Detroit Lions: Here We Go Again

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Detroit Lions: Here We Go Again
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Two generations of failure.

It always goes that way, does it not?

The one constant has always been Bill Ford. It is the only discernible fact in the futurity of the franchise.

Despite all the coaches, general managers, a couple of CEO “bean counters,” one constant has stood the test of time, and his name is Bill Ford.

The sad thing about Bill Ford is that the man is completely out of touch with the reality of his own franchise. How else can you explain sticking with Matt Millen for seven plus years and a 24-72 record, along with all the first round busts, before the axe finally fell?

This is important because it tells you that the current ineptitude is likely to get at least five more years before the wheels turn - the light goes on  - or the fickleness of fate gives us all new hope as destiny shakes its morbid finger in the direction of Bill Sr.

But given Lewand got the job at Bill Jr. request, and which was publically reported, it looks like Jr. is following in the footsteps of his father down the same sentimental, la, la world of throwing a dart into the black hole of inept leadership. Both Ford’s have demonstrated this quirky business trait, void of wisdom.

But then again, both men are the product of nepotism rather than being self made men. (By self made I mean people who put themselves through school on their dime, and find meaningful emplowment without the benefit of relatives.) In other words, you are the Captain of your own ship. Any true man would not want it any other way.

It is no secret that the Fords love to reward loyalty from within instead of pluck success from the insider boys club of professional coaching.  It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that one ought to drink from the well of success, rather than the well of ineptitude.  Remember, it was Jr. who recommended Millen, when that went bad, Jr. set his sights on Lewand, despite the man’s lack of a professional football pedigree. Lewand, of course, succumbed to the same sentimentality when he was quoted in the press as preferring Mayhew simply because he had a relationship with the guy when he asserted his "comfort" with him as reported in the press.

To Mayhew’s credit, he has drafted wisely, but I now question Schwartz ability to make anything happen along with his questionable coaching decisions leading to predictable rookie mistakes in time management skills which he flubbed in a couple of recent games, and noted by professional pundits.

Of course, some guys made the grade lacking a professional pedigree.  Gil Brandt comes to mind with Dallas. Brandt was a sports writer who got the top job and transformed Dallas into America’s Team. Scott Poili is on the verge of doing the same thing in Kansas City. Scott was second fiddle with the Patriots, but learned his craft under one of the giants of the game by the name of Bill Belichick.

Does anyone know exactly what Lewand learn from Schmidt or Millen as a point of juxtaposition growing up in the Lions organization? Lewand has been out of his depth from the beginning, and has no business running this franchise; he simply is not qualified for the job.

The same goes for Schwartz. Sure, Schwartz had twenty plus years as a coach, but not in the top spot, and certainly not with personal success of running an entire coaching staff as the top guy.

After all, who in their right mind would pass on Coach Shanahan, or Coach Cowher, to name just a couple, and then roll the dice with Schwartz? Apparently we know the answer to that question: the Fords would. It has been the staple of their ownership through the years.

Bill Ford Sr picked them all, or at least sanctioned their appointments: Russ Thomas, Chuck Schmidt, Matt Millen, and now Tom Lewand, all were chosen to run things. A couple played professional Football and two others were products of business school; Chuck Schmidt and Lewand were hired as minor players in the organization out of college, and arose through the ranks not because of their productive drafts but rather at their acumen for winning friends and loyalty. But the business guys fared no better than those with a professional football pedigree as ancient and recent history demonstrates.

The organizational structure shifted through the years. Thomas was the top honcho who controlled the entire operation until Monte Clark showed up and was given control of the draft. This happened because Russ made more flubs on the first round of the draft than even Matt Millen was capable of but Russ did it for a lot longer than Millen.

Russ Thomas was only interested in drafting players he thought would be an easy sign, as if his bonus was tied to profits, and speculation suggests that was indeed the case. Russ liked small school players like Ernie Price, Lynn Bodin, and countless others who faded into the woodwork of nostalgia long after their short (and uneventful) playing careers came to an end. So Russ Thomas often ignored bigger school players with name recognition being more concerned with his ability to get a substandard contract, than pay the going rate. This was the biggest hit against the man throughout the sixties and early seventies until Monte Clark was tapped out of San Francisco, and given authority over personnel decisions and the draft, although the structure was doomed from the beginning as Monte did not control the purse strings, this attribute still in the control of Thomas.

As a consequence, Monte discovered he was fighting a losing battle in his short tenure as head coach, as he watched the best running back in the game at the time, Billy Sims, sign with his agent's new team four years after Monte made him the number one pick in the draft. The Lions decided to cough up more cash and Sims signed a dual contract with two different leagues, and the case was decided in court with the judges ruling telling us that Sims agent “could not serve two masters” and voided his contract with Houston.

Thomas worked behind the scenes to sabotage everything Monte tried to put in place and create a winning attitude.  Thomas’ tight fisted ways soured some other great players like Bubba Baker (in case this is before your time, Bubba had 21 sacks as a rookie Defensive end out of the University of Colorado and was a second round choice of Clark), but Bubba had about all he could take of the peasant wages Thomas doled out with an eye dropper which kept in place the values of indentured servitude for Baker. This, of course, led to the famous confrontation with Clark on a return flight home, which forced Clark's hand, dealing Al “Bubba” Baker off to another team.

Of course, Clark’s reign was like all the others, and his parting jab summed up Lion Football through the decades saying, “I was always working with damaged goods." The potshot clearly characterized Bill Ford ineptitude and his siding in the end with Thomas over Clark.

So how bad is it? Since Ford bought the team outright from a group of partners in 1963, he has hired or fired 17 head coaches. Only one, Wayne Fontes, ever won a playoff game in that time frame, and he did it only once. Among the coaches Ford hired, many were successful elsewhere, but when they came to Detroit, all of them hit bottom for one reason or another.  

They all failed. The one truism is that none of them got it right.  Year after year, decade after decade, it always comes up the same.  The team lands a few stars, promising young players, and for one reason or another, they cannot turn the corner.  

Wayne Fontes was the only Lion coach who had success with a couple of winning seasons,

Remember that? Wins? It is why the game is played. It is not played for hope, potential, faith, or belief. It is played for the capitalist goal of winning.    

It might be time for the Ford’s to hire a consultant and provide decision by proxy on competent people to run this organization instead of throwing darts of hope, loyalty, or the frizzy funny feeling of one’s sentiments.

I don’t think that any legitimate negative critique will fall on Ford's ears prompting him to change direction now.

Even if the Lions fall to St Louis, Cleveland, and Washington in the comming weeks, it is likely we are stuck with Schwartz, and Lewand. Despite Mayhew’s commendable drafting, he flubbed on Schwartz, or simply was told to go get someone on the cheap side, either way it happened Schwartz is riding the downward side of the tempest.  

The bottom line is that Lewand’s self esteem was threatened by a powerful and successful coach of the stature of Shanahan or Cowher.  Both men would demand complete control of the draft - the organizational structure - and financial matters, and thus why neither man will be coaching in Detroit.

If you are a Lion fan, it always goes that way.

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