So Bill Ford came out of his office and turned on the shower and washed Darryl Rogers clean. “He’ll be back next year,” Ford said to a couple of reporters Thursday. “I just want to put that to rest.” And then he said the same thing to the Lions themselves, and then the TV guys got a hold of it, and with that, we spritzed away all those dirty rumors that Rogers, the coach whose team has gone from 7-9 to 5-11 to 2-9, might somehow be in danger of losing his job.
His team. His decision. If Bill Ford wants Madonna to run the Detroit Lions, who’s to stop him? So this morning there is both relief and grief among football fans in this town — the latter from people who know that once the new smiles fade we’ll still be left with the same cast we’ve had all along. The same coach whose (real) team went plop on Thanksgiving Day, and six other times this year. The same coach whose (real) team found a purpose against Dallas for its only victory. Same coach. Same players. And that can be considered only one of two things: 1) Bad, with the promise of getting better, or 2) Bad, period.
Obviously, Ford thinks No. 1. So, from his perspective, it was a smart move. Why screw up the rest of the season, create dissension, and sell even fewer tickets — if you plan on giving the guy a chance next season? Rumor, after all, spreads faster than cancer, and Darryl Rogers was covered with it. There had to be players giving less than 100 percent, figuring: “Why impress this guy? He won’t even be around next year.”
But Bill Ford didn’t shut anybody up with his announcement. He merely shifted the focus. The question at the bars and in the living rooms will go from “Should Rogers be fired?” to “Did Ford do the right thing — and should Rogers be fired?”
Not much of a difference. Nobody jumps when he yells Have you ever seen a football game up close? Ever heard the smack of pads, or the grunts of air being whacked out of a player’s stomach? It is — and I can’t say this enough — an aggressive sport. Ag-gressss-ive.
The Lions are not an aggressive organization.
Now, I’ve always felt that Darryl Rogers is a good coach. But not for all situations. He would be best with a team of top- notch professionals — quiet, work-ethic guys whom he only had to guide, treat well, and occasionally pat on the butt. His ideas are OK. But his voice is soft. Nobody jumps when Darryl yells. He is not Mike Ditka, who could still beat the hell out of some of his Chicago Bears, or thinks he can. He is not Buddy Ryan, who professes a player’s mentality with the Eagles. He is not what you might call aggressive. Nor would he have to be — under other circumstances.
“I think Bill Walsh of the 49ers has shown you can be soft- spoken and still be successful,” Rogers once told me. Right. As long as you keep drafting guys like Jerry Rice the year after you win the Super Bowl. If you check out the successful football teams in the NFL, you see aggressive, go-get-’em behavior somewhere in the coach-GM-player-personnel-director line. Tom Landry of Dallas is mild-mannered. But Tex Schramm goes after ’em. Tom Flores of the Raiders won’t scream your head off. But who needs that with Al Davis behind him?
The point is, Rogers inherited a team already too guilty of being low-key. And he brought in a low-key approach. It was not the ideal situation. Russ Thomas, the general manager whom everybody loves to accuse, has recently
been draped in a veil of “Why blame him? He hasn’t done anything.” Yeah, well, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Without an aggressive GM, the coach has to do more. Without an aggressive coach, the GM has to be everywhere. Sometimes, an owner gets into the equation to mix it all up and fix things. This time the owner got into it.
And left everything the same. Stop fighting, guys His team. His decision. Bill Ford didn’t just step out of the crib. He has made business moves before. And don’t for a minute believe that if next year the Lions lose their first four games he will feel an obligation to Rogers based on what he said Thursday. Ever hear of changing your mind?’
“I feel that Darryl can turn it around,” Ford said, “as strange as it sounds with the record this year.” And so he spoke with Rogers and asked whether an announcement would help take the heat off. Rogers, no dummy, said yes. And Ford did it. It was sort of like a parent coming out to the front porch and telling the kids to stop fighting.
Everybody takes a breath.
And here we are. Same team. Same coach. Same discussions. Sure, there’s hope for a different future. But right now, it’s only hope.
I always feel uncomfortable saying someone should or shouldn’t be fired. Nobody who writes for a newspaper or who sits behind a TV desk or a radio microphone really knows everything that goes on inside a sports organization. But I know this about human nature: It doesn’t change. Whatever Darryl Rogers is, he will be next year, too. If that holds for his football team, it’s gonna be another miserable season.