That’s it? That’s the way this mini-series ends? Somebody sticks a microphone in front of William Clay Ford and he says, “I didn’t fire him and he didn’t quit.” And that’s the end of this year’s Wayne Fontes saga?

Somebody get this franchise a clue. Does it not have ears? Or eyes? Ford acted surprised anyone was even interested in his coach’s fate — as if this were some ball-bearing company considering a shift in managers. Didn’t he notice the pile of reporters stacked up at the Silverdome? Didn’t he read the papers, listen to the radio or watch TV? Surely he must have some connection to the outside world in his mansion. Everyone from ESPN to the back table of Denny’s was wondering whether Fontes would stay or go. The least Ford could have done was have a little press conference.

“Did you set a minimum goal for next year?” Ford was asked, before he made his way out of the Silverdome.

“We’ve got to get beyond the first stage of the playoffs,” he said.

Great. There’s a man with a plan. Of course the Lions have only lost the first round of the playoffs the last three seasons. He could have said this same thing in 1995, 1994 or 1993.

Come to think of it, didn’t he?

Honest to goodness, sometimes I wonder what planet this man is living on. Bill, you own the team. Act like it. Speak to the public. Don’t make cryptic messages or little asides. Don’t give that throaty chuckle and walk away, as if we’re all at some martini-in-hand cocktail party. This team may be a sidelight to you, but it’s blood-and-guts to a lot of fans. And those fans pay the bills. They fill the Silverdome. They watch on TV. They are not the
“little people.” They are the life’s blood of this franchise. And they want to see some kind of commitment.

Having you leave the building after saying “I’m not going to mandate anything” and having your coach follow later without a word to the media only sends a signal that there is something weird going on. Who’s running this ship?

“I think we gave the fans a good season,” Ford said. Sure. Along with a few ulcers.

When the Lions sulked home from the playoffs, crushed like soft pineapple by the Philadelphia Eagles, I wrote that the franchise would have a credibility problem if Fontes stayed on. I did not say he was a bad man or even a bad coach. He is neither. Nor is he a great coach.

He does, however, create terrible inconsistency — losing big, winning big
— and after a while, fans get dizzy. I do not believe anyone will take this team seriously next year.

That should be a concern for Ford. I know he doesn’t need the money. But I at least thought he’d like to have some credibility. He can’t enjoy people chuckling at his team behind his back.

“I made my statements after the Atlanta game,” Ford said Tuesday, referring

to his playoffs-or-else ultimatum after the Nov. 5 loss. “I’m not going to say we achieved our goal, but we did make the playoffs and that was our No. 1 objective.

“That’s not good enough. We both know that, and now we’ve got to address the next step.”

Huh? Excuse me. Isn’t that what was said last year? And then Fontes was given a two-year contract extension?

Here’s a quote from Wayne: “I thought this was the year we should have taken that next step. If you look at that game, we should have taken that step.”

You know when he said that? Not after the Philly loss. After last year’s 16-12 playoff loss to Green Bay! And here is the whole point. The quotes are getting interchangeable. The attitude is predictable. Heck, we could reprint last year’s stories and be fairly accurate. Is this progress?

Are fans supposed to rally around it?

At the end of the regular season, only three coaches had been with their teams longer than Fontes. One was Don Shula. He’d won two Super Bowls. He just got pushed out.

That leaves two. One is Marv Levy. He’s been to four Super Bowls. He battled cancer and a terrible rash of injuries and still reached the second round of the playoffs.

The other is the Saints’ Jim Mora, who is hanging by a thread. Why he has lasted, I have no idea. But do you know what the fans do down in New Orleans? They wear bags on their heads.

Is that what Ford wants? Because he’s going to get it. This post-season dog-and-pony show is old, and getting older. Show some guts, Bill. Take a stand. At least, for pete’s sake, address a public issue. Henry Ford may have said “Don’t complain, don’t explain,” but he wasn’t running a football team.

Eventually, Bill, if you keep acting so nonchalant about your team, the fans will have no choice but to imitate you.

And, believe me, in this case, imitation will not be the highest form of flattery.

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