Gina Newell, Senior Director of Football Operations for the Detroit Lions

How did you start your football career?

My friend’s aunt worked in recruiting for the University of Michigan football program, so the first week of my freshman year, I went to the department and asked about it. At the time, they didn’t admit freshmen, but they put me on the blue team and asked me if I wanted to meet the standards during the lunch hour. I did and it brought me more into the building. It was very few hours of recruiting, but I always answered the phone. In my second year, I worked 20 to 25 hours in the recruiting office and I was paid. It went from there. Then, right after finishing my master’s, I took over the full-time recruiting office in Michigan for two years.

Then a woman I went to college with worked at the Detroit Lions as a practice administrator. She called me and asked if there were any student volunteers who were interested in getting a job in the league. Steve Mariucci was the team coach at the time and he asked Lloyd Carr, the Michigan coach, to tell me about myself. I didn’t even have to interview for the position; I just slipped up and took the job with the coaching staff as an administrative assistant in 2004.

How has your role changed from when you first walked through the door to today?

It seemed the only way for women to enter the league for a long time was to be an administrator or secretary. That’s how I started. I had worked with the Michigan coaching staff a lot, and once you start working with them, they tend to come to you for everything. So in Detroit, I worked mostly with defensive coaches and special teams coordinator Chuck Priefer. Chuck wasn’t very computer savvy and drew everything by hand – kickoff returns, kickoff coverage, punt returns, field goal block. I would take them and use this archaic old drawing software called CorelDRAW and draw everything. I basically drew the entire scouting report for the special teams. It was a lot. I wanted to quit after two weeks, but it was good for me because I learned so much. I love special teams to this day. I also helped the defense with scripts, playbooks and helped them stock up. So basically I helped manage the coaching staff.

I stayed in this entry-level position for a very long time. No one knew what to do with me. I was really good at my job, but there was nowhere to look beyond this job. We were entering what was the final season with head coach Jim Schwartz, and the mother of a friend of mine was president of Detroit Media Partnership – it’s called Michigan.com now – and she needed a assistant. I interviewed and decided to take the job, but it was an incredibly difficult decision for me because once you leave the sport you usually can’t come back. I chose to make that decision and it ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. made. I learned that my skills translated into sports, I gained a ton of confidence and increased my salary.

After a year there, then-Lions general manager Martin Mayhew called me in 2014 and said they were going to hire Jim Caldwell. Jim had someone in mind to be his assistant, but Martin explained why he thought Jim and I would work great together. So I interviewed Jim, and within 30 seconds I knew I wanted this job and I wanted to work for him. I was back with the Lions before I walked out of the building. I worked for him and this whole coaching staff, many of whom were just in Michigan with me. It was like a family with guys like Bill Sheridan and Teryl Austin.

When the Lions hired Bob Quinn as general manager in 2016, he immediately came into my office and asked me why I didn’t have a contract and told me I was going to change my title. That’s when I got a director’s title for the first time, and it let me know that there were other things I could do. When you work with a coaching team, you’re so connected to everyone in the building, and that’s how I learned how other departments are run, which helped me transition to new roles.

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