Emulating The Best Is The Path To Success

Rebuilding an organization takes time, and it takes an influx of talent. Maybe that's why teams like the Lions are having a hard time rebuilding what Matt Millen's regime destroyed. Sometimes the building starts with players, other times it starts with the guys scouting those players. Here's one more reason why the Patriots are a model franchise.

When the Lions fired president Matt Millen in September 2008, many wondered whether they should fire their scouts, too.

The Lions' draft record had been horrible under Millen. They missed on top-10 picks like quarterback Joey Harrington and wide receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, while also failing to find gems in the middle and late rounds.

But Martin Mayhew, who was promoted from assistant general manager to GM, stuck up for the scouts and said the Lions simply needed to make better decisions. Mayhew made many changes to the process, such as realigning scouts and preparing harder before draft day, but he made few changes to the staff.

The result? The first draft under Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz netted players like quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy.

"There were people clamoring for change in our scouts, and we didn't make any dramatic changes," Mayhew said. "The early returns on our draft class is pretty good. So I think those guys feel somewhat vindicated."

A big part of the problem was the Lions' constant turnover in coaches, coordinators and systems. The scouts would look for one type of player, then another, then another.

"We've had a lot of coaching changes," said Schwartz, who began his NFL career as a scout with the old Browns in 1993-95. "Within the coaching changes, there have been a lot of changes in scheme and a lot of changes in philosophy. That's difficult for scouts.

"It's not so much what a scout likes. It's how it fits with what you're doing offensively or defensively. They need the comfort level of knowing that what you expect from players isn't going to change from year to year and you're not going to all of a sudden say, 'Hey, we were just kidding. We're going to scrap that. We're going to go to something else.' "

Schwartz came to the Lions from the Titans, one of the NFL's most stable organizations. He was their defensive coordinator for eight years. Jeff Fisher has been their head coach since 1994, when they were the Houston Oilers. Schwartz also can point to perennial contenders like the Colts and the Patriots, whose head coach, Bill Belichick, was his boss in Cleveland.

"I think when you look at teams that draft well over time, there's a lot of continuity there -- continuity in their system -- and they're drafting a certain kind of player," Schwartz said. "There's a reason why people have cliches like 'square peg and round hole' and things like that, because there's some players that are really good players but just may not fit a particular scheme and may be more effective in something else."

The Lions want to break their pattern of instability. For the first time in more than a decade, they have brought back their head coach and both coordinators intact. The scouts have been working on firmer ground.

"They're a little bit more comfortable," Schwartz said. "We drafted players who fit what we do, and it gives the scouts a comfort level to look and say, 'Hey, look, I know that's the kind of guy they were looking for.' "

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