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Lions interview three former GMs for team's vacancy

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions announced they’ve completed interviews with three former general managers — Rick Smith, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli — for the team's vacancy.

Smith most recently served as the Houston Texans general manager from 2006-17. He stepped down from the role at the end of the 2017 season to be with his wife Tiffany while she battled breast cancer. She passed away in January 2019.

Prior to joining the Texans, Smith spent a decade with the Denver Broncos, first as a defensive backs coach before moving into the front office as the team’s director of pro personnel. 

Smith joined the Texans in 2006 after the team had finished the previous season with a 2-14 record. Over the next dozen years, he steadily built the roster up to a consistent playoff contender. The franchise qualified for the postseason four times between 2011-16. 

The Lions interviewed former Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith for their GM vacancy.

His most notable successes came using the Texans' top roster-building asset, first-round draft picks. During his tenure, he selected multiple Pro Bowl-caliber players in Duane Brown, J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins and franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Each of those four were selected outside the top 10. With Watson, Smith made a bold trade up to select the Clemson quarterback, sending the Cleveland Browns two first-round picks to move up 13 spots in the 2017 draft. 

Smith also earned league-wide praise in a second trade with Browns that year, creatively ridding his team of Brock Osweiler's over-sized contract by packaging it with an early-round draft pick. 

Dimitroff, who was fired by the Atlanta Falcons in October, worked as the team's GM for the better part of 12 years. Prior to that, he spent six seasons in New England, first as a scout then as the team's director of college scouting. 

A longtime college scout, Dimitroff previously worked for the Lions from 1994-97 under general manager Chuck Schmidt. 

Dimitroff joined the Falcons in 2008, one year after the team finished 4-12 in the wake of Michael Vick's imprisonment for his role in a dogfighting ring. With Dimitroff's first draft pick, he selected quarterback Matt Ryan, who helped led the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth his debut season. 

The Falcons would qualify for the postseason four of Dimitroff's first five seasons before making a Super Bowl run in 2016. But the team would cough up a 28-3 lead in that game and had been on a slow decline in the years since, culminating with Dimitroff's dismissal, along with coach Dan Quinn, after an 0-5 start to the 2020 season. 

Pioli had been Dimitroff's assistant general manager since 2014. Prior to that, he worked four years as Kansas City's general manager where he drafted star players such as Eric Berry and Justin Houston, but largely oversaw an unsuccessful four-year stretch with the franchise, finishing with a 23-41 record. 

Pioli bungled many of his biggest decisions, from his coaching hire of Todd Haley, to trading for Matt Cassel to serve as the franchise quarterback to drafting defensive end Tyson Jackson with the No. 3 overall pick. 

Pioli, like Dimitroff, also came through New England, where the former spent nine seasons, the last seven which he held the title of vice president of player personnel. It was there he served as the boss of Detroit's former general manager Bob Quinn, who was still working his way up as a college scout. 

The trio of interviews marked the fifth, sixth and seventh the Lions have conducted, along with internal candidates Kyle O'Brien, Rob Lohman and Lance Newmark, as well as ESPN analyst Louis Riddick

This is still viewed as the the early stages of a process that could see more than a dozen candidates considered before a replacement for Quinn is selected. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers