O’Brien likely to prove best addition to Lions staff

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn tapped Kyle O'Brien as his director of player personnel, which is a move seen as crucial to building the Lions' front office staff.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn made some changes to the personnel staff the past two months, but according to his colleagues around the league, nothing will be as important as the addition of director of player personnel Kyle O’Brien.

In addition to people saying O’Brien has a good eye for talent, his relationship with Quinn should help create a smooth transition for the new regime.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Jason Licht spoke at length about the importance of a GM bouncing ideas off his scouts, and he said Quinn is ahead of the curve in adding people like O’Brien.

“They came in together in New England,” said Licht, who worked for the Patriots alongside Quinn and O’Brien. “They were very young, right out of school as scouting assistants, very close to each other and they developed a strong bond, good working relationship and respect based on their working relationship — not just hiring a friend that you knew growing up.”

Quinn and O’Brien worked together for more than a decade in New England with both starting as interns in 2000. Quinn spent 16 years with the Patriots before the Lions hired him in January, and O’Brien was there through the 2011 season before working with the Chiefs in 2012 and Jaguars from 2013-15.

Although the Lions haven’t made O’Brien available to the media, he told the team website that he’s glad to have another chance to work with Quinn.

“We speak the same language, and we view things through the same scope,” O’Brien said in a video last week.

When Licht took over as Buccaneers GM in 2014, he added a familiar lieutenant like Quinn did with O’Brien. Licht hired Jon Robinson as director of player personnel after the two previously worked together in New England, and Robinson took over as the GM for the Tennessee Titans in January.

“There’s a lot of things that I would just do because I knew that’s what Jason would want,” Robinson said of his being Licht’s top assistant the past two years. “So, taking some initiative and kind of getting the plan rolling, so that when Jason came in from a marketing meeting or something (else) that he was responsible for, we could get back to football and it was lined up and ready to go.”

Of course, just because Quinn and O’Brien know each other well, the expectation won’t be that they have to always agree.

“We’re our own individual thinkers,” Robinson said. “That’s part of scouting. Scouting is a subjective business. All of our scouts are paid to give their opinion. That’s what their job is. Not that we want arguments, but we want them to write and talk about how they see the player and how they see him helping our football team. I don’t want them to agree with me all the time.”

Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, another former Patriots scout, said it’s important for scouts to bring strong opinions when discussing players. Dimitroff talked about the “Patriot Paradigm” and the importance of having a specific plan with how each player fits in the scheme.

In that way, O’Brien can help the rest of the Lions scouts understand what Quinn wants to accomplish. O’Brien also said his new job requires him to talk to more agents, which means he’s playing a key role in free agency.

The Lions have yet to hire a pro personnel director to replace Sheldon White, but with Quinn working on the pro side before becoming GM, they might not need one before free agency.

As for the Combine, O’Brien said the Lions scouts are using the annual event to support their scouting as opposed to looking too closely at the testing.

“It’s another part of the puzzle, but our biggest evaluation is on film,” O’Brien said on the team website. “We want football players. Obviously guys who test well, it’s a great indicator of explosiveness and overall athleticism. But again, it’s another piece of the puzzle, and we just want to make sure it confirms and supports what we see on film. And if it doesn’t, then that means we need to go back and watch a little bit more because we want football players.”