"I'm not a football guy."
It was hard not to reflect on those infamous words from Rod Wood upon being named president of the Lions in 2015 when on Tuesday Chris Spielman, upon being named a special advisor to Wood and owner Sheila Ford Hamp, said this: "My whole life has been about football."
Which brings the 55-year-old Spielman to his biggest football challenge yet, trying to help the most hapless franchise in the NFL, maybe in all of professional sports, find the leaders it's been lacking for longer than Spielman has been alive.
"There’s one goal right now: to get the best coach and best general manager that’s best for the Detroit Lions," Spielman said.
Many have embarked on the same task. All have failed. Ford Hamp and Wood are hoping that Spielman will be different, that through a life in football and deep ties to the Lions he'll seek out the right attributes in the front office and on the sideline and sniff out the right duo for a franchise that has one playoff win since 1957.
"I have a vision that matches exactly what Rod and Sheila envision," Spielman said. "And that’s the only way this can work, if we’re completely in sync on the direction of the culture we're building."
Spielman, who starred for the Lions from 1988-95 when a number of star-studded teams went to waste, talked a lot on Tuesday about culture. It's an easy word to depend on, a difficult one to define. Even more difficult when the themes at your disposal are disappointment and disarray.
So Spielman's task is two-fold, carving a culture out of nothing, and identifying the men who can bring it to life. His tools will be his travels around the NFL, first as a player and later as a broadcaster, and the conversations he's had with some of the sharpest minds in the game, all of them documented in journals he still keeps in his office.
"This is just my philosophy, I know this, in talking to very successful coaches around the league, when you have players playing for each other and not worrying about anything else, that’s the type of culture you want," Spielman said. "I know exactly what it looks like. I don’t have the words to describe it, but when I see it I know it."
Shortly after the Lions fired Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn, Ford Hamp was asked what kind of attributes the organization is looking for in its next head coach and next GM. She said she had a few ideas, but wasn't entirely sure. It felt like a question for which she should have been better prepared. Ultimately, your culture is defined by the values you strive to fulfill.
Spielman was asked a similar question on Tuesday, and had a lot more to say. He said good leaders understand their responsibility. Referencing the military, he said "they're not afraid to hire" talented people around them, because they never feel "threatened." He said they don't micromanage every aspect of a team.
"But leadership can’t waver," Spielman said. "Whatever your values are, whatever your identity, whatever your culture, it has to stay the same. Once you start wavering from your core beliefs and you try to change overnight, I don’t think that’s the best thing for a team."
Spielman describes himself as a 'servant' for the Lions moving forward. He wants to do whatever is needed for the franchise that he says will forever be part of his identity. The Lions have never needed Spielman more than now, as they stumble upon another crossroads in search of the right direction.
"Drawing on my experiences on all different levels, talking to general managers and coaches every single week, hearing what works for them and what doesn’t work, books and journals of these notes I’ve taken -- I know exactly what Sheila and Rod want and hopefully I can help them, and us, get there," Spielman said.