Lions GM search heating up; Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland in the mix

Ireland was general manager of the Miami Dolphins from 2008-13.         …

Lions GM search heating up; Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland in the mix
Lions GM search heating up; Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland in the mix 1

John Niyo
| The Detroit News

The New Orleans Saints keep marching on, heading into the NFL playoffs as a division champion for a fourth consecutive season and the seventh time overall in Sean Payton’s 15 seasons as head coach.

So it’s no surprise to Payton — or to the Saints’ longtime general manager, Mickey Loomis — that other NFL teams are trying to match their beat. Or maybe even steal one of their drummers.

The Lions are one of a half-dozen teams across the league searching for a new GM this winter, and Friday they appeared to wrap up their initial round of interviews by meeting with Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland.

Ireland, who also carries the title of college scouting director in New Orleans, is the 11th confirmed candidate to interview for the job left vacant when Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp fired Bob Quinn in late November. And that list includes another Saints front-office executive, fellow assistant GM Terry Fontenot, who met with the Lions on Tuesday.

Loomis is bracing for the possibility that one or both could be working somewhere else soon. Payton’s assistant head coach, Dan Campbell, the former Lions tight end, also is slated to interview for Detroit’s head coaching job next week, following the Saints’ playoff game against Chicago on Sunday.

“Well, they haven’t left yet,” Loomis said, in an interview with WWL radio in New Orleans earlier this week. “But, yeah, absolutely. Terry Fontenot and Jeff … they’re both gonna have some interviews for some of these openings, and look, it’s well-earned, both of them. … They’ve done a fabulous job for us.”

Ireland, who spent six years as the Miami Dolphins’ GM from 2008-13, is one of four candidates the Lions have interviewed who has previous experience in that top personnel role, along with Rick Smith (Houston), Thomas Dimitroff (Atlanta) and Scott Pioli (Kansas City).

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Ireland, 50, joined the Saints in 2015 — he and Payton both worked together in Dallas under Bill Parcells — and is credited with helping the team revamp its college scouting department, which has produced some impressive draft-day hauls in recent years. None more so than the 2017 class that hit on a pair of first-round picks in cornerback Marshon Lattimore and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, but also featured All-Pro running back Alvin Kamara (third round) and three other current Saints defensive starters.

His rocky tenure in Miami featured off-field controversy — from his pre-draft interview with Dez Bryant to the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito saga — as well as some notable personnel mistakes. (Among them, Ireland traded up to select Dion Jordan with the No. 3 overall pick in 2013.) But “he’s earned a second opportunity,” Loomis said.

Ireland also interviewed this week in Carolina, where Panthers head coach Matt Rhule — the former head coach at Baylor, Ireland’s alma mater — reportedly will have final say over the 53-man roster. But with Campbell lined up for a coaching interview, it’s also worth noting his ties to Ireland, starting in Dallas and later in Miami, where Campbell got his coaching start under Parcells a decade ago.

Fontenot, who serves as the Saints’ VP of pro personnel, has spent his entire NFL career in New Orleans, starting as an intern and working his way up through the scouting ranks into his current role overseeing the pro scouting department the last six years.

“Listen, he is a tireless worker,” Payton said, when asked about Fontenot’s future prospects as a GM. “He is someone that’s been very instrumental, particularly when we talk about the pro side of the game and free agency. He’s someone that loves football, he’s passionate, and I think all those traits will lead to him having that opportunity at some point.”

More: Lions interview Holmes, Paton for GM job; Saleh interviews for head coach

Fontenot, 40, interviewed for the New York Jets’ GM job in 2019 and is getting a longer look in this cycle, meeting with Atlanta and Detroit already, with Denver and possibly Jacksonville yet to come.

 “I’m excited for Terry to have kind of his first go-around and opportunity,” Loomis said. “It is a double-edged sword, because you don’t want to lose the talent, you don’t want to lose what they bring to the table. And yet at the same time, I’m excited for them and their families.

“Look, years ago someone gave me an opportunity, someone gave Sean an opportunity. All the people that have had success, all of us, have been given an opportunity, and you can’t ever repay that opportunity. So I’m excited that both these guys are on the radar and have been recognized for how good a job they’ve done. And we’ll see what happens.”

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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