getting the people and having enough people around you that all believe in the same core principles, values and, very important, the process,” said Pioli, who lasted just four seasons with the Chiefs. “Because the process takes a lot of time and a lot of work, and not a lot of people want to be process-driven or system driven.”

Among Pioli’s advice to Quinn after he received the Lions job was to use Ernie Accorsi as a resource. A former NFL GM for the Giants, Browns and Baltimore Colts, the Lions hired Accorsi as a consultant in their GM search, and he’s staying on as a part-time adviser.

Pioli said Quinn was a thorough and well-researched scout who knew what the Patriots wanted in players both physically and mentally. When Quinn went on assignments, Pioli said he frequently returned with “a product that was better than what I asked for.”

The Lions hope Quinn can do the same thing for a franchise with one postseason victory since 1957.

Quinn is now more of a celebrity in Norwood, a city with about 30,000 people. According to Powell, the biggest recent Norwood celebrity was Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, but Powell said people are “buzzing” about Quinn now.

“There’s just something in the water in the town of Norwood that breeds unique people who have a love for certain sports and a passion for it,” said Paul Samargedlis, manager of the American Legion baseball team in Norwood. “I think if he’s bottled some of that up, he’s probably going to do very well out there.”

And even though Quinn is the boss now, Pioli said the Boston-sounding redhead will have no problem enforcing his ideas because he can be pointed while staying positive.

“People will know it because Bob’s Irish complexion turns red in a hurry,” Pioli said, laughing. “Even though I was the boss, he directed that towards me sometimes, and truthfully, that was OK.”