When the Lions fired coach Rod Marinelli, the fans applauded the move. The Lions were the NFL's first 0-16 team. Firing the coach was a no-brainer.
But when the team also promoted Tom Lewand to president and kept Martin Mayhew as general manager, the fans were upset. Lewand and Mayhew were part of 0-16, too. They were part of the front office as the Lions went 31-97 since 2001, the worst eight-year stretch in the NFL since World War II.
Lewand and Mayhew know the public-relations situation, and they aren't trying to fight it. But they believe they have what it takes to turn around a franchise that has only one playoff victory in more than half a century.
"Our words are just that," Lewand said. "The thing that we can say to our fans out there is not that our words are going to change 0-16. Our actions are going to change 0-16."
Lewand will oversee the team in general and day-to-day business. Mayhew will have final say on football matters, from hiring the coach to drafting players.
While acknowledging they were part of Matt Millen's disastrous seven-plus years as Lions president, Lewand and Mayhew also carefully distanced themselves from that era.
"It's an exciting opportunity because we have the chance to do this the right way," Lewand said.
Lewand and Mayhew said they learned from the mistakes made, know how to fix them and outlined their vision for the future.
"My role in the organization now will be implementing my plan," Mayhew said. "My role before was implementing somebody else's plan. I made recommendations. I made suggestions. Ultimately, the people who made decisions were the ones who were paid to make those decisions."
Under Millen, the Lions suffered from a lack of consistency and continuity. Coaches came and went. Systems came and went. Players came and went. The pieces never fit together.
"We've jumped from thing to thing and idea to idea," Mayhew said. "Sometimes it hasn't always matched up, what we're doing offensively and what we're doing defensively. What our president and CEO's philosophy was vs. what we were trying to do on the football field didn't always match up. I think that has to match up in the future."
Lewand and Mayhew spoke of having a clear philosophy and a detailed plan -- and sticking to them. While they declined to share specifics of their plan, citing competitive reasons, they shared some of their philosophy.
Mayhew said they want a bigger, faster, more physical team with tough, smart players. Lewand said they want a strong, smart leader for a coach. The coach must fit their general philosophy, but they are flexible on what type of offense or defense to run.
Under Millen, the Lions wasted money on free agents and wasted draft picks, from the top of the draft to the bottom.
"We will build this thing through the draft," Mayhew said. "We're not going to be jumping out there in free agency and throwing 30 million bucks at somebody on the first day or at midnight." Notes and Quotes:
- Don't expect a lot of insightful interviews from general manager Martin Mayhew.
"I think where we've hurt ourselves in the past is by talking too much," Mayhew told reporters Tuesday at a news conference. "I've been there prior to the draft, and I've seen us get out there and talk about our needs and what kind of players that we're looking for, and I've seen you guys and others hone in on what our needs are.
"I read the clips for every NFL team 365 days a year. I read everybody's clips, and I read what's going on, and I'm doing that looking for a competitive edge. And what I don't want to do is be the person that gives somebody else a competitive edge on us."
- Mayhew does not intend to overhaul the roster completely, and that will be a major factor in the coaching search.
"I think when you make a change like this, I think you look at who you have, and the most important thing when you hire a coach is who you can keep," Mayhew said. "What you don't want to do is scrap or get rid of good players because they don't fit your system anymore."
Mayhew referenced cornerback Dre' Bly. The Lions signed Bly as a free agent, and he went to two Pro Bowls for them. But then they changed coaches, changed the defense and traded him.
"So that's going to be part of our process with these coaches," Mayhew said. "We're going to say, 'Who can we keep?' And that's important to us."
- What has Mayhew done since taking over as GM, beyond trading WR Roy Williams and signing QB Daunte Culpepper?
"We've certainly managed to communicate better between our personnel department and our coaching staff," Mayhew said. "We've starting meeting on a more regular basis, talking through our roster. We've cleaned up our roster some. I think the back end of our roster is a bunch of solid, blue-collar, hard-working guys. You're talking about guys like Stuart Schweigert, Dexter Wynn, Keary Colbert, Moran Norris. These guys have an opportunity to help us on our team next year. We were signing guys not just to get through the (last) four or five weeks of the season."
Team president Tom Lewand and Mayhew plan to hire another personnel executive and make other changes, such as emphasizing psychological testing of draft prospects.
"You look at the guys who didn't make it, a lot of it had to do with their mental makeup," Mayhew said. "It wasn't their talent on the field. It wasn't what you saw on tape. We have to do a better job of knowing these guys, of really knowing them."
Lewand said the Lions can't afford to fall in love with players who don't fit.
"We need bigger players," Lewand said. "We need tough. We need smart. Then that means you can't draft little, slow, less-intelligent guys."
- CB Leigh Bodden ripped the outgoing coaching staff. He was upset he didn't start the season opener.
"When I first stepped foot in the door, did I start?" Bodden said. "That doesn't make any sense. I don't know what conclusion they had for that. It ain't like I didn't make plays during training camp. It was just baffling to me. From that point, I wasn't happy."
Bodden started the rest of the Lions' games, but he was upset when the Lions moved him from the right side to the left.
"Eventually I got used to it, but it would have been great if I had just started on one side and just left it at that," Bodden said. "But they didn't have a clue what they wanted to do with me."
Bodden criticized the Lions' defensive play-calling after defensive coordinator Joe Barry was fired.
"You've got to be unpredictable, and I feel like sometimes we were kind of too predictable in what we were calling, and that costs you," Bodden said. "If the offensive coordinator can pretty much tell what you're about to run, then he's going to beat whatever you have."
Outgoing coach Rod Marinelli said: "The defense is built on execution. Sometimes people will know where we're at. It's about executing, and that's how it's always been built and how we've always played it."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a new start for us. It's not an opportunity to look back and point fingers and say who was responsible for this or that. We look forward to moving forward. I think people have been looking for change. This is change." -- Martin Mayhew, on assuming the Lions' general manager role permanently.
FREE AGENT UPDATE: CB Leigh Bodden's critical comments made him come off as if he were angling for his departure. The Lions acquired Bodden from Cleveland in a trade for DT Shaun Rogers in the offseason. They signed him to a four-year contract extension in July that includes an $8.6 million roster bonus due at the beginning of March. If they don't exercise it, he would become a free agent. Bodden appears to be the Lions' biggest offseason roster decision. A lot depends on the new coach.
FEELING A DRAFT: The Lions have the No. 1 pick in the draft and five picks in the first three rounds, thanks to the first- and third-rounders they got from Dallas for WR Roy Williams. They have a chance to restock their roster, but they must make the right picks. Mayhew will not provide any insight into his feelings or philosophy, not wanting to tip his hand, and the Lions need help just about everywhere. But a franchise quarterback is a desperate need, both lines need bolstering, and the defense badly needs an infusion of talent.
Quarterback: The Lions have five quarterbacks on the roster right now, which means they have none.
Linebacker: No one made any plays this season, even Ernie Sims, the ninth overall pick in 2006.
Defensive back: The Lions had only one interception from the secondary this season.