Why the Detroit Lions would Interview Marvin Lewis

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Ash Thompson speculates why. The Detroit Lions interviewed head coaching candidate Marvin Lewis before hiring his boss.

The conventional wisdom says that you hire your GM, and then he hires his head coach. The Lions appear to not be using conventional wisdom exclusively in their search to fill those two roles. On Thursday of last week, the Lions interviewed former Ravens defensive coordinator and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. Lewis was the co-DC with red hot NCAA level DC Antonio Pierce for the Arizona State Sun Devils under former Chiefs and Jets head coach Herm Edwards. Lewis is by far the most accomplished coaching candidate that is currently available and interested in coaching. Still, the Lions have not hired their GM. So what are they doing?

The first and most obvious conclusion to draw is that one of the GM candidates that the Lions interviewed before Thursday listed Lewis as his head coaching choice. Lewis had a deal in place with that coach. The Lions had interviewed Rick Smith, Scott Pioli, Thomas Dimitroff, and Louis Riddick before talking to Lewis, as all were out of the NFL at the time and thus available for interviews. There are not clear professional connections between Lewis and any of those candidates. They’ve never worked together.

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Why the Bengals lost before and after Lewis

However, Lewis’s professional past may give us insight into which of the candidates he would likely be attached to.
Lewis was the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals for fifteen years. He went 131-129 as the head coach of a small, working-class region NFL franchise. The Bengals made the playoffs seven times, but they famously never won a game. Part of that fall onto Lewis; clearly, he’s the man in charge of the on-field product, after all. But there are underlying issues in Cincinnati that doom the franchise to mediocrity at best. The Brown family is cheap. They are not just cheap in a “let all the free agents leave when they get too expensive” kind of way, though they are that. They are cheap in a behind the scenes “the team stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night kind of way. They are cheap in a “The owner’s kid and a couple of buddies are our scouting department” kind of way.

The Bengals have been more than happy to bring in players with character issues over the years. I have always wondered how much of that was intentional and how much was simply not spending the resources necessary to understand the mental makeup of the people they were drafting. In either case, Lewis was handed a room full of strong personalities more often than not and asked to cobble together a team from players assembled by a severely underfunded pro and amateur scouting department. And through 15 years, he did an admiral job of competing with the perennial favorites in the Division: The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Despite being the third-best organization (they were still better run than the Browns throughout Lewis’s tenure), the Bengals won several division titles.

It is in his history with the Bengals organization that we can find clues as to which of the Lions GM candidates would be likely to pair up with Lewis. I would speculate that Lewis wants more control over the roster than he had in Cincinnati. Rather than handling the boss’ kid’s madden roster, Lewis would likely want to enter into something more like what Pete Carroll has in Seattle. The Seahawks have a GM who gets all of the hard work of running the pro and amateur scouting departments dealt with to feed Lewis information but hands the keys to Lewis on draft day and during free agency. And I think that eliminates two of the candidates the Lions interviewed outright.

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So Whose the Boss?

Rick Smith are the belles of the GM search ball. Both of them have had successful runs as the head man in charge. Both built playoff, even Superbowl contending rosters in Dimitroff’s case, in the recent past. I can not imagine either of these two men wanting to do all of the work and then hand off the most important duties to another person. That leaves us with two candidates: Scott Pioli and Louis Riddick HERE is what Louis Riddick had to say when Marvin Lewis was fired in Cincinnati.

If you’re not somewhere that you can watch the video, here is a summary:

  • The Bengals are a terrible organization
  • Marvin Lewis won in spite of the Bengals organizational mismanagement
  • He won division championships in a division with two perennial powerhouses. 
  • Marvin Lewis is a great coach.

I don’t know anything. I’m just a guy connecting the dots and scrambling in the dark looking for answers. With that said, the least difficult conclusion to come to here is that the Detroit Lions are seriously considering Riddick. This makes sense if he is open to taking a job where he is not the sole voice in charge of the entire operation. The Lions just hired Chris Spielman for a nebulous role providing “whatever the new GM needs” from him. They might have difficulty landing a GM who demands absolute power. After three failed GMs in a row who did, a different direction is probably in order. Riddick does not have the resume of an oligarch-style GM. He would likely need several people to help him. After several years of interviews, he could very well be willing to hand roster control over to someone like Marvin Lewis just to get back into the league. 

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This is Pure Speculation

That is my theory as to why the Lions interviewed Marvin Lewis before they hired a GM. There are individual head coaches who will want control over the roster. Lewis is very likely one of those after his time under the Brown family circus. Other coaching candidates like Matt Campbell of Iowa would very likely want some control over the organization’s direction as well. The Lions are serving their own interests by talking to the coach that such a GM candidate would hire before making their hiring decision regarding the GM candidate.

For every success story like Bill Belichick in New England or Pete Carroll in Seattle, there is a dismal failure like Chip Kelly in Philadelphia or Mike Holmgren in Seattle. As with all methodologies, this arrangement can work spectacularly well if everyone gets on board with the coach’s program, or it can fall apart at the seams if they do not. It takes years to figure out which of those two situations a team has on its hands. At this point, all Lions fans can do is hope that this is the time the team finally gets it right. I like Lewis as a candidate because he has experience. He has seen the wrong way to build a team in Cincinnati, and in Baltimore, he saw the right way. He is an effective leader of men, and former players speak glowingly of him all but unanimously. If a GM like Riddick were coming to Detroit, a coach like Lewis would be an excellent complementary piece in the front office. 

Ash Thompson isn’t currently promoting anything, and he’s not looking for followers on social media. He can be found in the Detroit Lions Podcast Patreon slack chat, which you can be a part of for as little as $1 a month HERE, where he will happily talk Lions with you and several hundred of the most intelligent Lions fans on the internet.

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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 enjoys maple syrup and tacos, but never at the same time.