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New GM Mayhew hopes to steer Lions in a different direction -- up

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Bring it on, Martin Mayhew will say without hesitation. The pressure. The scrutiny. The second-guessing.

He insists he can handle every bit of it.

"I'm excited about having the pick," the Detroit Lions' general manager said about the top overall choice in next month's NFL draft. "I'm excited about being able to get a quality player that, hopefully, we have for a long time who helps us to start winning some football games."

For now, that player's identity is a well-guarded secret. Is he Matthew Stafford? Mark Sanchez? Jason Smith? Eugene Monroe? Or will he come from another NFL team as part of a blockbuster trade -- Jay Cutler, perhaps?

Words of advice for Mayhew

Two men who helped influence Martin Mayhew (pictured) to become an NFL general manager have some advice for him in his first full year leading the Detroit Lions.

Falcons president Rich McKay: "Don't get too caught up in it. Try to develop a simple plan as to what your team's going to look like and how your organization is going to operate, and stick to it. Sometimes you can get all caught up in a rating (on a player) or a draft grade, and it can be a problem."

Colts president Bill Polian: "Have the courage of your convictions. The process that you go through to make a decision will be the right one, and don't worry about it. When you arrive at the right decision, go ahead and make it and don't worry about the consequences."

What is known is that for the first time since 2000, the man in charge of the Lions' draft is not Matt Millen, who was fired late last September. The Lions promoted Mayhew from senior vice president to interim GM and then made him Millen's full-time replacement after the season.

The Lions' ownership of the No. 1 pick, as well as the tremendous curiosity over what will be done to clean up the mess that was a 0-16 season in 2008, put a fairly bright spotlight on Mayhew, team president Tom Lewand and new head coach Jim Schwartz during the NFL Annual Meeting this week at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort.

For the 43-year-old Mayhew, it doesn't feel any different than what he experienced during eight seasons as an NFL cornerback. The position always put Mayhew on a virtual island, leaving him open to all sorts of criticism if a receiver beat him for a big play.

Mayhew's approach then is the same as it is now: even-tempered, unflappable.

"If you're around Martin, you understand, No. 1, the guy's really, really smart," Schwartz said. "But it's not just that. He has a methodical way about him that's important (in this business). He's not a shoot-from-the-hip guy."

Two of the men who did the most to inspire Mayhew to become an NFL general manager and who shaped the way he approaches the job saw many years ago that he had the qualities to run a team in the league.

One of those men was Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, who, as GM of the Buffalo Bills, made Mayhew a 10th-round draft pick from Florida State in 1988. Polian is a five-time NFL Executive of the Year. But he sheepishly calls the decision to allow Mayhew to become a free agent one year later to be one of the biggest mistakes of his career because Mayhew went on to spend the next four seasons with the Washington Redskins (helping them beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI) and spent four years after that with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It was pretty obvious when we first got him as a player that he was a special person -- cerebral, hard-working, dedicated and with kind of a rare understanding and a rare maturity in terms of how to approach the game," Polian said. "He's very studious, he's very deliberate, he's very analytical. And those are very, very good qualities to have in a general manager because he's going to be fact- and data-driven, as opposed to emotional or (responding) more (to) outside forces."

Another major influence on the path that Mayhew followed after his playing career ended in 1996 was Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay. McKay was GM of the Buccaneers when, in 1993, they signed Mayhew as a free agent.

Mayhew was fascinated with McKay's background as an attorney, which was the primary reason Mayhew eventually enrolled at Georgetown University Law Center, from which he graduated in 2000.

"I think (studying law) helps you just with your analysis of different situations, and it helps you to be able to balance different viewpoints and different opinions," Mayhew said. "Obviously, you've got the training in terms of doing contracts, negotiations and that sort of thing. But I think it also helps you in terms of your thinking, how you process information."

Said McKay: "Martin is very much just like he was as a player. He's very competitive, but he's very quiet in his approach. He's going to be extremely hard-working and very dependable. As a player, that's what kept Martin in the league longer than most people would have thought coming out of Florida State. And I think that will be what keeps him as a successful GM."

With the Redskins, Mayhew absorbed additional knowledge and guidance from their former GM, Charley Casserly, and Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.

Mayhew considers himself fortunate to have had "some good examples" -- men who collectively taught him one of the most important lessons of his role: establishing a common ground with his head coach. That happened quickly during the interview process with Schwartz. Both men established that they wanted a fundamentally sound team -- one that runs the ball well and stops the run, one that is big and physical on both sides of the line.

"Jim and I have a really good relationship, and we talk through a lot of things together," Mayhew said. "Tom Lewand is very involved in that process. (New Lions senior personnel executive James) 'Shack' Harris has been very helpful for us.

"The key thing is that we all act together, we all make decisions together, and we all understand that we're in the thing together and we have to work together to make it happen. The biggest thing for me is to just make sure that we communicate well in the group and that we're all on the same page all the time."

The second-biggest thing for Mayhew is to continue to do what he always did as a player: remain focused only on what is immediately in front of him. As GM of a team with so many areas needing repair, there's the constant risk of trying to do too much at once.

So far, Mayhew seems to be doing a good job of avoiding that.

"We try to be patient throughout this process this offseason," he said. "You look at your roster, you see a lot of holes, a lot of places where you want to try to get better. But you have to understand you don't have a game for a few months now, so you can't rush out and try to do everything.

"It's easy to get better from (0-16). I'm excited about the challenge and what the opportunities are that lie ahead for us. I think we have the opportunity to get better relatively quickly, and that's what we're trying to do."

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