Sharp: What comes next is most important for Lions
The first step was impressive.
It’s the next move that gets much trickier.
Martha Firestone Ford took a big broom and swept through the upper reaches of the Detroit Lions' front office this afternoon, firing both team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew. It was a seminal moment for this perpetually hapless team. The biggest single-day executive purge in franchise history. One of the biggest in NFL history.
It also was a very clear indication that Mrs. Ford won’t suffer incompetence as comfortably as her late husband.
“We are very disappointed with the results of the season so far,” she said, reading from a prepared statement, “and believe a change in leadership was necessary.”
She talked for only about 2 minutes. And she didn’t take any questions. That was a mistake.
There probably were worries about subjecting a 90-year-old to an intensive media crossfire. But considering the infrequency of her public availability since taking over following William Clay Ford Sr.’s death in March 2014 — this was only her second media appearance — she should have taken at least a couple of questions.
The brevity of her availability raised only more serious questions moving forward. Where was Bill Ford Jr.? Where was Sheila Ford Hamp? She’s the second-oldest daughter, and she is expected to assume a greater role within the organization. It’s believed that she has had more input in steering her mother’s decisions the past two years.
It’s a concern that Bill Ford Jr. apparently won’t have any substantive responsibilities in the organizational realignment. He remains a very important institutional resource, considering his years of forging relationships working on several ownership committees as his late father’s proxy.
They’re wasting him. Why? Sorry, no questions allowed.
If he doesn’t have a voice, can anyone really trust who’s doing the talking?
“Our fans deserve a winning football team, and we will do everything possible to make it a reality,” Martha Ford said. “I also want to make clear that we have no intention of giving up on the season. We expect our team to compete, improve and win.”
Give her credit for showing some fire, some anger — something many fans thought was an absent emotion from ownership for decades. Mrs. Ford could have waited until the end of the season. But she acted when she did because she merely demanded a pound of flesh.
And she’s entitled.
But what matters most is what happens next.
Does Mrs. Ford reach out to the NFL for help in identifying good football executives? Does she look to make a bold strike in offering a megasized contract to a big-name head coach in either the pros or college football and giving that person full control of the operation as president?
The Mayhew dismissal wasn’t surprising. The big move was getting rid of Lewand.
He became a surrogate son of the Fords, working his way up through the organization. His father was William Clay Ford Sr.’s longtime legal counsel. Lewand took an active role overseeing the development of Ford Field. His initial role with the Lions was limited to business functions, learning the workings of the salary cap.
But when Matt Millen was fired as president three games into the historic 0-16 season in 2008, Lewand immediately positioned himself to become president and assumed a more active role in all football operations.
The early suspicions were that the Fords would find a soft landing for Lewand, because that’s how the family long has conducted football business, valuing loyalty and friendship more than bottom-line competitive results. And Lewand fit that profile of the family friend the Fords never could cut loose.
But Lewand and Mayhew were joined at the hip. They became “May-wand.” One couldn’t get the ax without the other.
Martha Ford had a good day, for one moment separating herself from her husband’s legacy. But the lack of clues offered in a non-news conference creates a mysterious tomorrow.
Contact Drew Sharp: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drewsharp. Tune in to "Dery and Sharp" from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on Detroit Sports 105.1.