Bob Quinn Is Selling More Than Empty Hope

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The Lions GM Is A Competent NFL Executive. He Started From The Bottom- Worked His Way Up.


Bob Quinn doesn’t let his Massachusetts accent bleed through very often. You can still hear it when he gets excited, but he seems to have taken great care to obliterate it. Quinn is a New Englander through and through. He grew up in Norwood Mass. Quinn’s nickname within the Patriots organization was “Bob from Norwood” due to his thick local accent. Scott Pioli used to use the nickname in professional settings. “He’d look at me, shake his head, turn red, and give his report” Pioli said in an interview with Josh Katzenstein, formerly of the Detroit News.

Quinn’s father did not allow him to play football in high school. The future Lions GM was a baseball and basketball player in his youth. He was a rabid fan of all sports. He was on his high school student council, and he won “best smile” in his senior yearbook.

Bob Quinn’s Baby Steps

Quinn’s first verifiable steps in football come from his time at UConn. He earned a Bachelors degree in political science and a Master’s degree in sports management. It was during his grad studies that he began his football journey. Quinn served as a graduate assistant for Connecticut in 1998-99.

What does a graduate assistant actually do? They get tape ready in the editing room for the coaches. They get scouting reports prepared and printed off for position group meetings. GA’s watch endless hours of tape so that they can bring an opponent’s tendencies to the coaching staff’s attention. They work with the third string group in practice. They are on call 24/7 to do anything and everything that the team’s coaching staff need. This is the entry-level position for coaches and front office employees. This is where Bob Quinn began the journey to becoming an NFL general manager.

Bob Quinn Turns Pro

In 2000 Quinn took a similar job with the NFL’s New England Patriots. A player personnel assistant is the bottom rung of the ladder in NFL front offices, but Quinn did not stay there long. Quinn’s trademark as a front office employee was organization and preparedness. He had a unique experience in that he worked for an employer with a stable structure, Bill Belichick was its head for Quinn’s entire tenure with the Patriots. The team also lost enough employees to other organizations that there was a constant string of new opportunities for Quinn to move into. As other teams poached names like Pioli, Thomas Dimitroff, Jon Robinson, and Jason Licht for their front offices, Quinn steadily moved up the ranks of the Patriots organization.

Quinn served the Patriots in all aspects of scouting. He was a regional scout for four years and a pro personnel scout for two. He served as a national scout for a year before he became the assistant director of pro personnel in 2009. quinn became the director of pro scouting in May of 2012. At the time of his leaving, Quinn was one of the very few people with access to the New England Patriots draft room. He had gone from being “Bob from Norwood” to becoming a vital cog in the best run organization in football.

Bob Quinn gets his shot

Quinn caught the eye of Ernie Accorsi in 2015. Acorsi is the football guy’s football guy. He started his career as an executive in 1970 with the Baltimore Colts and rose to the General Manager position for three different franchises. In 2012 he began consulting with teams for their general manager vacancies. During the 2013 offseason, he helped the Carolina Panthers find Dave Gettleman. During the 2015 offseason, Accorsi was tasked with finding the Chicago Bears a general manager. The final decision was for the Bears to hire Ryan Pace, but one of the candidates who stuck out for Acorsi was Quinn’s. When the Lions came calling later that year after firing most of their front office, Accorsi had Quinn’s name on his shortlist.

The Lions GM search was months long. Quinn was one interview among many. It was his preparation that set him apart. Mrs. Ford wanted a culture change, she had started that process by firing the brain trust that had run the organization since 2009. Quinn had a plan for what needed to be done starting on the day he was hired. One thing he had reserved judgment on, however, was the team’s head coaching position. It is almost automatic that a general manager will bring in a new coaching staff. Quinn, however, met with Jim Caldwell and thought better of moving on.

Quinn has said since the hiring of Matt Patricia in 2018 that he the Lions current coach was on the list of future head coaches Quinn brought with him to Detroit. It is tempting to look at Caldwell as a placeholder. He was more than that though. Quinn saw that the Lions did not need to be gutted, simply refocused. There were huge deficiencies in the roster. The 7-9 record the team managed in 2015 was a minor miracle. Quinn saw that the Lions had already gone most of the way toward having the culture he wanted. He saw that there was a culture where the players on the team believed in themselves and their coaches.

Bob Quinn and Jim Caldwell

It was not until the midpoint of the 2017 season that the belief in each other and the coaching staff began to slip. Players began calling out the coaching staff publicly rather than privately for not putting them in a position to succeed. When that belief slipped, Quinn did not let the team’s 18-14 record over the past two seasons stay his hand. He fired Jim Caldwell and brought in Matt Patricia, a coach he knew. This was a coach he believed could get the team the rest of the way.

Quinn has shown similar restraint with the roster. Rather than tear down a mediocre group and completely refashion it, he has tweaked and augmented the group. He went after second or third tier free agents he believed could help the team without tanking the team’s salary cap situation. Marvin Jones is an example of the strategy working out. Akeem Spence is an example of the strategy not working out. Rather than pay the Lions players anything they wanted to stay, as previous regimes had often done, Quinn formed alternate plans when their salary demands were unreasonable. Replacing Larry Warford and Riley Reiff with T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner under smaller contracts in a single offseason is the best example of this.

Bob Quinn Handles his Business

Gone are the days when the Lions were drafting players to replace alienated free agents immediately, and the depth was paper thin. Reiff had been replaced at left tackle the previous draft. Quinn had gambled on interior linemen Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl as well hoping to find Warford’s replacement. Quinn anticipates team needs rather than reacting to them. The Lions have more than one plan for moving forward. I have been a Lions fan since the 1990s, and this is the first time I recall that being the case.

Quinn drafts players hoping they will step into roles, but with a contingency for if they do not. Darius Slay was pushed onto the field before he was ready because the Lions had little choice. Bob Quinn kept Nevin Lawson and brought in D.J. Hayden to stand between Teez Tabor and the field. Quinn’s drafts look to the future because the present is handled. It was hoped that Miles Killebrew would become a starting caliber strong safety. That hs not happened, but Tavon Wilson who was signed in the same offseason Killebrew was drafted, has been an adequate starter at the position.

Bob Quinn Sells More Than Hope

Quinn has not made the Detroit Lions one of the elite teams in the NFL during his two short seasons. He has, however, brought them a great distance toward that end. Quinn inherited a team with no depth that was built around a few superstars. He has built a team that has been greater than the sum of its parts in two consecutive seasons and able to survive bad games from its best players. In doing so he has given Detroit Lions fans something they are unaccustomed to having: not just hope, but an expectation that the team will do well.

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About the Author

Ash Thompson
Ash Thompson is a fanatical football fan, and less fanatical hockey fan despite his Canadian heritage. He is sorry aboot that. His spirit animal is a beaver with a shark's head. He is also known as /u/a5hcrack on reddit, and can be found on twitter @a5hcrack