ALLEN PARK — Brad Holmes once worked for Enterprise Rental Car because he couldn’t find a job in the NFL. Then he started working public relations for the Atlanta Hawks.
In 2003, he finally broke into the NFL — as an intern in the public relations department for the St. Louis Rams.
Now 18 years later, he is set to become the next general manager of the Detroit Lions.
Holmes is expected to sign a five-year deal to replace Bob Quinn in Detroit, according to multiple reports. He becomes the Lions’ newest top boss after working his way up from the very bottom with the Rams, eventually cracked the scouting department as an intern and has served the last eight years as that team’s college scouting director.
He was the point-man for landing big-time draft picks like two-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald — after the Lions had passed on him for Eric Ebron — 2017 offensive player of the year Todd Gurley and two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Jared Goff. That group won one NFC championship in 2017, reeled off a fourth straight winning season this year and just beat the Seahawks 30-20 in a wild-card game over the weekend. They will travel to Green Bay on Saturday to face the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs — a round the Lions haven’t seen since the 1991 season.
Now the Lions are turning over their pursuit of their first playoff win since that season to Holmes. He was picked from a pool of 12 candidates who interviewed for the position, an exhaustive search that quadrupled the pool that produced Bob Quinn back in 2016 and culminated with one of the worst regimes in franchise history. Quinn and Matt Patricia were fired after a blowout loss on Thanksgiving left the so-called Quinntricia era just 13-29-1.
“I think having gone through (the hiring process) now twice, there’s things I’ve learned and things hopefully that we’ll do better,” team president Rod Wood said recently. “I think one of the things is adding more people to the process.”
That included on the Lions’ side, where Wood and owner Shiela Ford Hamp led the search, but brought in outside voices by hiring Chris Spielman as a full-time advisor and part-time consultants like Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, former Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis and former Cardinals general manager Rod Graves.
The Lions also expanded the candidate pool, interviewing folks like Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds, former Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, former Texans general manager Rick Smith, former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, Saints assistant general manager for pro personnel Terry Fontenot, Vikings assistant general manager George Paton, Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland, and internal candidates Rob Lohman, Lance Newmark and Kyle O’Brien.
Paton, who worked under Spielman’s brother in Minnesota, was the only candidate brought in to Allen Park for the first round of interviews and thought to be a favorite. But he agreed to a six-year deal with Denver, and Detroit turned its focus to Holmes.
Holmes was the only candidate brought in for a second interview. The Atlanta Falcons also pursued him heavily, interviewing him twice, but he has ultimately agreed to take the Detroit job instead.
A Tampa, Fla. native, Holmes graduated cum laude from North Carolina A&T in 2002 with a degree in journalism and mass communications. He was a defensive tackle on the football team and was voted a captain of the squad that won the 1999 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Black College Football National Championship.
Football runs in Holmes’ blood. His father, Mel, was a guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His uncle, Luther Bradley, was a first-round pick of the Lions in 1978. And Brad Holmes carried on that tradition, playing defensive tackle at North Carolina A&T.
But his jump into the business side of the game wasn’t an easy one. He had so much trouble landing that first job that he spent some time working at Enterprise Rental Car, then doing public relations for the Atlanta Hawks. He took another PR internship with the St. Louis Rams in 2003 before landing a scouting internship for the following draft. His responsibilities included making coffee, running guys to/from the airport and making copies.
Less than two decades later, he’s become the latest in a long line of first-time general managers charged with bringing the Detroit Lions back to life after more than six decades of interrupted failure. That’s a daunting task, made more so by a roster that fell into disrepair during the failed import of the Patriot Way.
The Lions nearly set the franchise record for yards allowed in a season in 2019, then actually set the record in 2020. That’s two of the three worst defenses in franchise history, in back-to-back years, and now they have just five draft picks and a shrinking cap to address their considerable needs — none of which even considers looming questions about what to do with quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Kenny Golladay, the latter of whom is eligible to become a free agent in March.
For now, the focus will turn to pairing Holmes with the right head coach. The Lions have said they envision a partnership-style relationship between their new GM and coach, rather than a top-down reporting structure. The Holmes hire was made independent of the head coach, and Sheila Ford Hamp, not Holmes, is expected to pick the next whistle.
Considering the inexperience of Holmes — he is a first-time GM, just like all of his predecessors in Detroit — it would not be a surprise to see the Lions pursue a head coach with experience. The most experienced candidate the Lions have interviewed is former Bengals Marvin Lewis. Other candidates who have served as head coaches include Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell (once the interim HC in Miami) and Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell. Detroit has also requested to speak with former Jets head coch Todd Bowles, although that talk has not yet taken place.
Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith does not have head coaching experience, but has already landed the first (and only) second interview with Detroit. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh have also interviewed for the position.
Detroit also was interested in Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, but was rebuffed.
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