Lions' Brad Holmes finds inspiration in Ozzie Newsome, father's fight in path to GM

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Since middle school, when he skipped school to watch the NFL Draft, new Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes dreamed of being an scout. And once he realized that goal, he contentedly threw himself fully into the work, as opposed to focusing on future aspirations. 

"When I got into scouting, I never really looked ahead," Holmes said. "I was just so happy to be in actually the industry of scouting that when I was a scouting assistant, I just wanted to be the best scouting assistant. And when I was an area scout, I just wanted to be the best area scout. You know, all the way up until obviously being in the director of college scouting role (with the Rams), I was truly just trying to be the best college director in the entire league."

Brad Holmes

But there was a brief moment, ahead of getting married to his wife Lisa, that Holmes allowed himself to imagine reaching the top of his profession, becoming a general manager. 

"Right before I got married, we had to go through this pre-marital counseling through my wife’s church, and they told us to make vision boards," Holmes said. "I had never heard what a vision board was, ever. They explained it to me and me and my wife had to make one, and part of my vision board was a cutout of Ozzie Newsome hoisting a Super Bowl trophy."

There was symbolism in selecting an image of Newsome, because like Holmes, the former Ravens general manager is Black. Not only that, Newsome was the league's first Black general manager. 

And breaking racial barriers is important in Holmes family. His father, Mel Holmes, battled similar resistance as a Black offensive lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the early 1970s, when the position was predominantly White during that era. 

The league has made progress on diversity in recent decades. In fact, three Black general managers have been hired the past two cycles. But part of the problem slowing that progress, according to Holmes, is a lack of diversity at the positions that lead to GM opportunities. 

"When I look across the league, I see that there’s less than 10 people of color that are at the director of college scouting role," he said. "There’s less than 10 in the league that are at the — if you want to call it the assistant GM role, or whatever that No. 2 position is. So, to add more diversity to those levels, to make the pipeline even stronger, I think it will be definitely a step forward."

The league has long had the Rooney Rule in place, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for top jobs, including head coach and general manager. That was expanded this past year to include coordinator and additional front office positions.

Perhaps more importantly, the league now is rewarding teams, not for hiring minorities, but for developing them for top jobs. For example, the Rams will receive two third-round draft picks for grooming Holmes to earn Detroit's GM job. 

As an organization, the Lions reached a low point with their diversity when former GM Matt Millen failed to follow the Rooney Rule when hiring Steve Mariucci in 2003, netting a $200,000 fine in the process. 

But in the years following they've been one of the league leaders.

General manager Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell formed just the second Black GM-coach pairing in NFL history, and the William Clay Ford Minority Coaching Assistantship, established under former coach Matt Patricia, provides young, minority coaches an opportunity to get started in the profession. 

The hiring of Holmes merely continues the team's growing legacy. 

Now Holmes hopes to be an inspiration to other young people of color the way Newsome inspired him years ago. 

"I take a lot of pride in that in terms of when I cut out that picture of Ozzie Newsome hoisting up that trophy, I thought of when I was able to get this role, I said, ‘Well, I hope that I can be that same symbolism of hope for younger kids, Black and Brown kids, that can look up to people like myself,'" Holmes said.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers