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O'HARA: Spielman an important hire at an important time in franchise history

Chris Spielman has often said that the Detroit Lions "are part of who I am."

Now the former All-Pro linebacker and one of the franchise's fan favorite players is part of who the Lions want to become as they reshape the culture and head in a new direction under principal owner Sheila Ford Hamp.

Spielman has been hired as a special assistant to chairman and president & CEO. It is a full-time position.

It's an important hire – at an important time in franchise history – for the Lions. They are in the early phase of the interview process to hire a general manager and head coach.

The positions became open when Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia were fired on Nov. 28 with the team headed for a third-straight losing season under the GM-head coach tandem.

Hamp and team president Rod Wood are counting on Spielman to help the process from his knowledge of football gained from 10 seasons in the NFL, as a player, and a broadcast career as an analyst of college and NFL games after retirement as a player.

Spielman called filling the GM and head coach positions "the number one priority" when he spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon after the announcement of his hiring.

"I think it's imperative to do the very hard work of giving yourself the best chance to find that combination that's going to work for the Detroit Lions that falls in line with what Sheila wants," Spielman said. "That's the No. 1 priority, at least from my end of things.

"That's my own priority."

Spielman spoke with great passion about joining the Lions in an official capacity during the press conference, and in a telephone conversation after it.

Spielman spent eight seasons as a linebacker with the Lions (1988-95) after being drafted in the second round out of Ohio State. He was voted first-team All Pro once and second team twice. He spent his last two seasons with Buffalo (1996-97) after the Lions decided not to re-sign him after the 1995 season.

It was clear that the culture Hamp wants to build, and her commitment on following through on it, made a strong impression on Spielman.

He was regarded as a blue-collar player by Lions fans. In his mind, it fits the culture of Detroit.

"Blue collar to me is all you've got on every play," Spielman said. "That's what my definition of Detroit is."

Spielman has spent the last five years as one of the top analysts on the FOX network NFL telecasts. It took a special offer and opportunity to leave what he called "a great job."

And the fact that Spielman is moving to Detroit from the new home he recently moved into in Columbus is evidence that he is making a full-time commitment the Lions. He does not want to be a part-time commuter.

"Either I'm in or I'm out," Spielman said. "I can't be halfway. I can't expect to be part of that culture if I'm not in that culture full time.

"It might work for somebody. It doesn't work for me."

Although Spielman does not have management experience in pro football, he has been a close observer of the game both as a fan and in his broadcast roles. As a broadcaster, he meets with coaches, players and front-office executives before games in production meetings.

Spielman's brother, Rick, has been general manager of the Vikings since 2006. Rick spent three seasons as GM of the Dolphins before that.

"The NFL is a people business," Spielman said. "I've benefitted from having relationships with everybody. There are folks out there who believe in what they believe in, and to pick their brains in what works and doesn't work is an amazing experience.

"To actually witness it ... I've learned so much with my special relationship with my best friend (his brother Rick) for 55 years, who is really good at what he does.

"He shared with me what he's done right and what he's done wrong."

After the firing of Quinn and Patricia, there was a buildup among fans for the Lions to hire Spielman as GM. Former teammate Herman Moore backed the hiring of Spielman on social media.

Spielman said Tuesday that he wasn't seeking the GM job because he isn't qualified.

Spielman was attracted to Hamp's desire to create a culture that embraces all levels of the franchise, from top to bottom. Under the previous regime, the football department operated largely as an entity to itself.

Spielman said he was not looking to leave broadcasting before Hamp contacted, and would "probably not" have taken this job had it not been with the Lions.

"I can't tell you how excited she is and how bad she wants the Lions to represent the City of Detroit and to win a lot of games," Spielman said. "It's something everybody can be proud of. She's the one that said it.

"She's the one that put me over the top when I was deciding to do this or not. She's fabulous ... a great leader to me.

"Let's go. I felt like I talked to a head coach before a game. I felt like I was going to run through the hotel door in Cincinnati."

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