Can Ford family be trusted to fix Lions?

by | Nov 6, 2015 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

As endings go, it was a start.

The Detroit Lions gave a crew cut to their front office Thursday, firing president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew during the bye week. In doing so, they cut the last real ties to the Matt Millen era and the 0-16 debacle of 2008. They also left a lot of fans wondering who’s in charge, what’s next and why now?

“We are very disappointed with the results of this season so far and believe a change in leadership was necessary,” Martha Ford read from a statement at a news conference.

Well, no one would argue with that. The Lions have the worst record in the NFL, and, at 1-7, have been a major bust in nearly every phase.

On the other hand, the fact that 90-year-old Martha Ford, who only recently took the reins herself, is making this decision after half a season has Lions fans spinning familiar questions: 1) Who’s really in charge of this franchise and 2) What, if anything, do they know about football?

“Martha Ford, who is the boss here, is listening to certain people more than she’s listening to other people,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who broke the initial story, told me. “There are certain voices within the Ford family that spoke louder than others that prevailed in the end. They got what they wanted.”

Which, apparently, was losing Mayhew and Lewand.

Not that many fans disagree.

Bad choices

Let’s face it, neither man could make a strong argument for job security this season — Mayhew, in particular. Despite a plethora of high draft picks, you’d be hard pressed to find a lot of sterling successes in Mayhew’s tenure. He’s been involved with Detroit’s player personnel this entire century, elevating to GM after Millen left. During that time, the Lions have consistently misjudged talent, made foolish picks and had to re-select the same position multiple times. Mayhew is the man who selected Riley Reiff and Eric Ebron as No. 1 picks.

If you watched Sunday’s game, we need say no more.

Mayhew and Lewand also oversaw the fizzle with Ndamukong Suh, losing him to the Dolphins, as much a financial boondoggle as a football one. True, they brought in Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 pick, but ever since then, he has been struggling to establish greatness and they have been struggling to protect him. The Lions have no run game, despite all kinds of attempts, and their defense has gone backward. In the end, it’s the players who play, and Mayhew is the guy who picked the Detroit players. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of teams rushing to hire him soon.

Lewand had been a staple with the Lions organization and I knew him to be a good man who did some good things. But in the end, it’s hard to get rid of one piece of management and not the other.

Which leads us back to two questions: 1) What does this mean for Jim Caldwell? And 2) As long as the Fords are running this team, is anything really going to change?

Is Caldwell next?

Let’s deal with Caldwell first. The Lions coach saw his offensive coordinator and offensive line assistants get the ax last week, a move he claimed was his doing but some suspect was pressured from upstairs.

Now Caldwell sees the two guys who championed him — Lewand and Mayhew — gone as well.

When the Lions return from the bye in a few days, Caldwell may look around Allen Park and wonder, “Where did everybody go?”

Followed by, “Am I going next?”

For now, the answer is no, if only because somebody has to be in charge of something. But Caldwell is like a one-legged table at this point and tumbling over may be unavoidable, even though he’s not two years into his Lions tenure and his first season was 11-5.

Meanwhile, the bigger question is this: If Caldwell is fired, who’s going to interview his replacement? Who’s going to interview the person who’s going to interview his replacement?

Who’s running the store?

Game of Fords?

The word is that Martha Ford would be relying more on her daughter Sheila Ford Hamp to steer the ship. The reaction by many Lions fans was “Who?” Then, realizing she was another of William Clay Ford’s children, promptly slapped their foreheads and fainted.

Now, I don’t know Hamp. She may be fabulous. But the odds are, somebody who never formally worked in football is not going to reassure stability.

Meanwhile, Bill Ford Jr., who showed some promise during the years he paid more attention to the team, is apparently on the outs right now. He apparently will not have an active role.

If all of this sounds like chairs shifting in “Game of Thrones,” no surprise. This is what happens when a team is a car company asset. It has been run like a subsidiary, and has been managed like a subsidiary, and now the Fords are, according to Schefter, planning on hiring a search firm to locate the best candidate to next run the team.

This may be how you do things in corporate America. It may be how find your next chief operating officer. But it is not how teams win in the NFL. “It’s very strange that Bill Ford all of a sudden is staying away, isn’t it?” Schefter said.

The best NFL teams already know the people they want. In fact, the best NFL teams have people like that throughout the front office. They have football people. They know football people. They make football their main event.

Football is not now and has never been the main event for the Ford family. And while it is certainly their team — since they own it — and their prerogative — since they own it — Detroiters get only one entry in the NFL. They don’t have a choice. For years, their team was run by the father, who deferred in his later years to his son, and now they have the mother, who seems to be deferring to a daughter. None of them were or are full-time football people.

So why would anyone expect great football decisions?

The best thing the Lions could do is hire one person with fantastic NFL credentials to run the whole operation — and then get out of the way. But it won’t happen. They don’t operate like that. In fairness, most people don’t own billion-dollar assets and just get out of the way.

So as endings go, it was a start. Whoever is running the Lions got rid of a front office that had not done enough to stay. And it might be nice to have no one at the top of the team who remembers 2008.

But the next play is always what determines your success in sports. And the next play is very cloudy right now. When fans have to look up which child is now in charge, it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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