Former Patriots staffers now in GM roles bring New England flavor to combine

As the NFL combine got underway Wednesday in Indianapolis and the league rolled out 23 head coaches/general managers for news conferences, one Patriots-based theme was obvious.

It started with Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, who had two stints in New England (1999-2002 and 2009-2011) that culminated with him elevating to the role of director of pro personnel.

Then it was Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson, who was with the Patriots from 2002-2013, rising to the team’s director of college scouting role before departing.

And finally it was Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn, who had spent 2000-2015 with the Patriots, working his way up the ranks to director of pro personnel.

The obvious takeaway: The Patriots’ front office has been the springboard for many to take over their own teams.

The only thing missing was a joint news conference with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff (former Patriots director of college scouting) and assistant Falcons GM Scott Pioli (former Patriots VP of player personnel).

“New England is a unique place,” relayed Robinson. “It forces you to learn football. It forces you to learn more than just ‘this player can do this.’ It’s, ‘He can do this and this is how he’s going to fit into our football team here.’ It teaches you big-picture things when it comes to roster building.

“And I think it’s what prepared Jason, Dimitroff, Scott, Bob and now myself to really attack our own individual clubs with a similar philosophy but our own personality.”

Indeed, many of the things that the former Patriots staffers spoke about was how they’re looking to apply what they learned in New England in their new locales.

For example, Quinn spoke repeatedly about the importance of depth. Robinson stressed the importance of “finding players that have a team-first attitude because there’s nothing more important than the football team; no one part is greater than the whole.” And Licht relayed how his time in New England was his “core” and how Bill Belichick would often say to scouts, “Tell me what the guy can do, don’t tell me what he can’t do, and we’ll find a way to put that positive skill set in the defense and not ask him to be in a position where he can fail.”

There was an obvious sense of pride among them.

“It’s satisfying,” Quinn said, when asked by Ben Volin of the Boston Globe how it feels to see so many former Patriots staffers now running their own team.

“When we started at the Patriots, I started in 2000, there was a lot of young guys on that staff. We spent some long hours watching film together, going on scouting trips, coming to the combine, doing pro days. In the scouting business, it’s one of those things [where] it’s hard to describe. You become really fast friends with your co-workers because you’re around them so much. To have those guys as friends as well as colleagues and co-workers, it’s relationships I’ll have whether I’m with the Detroit Lions in 20 years or whether I’m with some other team. Those guys are friends, first and foremost, as well as colleagues I can bounce things off of as a first-time GM.”

In addition, there was appreciation for learning under Belichick.

“I owe a ton to that man. I respect the heck out of him,” Robinson said. “His record speaks for itself. Whether through discussions or just watching how he went about building the football team there in New England, I learned a lot of football. It was really special.”