NFL General Manager
I interviewed Martin Mayhew when he was the General Manager of the Detroit Lions
He shared his Struggles to Victory Story with me. Below is an excerpt from my interview.
Martin Mayhew: I worked in player development and I managed a lot of the different areas of our football operations, like our training room our video department, our groundskeepers for a couple years. Then our general counsel ended up leaving and I was promoted to vice president of legal affairs and I still managed many of those department within the organizations. A few years after that I was promoted to assistant general manager and that really moved me more into the personnel area, and when Matt Millen was let go in 2008 I was elevated to interim general manager and after a period of three months I became general manager of the Detroit Lions.
Canaan Kennedy: What advice would you give young people so that they can achieve success at the level you have?
MM: One of the biggest things I think is that you have to focus on the here and now - whatever your responsibility is in that moment - because everybody wants to be in charge or run something, but there are many times when an employee is young they don’t understand the importance of being great at what they are doing in that moment and how that allows you to be elevated to a different position. They [employees] are waiting on something to open up, they are thinking that a interview will go really well and they will get hired, but they should be saying, “Hey let me master the thing that is my primary task and be great at it and then somebody will see that I am doing a fantastic job at it then I will get hired.”
I really managed to stay focused on the task at hand and do really well at the job I was doing and positive things came out of that.
CK: Was there any type of adversity you faced to achieve your position?
MM:Being in a professional career you are going to have obstacles and setbacks and some difficult times, and I think that it was important when I first got here, you know, we were not winning a lot of football games and that was certainly and difficult situation for everyone involved in it - but when you put a lot of time, and hours in - you miss time with you family and you are dedicated to this profession and you don’t have success I think that is adversity. You have to fight through that and focus on what your responsibility is and even though as an organization we had not reached a point where we were amongst the top teams in the NFL I still wanted to be one of the top GM’s in the league, and stay focused on that.
It was easy for me to say, “Let me try to help out over here, or they need help over there or say, this isn’t working so let me try to get out of here.” For me, I make sure that everything I am responsible for is done in exceptional fashion and at the end of the day I am evaluated based on my individual performance and I am going to be kept or let go based on what I have done. So I went into that mode for time while I was here.
Another kind of adversity I have to deal with is keeping up with my family. I have a wife and three kids, I have family down in Florida, and this job can be very time consuming. You can sort of lose sight of your responsibility to spend enough time with your family and that was something I really had to learn how to manage and that was a process really because when I came here I was hungry, I really wanted to hit the ground running and focus on football, but you know I had a wife at home and little kids at the time so you have to have perspective and make sure that you are taking care of all of your responsibilities. I think that in any organization you are going to have times where it is difficult, we had a big economic downturn here and lost a lot of our fan base. We drafted some guys like Jahvid Bess who got injured, and he only played a year and a half, two years, so it’s difficult dealing with that. The important thing is to have a good perspective and have overall goals of what you want to accomplish and not let a setback get you derailed or make you lose focus. Continue to stay focused on the task at hand. We have had a number of setbacks, we had a year when we had a bunch of guys getting arrested so we took a lot of criticism for bringing guys in so that was certainly tough to deal with, but the things is to be resilient, tough minded and be able to fight through everything.
Canaan Kennedy: What was it like playing with Deion Sanders?
Martin Mayhew: I mean I played with a lot of great players, but certainly he was one of them. I enjoyed playing with him, but I stayed busy playing with him - a lot of throws coming my direction. But he was a great teammate, outstanding player, phenomenal physical talent but nobody realized how hard he worked at the game - he worked really hard as far as offseasons, conditioning, lifting, running all of those things - he had a desire to be great and that what puts a guy like Deion Sanders or Earl Green or Calvin Johnson over the top because they have the physical tools but they also have the desire - there are so many guys that have the desire but the don’t have the physical tools. We see this all the time at this level. There are guys who come in free agent pickups, practice squads guys, the special teams guys but they will never be elite player because they are not physically gifted enough. The Hall of Famers had the physical gifts but also had the desire and their work ethic was amongst the best. Deion had all of those characteristics.
CK: Now this is basically the advice you would give young athletes? That you must always work hard and if you are blessed with the talent then that is how it is, but the one thing you can control is your work ethic?
Yeah. I mean certainly. You know I am not trying to discourage anybody from playing in the NFL but I wanted to tell everyone how hard it is. There are a lot of guys who are disappointed because they only had one goal in life from the time they were twelve and that was to become a professional athlete, and so many guys don’t get that opportunity. The ones that do, their average career is four years, so now you played and achieved your dream at twenty five, but what is next? Most guys don’t have a plan for after that. So my advice for that is to be a well rounded person and aspire to do more things - other than playing professional sports.
CK: So I have to ask you about winning the Super Bowl with the Redskins.
MM: That was pretty special. That ranks up there with some of my greatest accomplishments. Great leadership, great front office, great coaching. Single purpose group of people with the sole focus of winning a championship and they had done that several times before I had even been there. So for me I got the opportunity to be in D.C, play for the Redskins and win a Super Bowl, which really set everything up for me because now I look back on those days, on that team, and I am trying to build a team with that same mindset. I learned a lot there and it was really a great experience.
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