by | Sep 23, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

When the owner’s son says he thinks you should be canned, you might want to pull out your suitcase.

Bill Ford Jr. is no stranger to the media. He oversees one of the largest car companies in the world. When he wants to say something, he does. And his remarks Monday after the Lions’ third straight loss were as subtle as a bowling ball rolling toward daisies.

“It was an embarrassment,” he said. “The fans deserve better. And if I had the authority, I would have fired the general manager.”

He said it to a small group of reporters, then repeated the idea minutes later to a larger group. This was no accident, folks. He knew Lions president and CEO Matt Millen would read it.

But if Ford is being hailed now for finally stating what fans have been saying for years, he should be chided for only saying half of it. The part he left out was this:

“Oh, and my Dad should go as well.”

Until Ford Jr. says all that – and don’t hold your breath – you haven’t solved the Lions’ problem; you’ve just hid it under the rug. One bad decision after another

Who hired Millen? Who chose him with no experience? Who gave him a fat contract? Who renewed that contract? William Clay Ford Sr. Which means you start there. After all, if your little boy walks into a crowded room and belches, it’s an embarrassment to him. If he does over and over, it’s on you.

Sure, Millen has the NFL’s worst record during his seven-year-plus tenure. Sure, his early teams went three years without winning a road game (0-24). Sure, even Millen himself has referred to his record as “beyond awful.”

But Ford Sr. keeps him. And would you give up that job? It pays millions. It allows Matt to live where he wants. And most important, it won’t be duplicated anywhere else.

Millen has picked the wrong players, has misjudged chemistry and has a bad track record with coaches. But when it comes to bonehead Lions choices, he is a rank amateur.

Ford Sr. is the champion.

The owner has picked the wrong people for decades. From coaches like Darryl Rogers and Tommy Hudspeth to general managers like Russ Thomas, who mired the team in stupefying mediocrity.

The Lions were one of the best teams of the 1950s. Then Ford acquired them, and they’ve won one playoff game since.

Sorry, Bill Jr. That’s not the GM. When your Dad bought the team, in 1964, Millen was 6 years old. A bad team playing badly

I have never called for a man to be fired in this column, and I won’t start now. Sports figures have dignity and families, too, and if they’re gonna get the ax, they should hear it from a boss, not me.

But I can explain why fans are downright disgusted with Millen, Ford and all the rest. Watching the Lions this season is like watching a kid’s game of electric football. You throw the switch and the little men move, maybe even move in the right direction. But they don’t make anything happen. They just hum around. Occasionally, one gets stuck in the corner, spinning aimlessly. This would be a Lions cornerback.

In three losses this year, Detroit has caused one turnover. In three weeks, it has managed three paltry sacks.

The rest of the time, the Lions run around, they dive at that tackle, they just miss that pass. But they don’t make plays. Not the kind that win games.

Even Michael Strahan, the new Fox studio analyst, said Sunday that the Lions “don’t want to play.”

That’s no cynical reporter, folks. That’s an ex-player who just got fitted for a Super Bowl ring.

The Lions won’t be seeing rings anytime soon. Rod Marinelli is an earnest coach, but he has the stunned look of a man who just discovered he’s on the wrong train. Character players, which he insists upon, are fine. But winning football teams are a blend of character, talent, rascals and monsters. The Lions are woefully short.

So it was nice of Bill Ford Jr. to state the obvious. But you can fire the GM, you’ll still have the team. You can fire the team, you’ll still have the owner. You can fire the owner, and you’ll have a good start.

But you can’t fire the owner.

You see our problem.


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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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