Lions GM Brad Holmes aims to strengthen pipeline for future Black GMs

Lions general manager Brad Holmes, one of five Black GMs in the NFL, wants to improve front office diversity because the current 'process isn't good enough.' AP Photo/Paul Sancya

DETROIT – With no official team activities planned the weekend of June 12, new Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes could’ve spent his entire Saturday afternoon with family, since much of his time has been consumed with work ever since he took over the role in January.

However, his priorities go beyond his role as a family man and GM, so he found a way to do both.

With his young son, B.J., resting peacefully over his shoulder, Holmes felt it was necessary to be a presence alongside head coach Dan Campbell at the 2021 Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, where Campbell served as the event’s grand marshal.

“And Brad Holmes is over here by the way, our GM,” Campbell announced from the podium of the media center, before cheers from the crowd. “We’re all new to this, but we’re fascinated by it. … This means a lot to not only myself, but the gentlemen I’m with here, so we want to be a part of this community.”

As one of five current Black GMs in the NFL, joining Martin Mayhew (Washington), Terry Fontenot (Atlanta), Chris Grier (Miami) and Andrew Berry (Cleveland), Holmes sees the importance of making his face visible to the public, especially in a city such as Detroit, which has a population that is approximately 79% Black, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

Even while trying to turn around a struggling franchise that hasn’t won more than six games since 2017, Holmes doesn’t want to get boxed into just football -- he also wants to make an impact on the next generation.

"Now I’m in this position, in this city, and now I’ve got to expand it, and make sure I’m fully injected into the Black community here," Holmes, an alum of HBCU North Carolina A&T, told ESPN. "So, yeah, that Detroit Grand Prix was a great event, but what are the other avenues I can do specifically for the Black community that I can provide impact there? So that’s very important for me to do.”

Holmes’ path to becoming the Lions' executive vice president and GM was set up by nearly two decades of experience with the Los Angeles Rams, which included various roles, most recently the director of college scouting. Holmes leaned on that experience when he passed over skill positions -- particularly wide receiver after losing Kenny Golladay via free agency -- in his first draft with the Lions to select Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell at No. 7 overall.

While Holmes is tasked with overseeing the Lions’ football operations, his role has been collaborative with Campbell. He also reports to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president/CEO Rod Wood. Some critics have questioned his true power with seemingly so many voices involved, but he insists he has full control with the roster.

An example of this came during the Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford trade, where he took the lead from the beginning and executed the trade to bring the 2016 No. 1 overall pick to Motown. Beyond acquiring Goff, Detroit was also able to land what became 2021 third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu, as well as a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick in the process.

“Going back to the trade with Stafford, that was my third week on the job,” Holmes said. “I didn’t know that was coming that soon, but when it happened, I’ll never forget Rod was like, ‘That’s your decision. That’s your job. Look, if you want advice, you can ask me.’ But there’s nobody that directed me. But we do have a great team with great structure around me to offer the support and provide all the resources that I need, but I don’t feel boxed in at all.”

Trading Stafford wasn’t something that he had in mind from Day 1 on the job, but once the opportunity presented itself, the move made sense.

“Yeah. Basically once the news broke, which we all knew when the news was gonna break, obviously we fielded a bunch of calls, and I just had to be very organized, do my due diligence, make sure that the dialogue and communication was where it was supposed to be, and it just kind of went from there," he said.

"But having the right structure and the resources around me with that decision process ... ultimately it was on me, but the right structure was in place.”

For Holmes, he can’t forget about how others have helped him get to where he is, and how he can help empower others by giving them the right structure to succeed.

“Well, first of all, I’m very, very grateful that the Ford family opened up a search of diversity to give me an opportunity, but the first thing I’ve always said about the lack of diversity is that the pipeline has got to be strong,” Holmes said. “So, when there’s a lack of Black GMs, which obviously there are, and obviously the numbers are not nearly good enough. The process isn’t good enough."

Although Holmes sees progress with the offseason GM hirings of himself, Fontenot and Mayhew, he aims to reinforce that pipeline.

“So, what can I do to improve the pipeline under my control? And then also, what can I do under my power to afford opportunities to others that I know are qualified and have a lot of upside and can have some success to become a GM and have the qualities? You’ve got to always give back, and you’ve got to make sure that those guys are in position to succeed," Holmes said. "To me, that’s my focus in doing anything I can do. I know a lot of people helped me, starting off with the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

“They set up a lot of resources in place for me to have the tools that I need to be prepared, and then just mentors that I’ve had in the past. You know, Lawrence McCutcheon, Dick Daniels, 'Shack' Harris and those kind of guys, and being able to ask those guys for advice … Rod Graves, who was always spending time. Those guys there, I’ve got to do the same thing even with my early stages of this position. I have to do that because it wouldn’t be right, but we have to improve because it’s not good enough.”