A Detailed Look at the Lions...Part 1

Hondo S. Carpenter

A Detailed Look at the Lions...Part 1

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"I'm willing to stake my reputation on Matt's success," was the exact words of Bill Ford Jr. on January 9, 2001. O.K. Bill, we’ll take your word for it. You’re a failure. Are those harsh words? Well, Millen’s tenure with the Lions was just that: A dismal failure.
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It seems that Bill Ford, Jr. has conveniently forgotten those words. He certainly didn’t mind popping off his mouth earlier this week that he would fire Millen, but if you hold him accountable (as they all deserve) then he must go also. 

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In fact, when a person who owns a franchise doesn’t perform, the company that the franchise is aligned with will come in and take it back. They do that in order to protect the brand. Have the Lions made the NFL a more lucrative and better product during the Ford’s ownership?

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In fact, when you look at the Millen years, you have to remember that they are only a microcosm of the entirety of the failure of the Fords. Now make no mistake, I fully admit that a 31-84 record for Matt is absolutely unacceptable, and that record has gone on more years than it should have.

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Matt was the President and no matter how much meddling and decisions that were made above him, he had the title. I can tell you that I have had many conversations with Millen and I have talked with him about that fact. I have even suggested to him to resign and give up the headache that this job had become. Each and every time he was emphatic about his devotion and love to WCF and that he had offered to resign any time Ford asked, but that he wouldn’t quit. In fact he told me this once, “I promised Mr. Ford when I took this job that I wouldn’t quit on him. If he wants me to resign I will, but I won’t quit. It’s my word.” Millen is a lot of things. It is fair to judge his tenure as a President of an NFL football team and say that he failed. It is also fair to call him an honorable man.

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The underlying issue however is why he failed? Why do people continue to let the Fords off the hook? Why did he allow decisions to be made, and circumstances to continue that caused him great personal ridicule and yet he remained silent to a media that took shots at his character that were unfair and in some cases, categorically false? 

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This will be a three part series of articles. This one will look at the situation before Matt took over. The next will address the Millen years. The last will look to the future. What happens now? I will give the Fords and a few others that will be discussed a chance to tell their side of the story, so I cannot put a date on the next article. If they choose to ignore my requests then I will gladly report what I know. 

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The situation when Millen arrived.

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WCF acknowledged when he hired Millen that the organization was failing. He said, “We've been pretty much stuck on dead center for quite a few years…Matt offers us an opportunity to move ahead."
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WCF became the President of the Lions in 1961. The Lions winning percentage since he took over is just over 40%! Wow, was he right they had been stuck. If anyone was to act as if the losing Millen years are a new development to an already punch drunk by losing franchise would be less than fair.
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To the credit of Ford, I have no reason and in fact have no personal dislike of the man (I don’t know him) and I know that those who I know who do know him consider him a good person. This article isn’t an attack on his character. It is well established that he is a good man. It is a sincere look at his failure in my opinion as an owner.
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The greatest player in the history of his franchise, Barry Sanders, simply walked away from the franchise. Remember that it was a Super Bowl Coach in Bobby Ross who disgusted, just left. It isn’t that Ford hasn’t had good people around. Are we to assume that all of his hires over the years have all been bad? If so then shame on his tenure as an owner. If they haven't been all bad then shame on his tenure as an owner. Please! The only common denominator through all the years of his ownership's dismal performance is him.  

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Unlike some other ownership groups he does spend the money, and he did open the checkbook for the best facilities in the NFL. All without holding the citizens hostage for more tax money. That, in and of itself, in this age of corporate welfare is a testament to his character and devotion to the team. I have never questioned his desire to win, and his caring about the franchise.  I question his ability to lead it. I would like to look good in a Speedo, but it isn’t going to happen and if I continued to wear one, then I would deserve the ridicule.

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The problem is that he has a proven track record of an inability to run a team. I don’t think he sets out to lose. I don’t think like some that he doesn’t care. I think he lacks the ability to do it and the NFL must step in if he doesn’t. What the Lions organization is portraying as NFL quality is nothing even close. Just like a person who owns a McDonalds. If that person doesn’t run that franchise with the same quality and expectations of the parent company it gets revoked. It is unfair to all the franchises to let one make the others look bad.

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Is Bill Ford Jr. the answer? Take a look at what he has done running Ford and draw your own conclusion. Look at the media today. People are applauding him for embarrassing his dad? Really? A man who publicly embarrasses his father has the “leadership” ability that we need?  Remember that he said we could judge him by Matt. Remember that he wanted Matt and pushed his Dad to get him then. What a track record!

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In our next article we will look at the Millen years: The hiring of Mariucci, draft picks, other internal issues that certainly contributed to the failure of Millen, and more importantly the culture of losing that is the Detroit Lions.

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