Rookie GM Quinn changing culture of lowly Lions
Allen Park – There’s no sugarcoating it. The Detroit Lions have been one of the least successful organizations in North American sports the past half century.
There’s no escaping the ugly history of futility. Since the team’s last championship in 1957, the Lions have qualified for the postseason a measly 12 times and won just a single playoff game, beating the Dallas Cowboys in 1991 before getting steamrolled by Washington in the NFC championship.
In recent years, the Lions have made some strides toward competitiveness, but that low threshold for success hasn’t been good enough and has led to big changes to the team’s front office. General manager Martin Mayhew was fired last November and Bob Quinn, a longtime member of the uber-successful New England Patriots organization, was brought in with the hope he can bring over some of that championship mentality to the Motor City.
Quinn’s success in Detroit, like every other NFL general manager, will hinge on his roster-building acumen and the coaching staff’s ability to develop that roster, maximizing its potential. But the rookie general manager also has his sights set on changing the culture of the lowly organization, which he defines as making the workplace a place where players want to spend and invest their time.
“If you can come into a workplace and feel comfortable, you might do your job a little bit better,” Quinn said.
The initial investment in the team’s practice facility has been significant. The Lions completely re-did the weight room, installed new turf on its indoor field, upgraded the hydrotherapy room, altered many of the building’s aesthetics and hired a dietician to revamp the menu.
“All those little things, they won’t help me do my job,” Quinn said. “I hope all those little things will accumulate to our players being able to do their jobs just a little bit better. That’s the start of creating the culture.
“Culture is all those little things adding up and guys wanting to do a little extra work, watch a little extra film, guys wanting to hang out and have a meal with a teammate Thursday after practice,” Quinn said.
A handful of Lions have Super Bowl experience. They’ve been a part of an organization that has reached the pinnacle of the sport. One of those players, Golden Tate, was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks the same year Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider joined the organization and the Lions receiver sees similarities in Quinn’s approach.
“They upgraded things, including the jerseys,” Tate said. “It was almost like it was a new Seahawks team. Now when you think of that team, you think of championships, great players and a great organization… What I thought was important in Seattle when we were winning, they’re implementing here.”
The aesthetic alterations are apparent all around the Lions’ practice facility. There is new art – portraits of current and former players – lining the main corridor of the building. The windows that line the indoor field have been treated to look like Honolulu blue and silver frosted glass. And in the locker room, there is new lighting and paint job.
There are also new clocks, a new scale and two new cleat drying racks. Each locker is now equipped with electric outlets so players can charge their playbooks and their phones. The team’s schedule, which used to be written on a dry erase board in the middle of the room, now appears on multiple TV screens around the building, so everyone knows where they need to be at all times.
“It’s cosmetic, but I think sometimes cosmetic has an effect,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “(The players) like it. They think it’s better for them and we just kind of rearranged some things, which I think are helpful. I’m sure there’s more to come.”
Those changes add to the appeal of the building, and certainly won’t hurt when prospective free agents are brought into town in future years, but some of other upgrades offer potentially long-term impact. The fresh field turf on the indoor field was long overdue. Not only is it a softer surface when a player goes to the ground, hopefully reducing injury, but it’s the same as the turf at Ford Field, recreating a game-day feel.
The weight room, which is run by former Patriots trainer Harold Nash, was also revamped. New equipment was installed in a more open layout to allow more players to work out at the same time. Nash has also brought a new approach to training, designed to make a bigger, faster, stronger team.
But of all the changes, none have resonated more than the addition of nutritionist Sarah Snyder.
Snyder brought extensive sports nutrition experience to Detroit having worked for EXOS, an elite training facility, as well as for Florida State and the University of Michigan.
Not only has Snyder helped revamp the food offerings around the building, but she’s available in the cafeteria during every meal, offering individually tailored nutrition advice with an estimated three-quarters of the roster utilized during the offseason program.
“I’ve had breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked for me the better part of decade and the food is phenomenal right now, plus it’s healthy,” quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. “You take it for granted sometimes, but it’s awesome. It’s very beneficial for us as a team, keeping our bodies healthier into November and December.”
And that’s the goal, not just with the food, but with the revamped weight room and the upgraded therapy room. The Lions want to be in better shape, physically and mentally, deeper in to the season.
Will there be a noticeable difference on the field? Probably not in Week 1. Maybe not even in 2016. The vision is longer than that. Of course Quinn wants to win now, but winning consistently, year after year like he got used to in New England, that’s the real prize.
“Individually, the changes are small, but they accumulate over time and make a huge deal, especially late in the season,” Tate said. “The hydro room, the training room, it’s all pluses. Even the pictures on the walls, it’s a different feel around here. It doesn’t feel like the same old Lions around here, the way it’s been the past however many years. It feels different around here. That’s something that players, we can feel, we can see.”