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O'HARA: Sanders likes the direction Lions franchise is headed in

Barry Sanders enjoyed his role as an advisor to the Detroit Lions' front office in the search and interview process that resulted in the hiring of Brad Holmes as general manager and Dan Campbell as head coach.

What Sanders likes even more is the direction the franchise is headed in since the two men joined forces and went to work retooling the team.

Their actions reflect their backgrounds and the franchises they came from -- Holmes from the Los Angeles Rams, and Campbell from the New Orleans Saints.

From Sanders' perspective as a franchise icon and Hall of Fame running back, the two men are off to a good start.

"Both men have been around winning football," Sanders said in a Zoom interview. "Both are sort of perennial playoff teams, playing deep into the playoffs and really well run organizations.

"You like seeing that. With Coach Campbell, obviously he's a guy we're hoping we're looking at as the same sort of model as Frank Reich -- a guy who's played the game, or Mike Vrabel."

Both had long playing careers and went into coaching after retirement. Reich is head coach of the Colts, and Vrabel is head coach of the Titans.

"They've been around some really well respected coaches," Sanders said. "We'll see how it turns out."

Sanders was in a good mood as he discussed several issues related to the Lions. Among them: Reports of a trade that would send quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams in exchange for quarterback Jared Goff and three draft picks; the makeup of Campbell's staff that has numerous ex-players; his advisory role in the head coach-GM search process; and the direction of the franchise.

Sanders' interview with was one of numerous he did via Zoom in his annual participation promoting the Rocket Mortgage Super Bowl Squares Sweepstakes.

Sanders was clearly shocked by the magnitude of the Stafford-Goff trade.

"It was monumental," he said. "It was like a big earthquake. Everything is kind of setting in, really. We're trying to get our wits about us.

"What are we going to do going forward? Obviously, Jared has played a lot of big games in his short years in the NFL -- having played in the Super Bowl and several playoff games, including this year.

"And Matthew carried the franchise for many years and was such a valuable part of everything around here for the last decade. He put up huge numbers.

"You love going to the mat with a guy like Matthew. He always gave you a chance. He still has a lot of good football ahead of him. Good luck to him.

"You would think that Jared hasn't necessarily reached his peak and his prime as a player. That's one of the things as Lions fans that we're all looking forward to and hoping for."

Sanders didn't want to pick a winner in the reported deal, but the draft picks the Lions got tilted the scale in their favor.

"You've got to feel good about what we received in return," he said. "I thought that weighed pretty heavily on our side of the ledger."

Sanders thinks it's an asset that Campbell has begun building his staff of assistants with ex-players. That includes coordinators -- Anthony Lynn (offense) and Aaron Glenn (defense) -- and position coaches Duce Staley, Hank Fraley and Mark Brunell.

"I think it's a big asset," said. "Coaches come in all shapes and sizes and experiences. Certain guys who have played have been to successfully make that leap into coaching and be a very big asset for players.

"You really understand exactly what players are going through. You've pretty much seen everything on the field before."

"You want guys who can reach players and get the most out of them, and understand the psychology of players and how they prepare every day a certain way."

Sanders saw a new side of football in his advisor role. It was a different experience, and it showed a departure from the norm for the Lions' standard operating process by having an ex-player lend his perspective in the coach-GM hiring process.

"It was pretty neat to just go through the process, and have conversations with Chris Spielman and with Rod Wood," Sanders said, referring to the franchise president (Wood) and special assistant (Spielman).

"It was a side of it I hadn't seen. I don't know how much my input had to do with anything. A lot of people want those jobs. There's a lot weighing on it.

"Hats off to Chris and Rod for the selections they made. Hopefully, going forward we'll see the benefit of those picks."

Sanders offered a short summary bottom line on what direction the franchise is headed in one month into 2021:

"The needle's pointing up."

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