by | Dec 30, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

There is a time when firing the coach is enough.

This is not that time.

There is a case where promoting from within works.

This is not that case.

There is a team where modest changes can bring a winning season.

This is not that team.

This team, the Detroit Lions, needs a total overhaul, and that means everyone, everywhere, most especially the front office. Instead, on Monday, William Clay Ford Sr., the most inept owner in the NFL, did the easiest thing. He fired the coach. Wow! How tough is that? Your team went 0-16. What else were you going to do, give him a raise?

Marinelli was a good man and a good soldier and a totally unsuccessful coach. Firing him was easy. Firing your structure would have been hard. Which is why Ford didn’t do it, because he has no history of doing anything hard. No history of taking a cold, deep look at how awful his stewardship has been of this franchise and admitting he is over his head, he should let a real football person run the operation.

Instead, he officially promotes two guys who have been here, together, a total of 21 years. What on earth has happened since Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew have worked for the Lions that suggests they should be elevated to, respectively, president and general manager? No offense to either man. I’m sure they each think they can do what hasn’t been done before.

But when the fruit rots, you don’t scrape off the skin and keep the insides. You throw it out.

“Our record speaks for itself,” Marinelli told the media.

And not just coaching. Why not find the best?

What Ford should have done – what he should have been doing since the team was 0-8 – was maneuver behind the scenes to get this year’s Bill Parcells. You saw what Parcells just did with the Miami Dolphins. That team went 1-15 last year; today it is 11-5 and in the playoffs. Parcells, a man with track records of building teams and going to Super Bowls, hired a coach he liked, plucked a quarterback he liked, rebuilt the roster to his liking – and won. It CAN be done. If you know what you’re doing.

But how do Mayhew and Lewand fit that description? They have been here during the worst season in NFL history. THE WORST EVER. And they get promoted? And now fans will be asked to be patient and let them prove themselves?

Again, no offense to those two, but aren’t the proving-on-the-job days done around here? Isn’t that what Matt Millen was gong to do? Show us what he could accomplish when given a chance? Isn’t that what Marty Mornhinweg was going to do, what Marinelli was going to do? Why do the Lions have to be the first round of the “American Idol” tryouts?

What’s wrong with stealing some top football guy who already has done it somewhere else? It’s not like Ford doesn’t have the money. Maybe he doesn’t want to pay big bucks for someone when he is still paying off Millen and Marinelli. Maybe his prudent business sense is telling him to be, well, prudent.

Which is why he is a terrible owner. Revolving door spins again

You can’t run a football team like a car company. These aren’t units you’re moving. This is about knowledge, chemistry, personnel, leadership. So many complex elements go into building a winning football team. Ford has demonstrated – in 45 years – that he wouldn’t recognize them if they bit him.

Instead he applies some archaic sense of loyalty and promoting from within. If this were an insurance firm, that would be nice. But it’s a football team. And there is no reason to think this latest move will work.

Sure, Mayhew will sound enthusiastic. Sure, you’ll find people who will tell you how smart he is. So what? Do you remember how many people insisted that Marinelli was going to be a great coach? How he was The Next Assistant Who Just Needed A Chance?

And where is he today? Fired. Even worse, fired as an ex-Lions coach, which is the kiss of death. Not a single man who was an official head coach of the Lions in the past three decades ever went on to coach another NFL team. Doesn’t that tell you something?

It tells me something. It tells me the decision-making around here is totally flawed. And it was evidenced again Monday. Firing Marinelli was predictable. He was a disciplined man with a disciplined approach who never really connected with anyone outside his locker room, but seemed to be admired within it. That works when you win. He didn’t win.

“The time to buy stock in the Lions is now,” Marinelli said at his farewell news conference.

You first, Rod.

Meanwhile, he is out, another good man bought to his knees by this franchise, and two guys behind the desks are still here and now in charge. It was a big headline and a lot of noise, but when the smoke cleared Monday, it was little more than chopping away some tree branches. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing is really going to change around here until William Clay Ford fires somebody else.


Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to


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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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