So far in the NFL this year, the Chicago Bears have informed a veteran running back, Chester Taylor, that he was being released. After he had left the team facilities, he was then called back to the building by the team, who then told him it was a mistake and that he was still gainfully employed. This incident follows several other blunders by the Bears, including having 10,000 fans show up for a practice, only to turn them away when the field was deemed unsuitable, and consummating a trade with the Ravens but neglecting to tell anyone at the NFL head office about it, thus negating the trade and costing the Ravens two draft spots.
The Miami Dolphins reportedly offered their head coaching position to Jim Harbaugh at the end of the 2010 season after a whirlwind courtship. This was widely reported in the press. The only problem? They hadn’t fired their existing head coach – and have since retained him for the 2011 season.
The Cincinnati Bengals, in a fit of anger (childishness?) have refused to trade Carson Palmer, even though he has stated that he will never play for them again. Although not the quarterback he once was, he is probably worth at least a mid round draft pick. One of the reasons he is upset? The Bengals refusal to spend any money on the team. The Bengals are currently about 27 millions dollars under the cap, which is probably about the same amount that some other Bengal’s employees have paid in bail money.
Blessedly, our new-look Detroit Lions have been removed from the limelight in this regard. No doubt we have had our issues in the past – from Lions head coach Darryl Rogers famously asking “what does a guy have to do to get fired around here?” to Barry Sanders retiring on the eve of training camp, to the hiring (and extending) of a former TV announcer as your general manager. Heck, we even had an assistant coach made famous by hitting the drive through in his birthday suit.
Now I know that it is immensely popular – especially in the down years (or decades, as the case may be) – to bash our Lions and their ownership for the above incidents. To hear some people talk, William Clay Ford is the anti-Christ of sports. I have bashed him myself. I have often wondered whether this organization could ever win under the Ford family.
However, let’s give credit where credit is due. In some regards our ownership is perfect. They are not afraid to spend money (the Lions are only about 700k under the salary cap), they build decent facilities (Ford Field and the Allen Park practice facility are both new and world class), and they don’t meddle in the day to day affairs of the team (hello Dan Snyder). If anything they are too loyal to their employers. The only thing that could be questioned was the laissez-faire attitude they had about fielding a winning team.
I believe this attitude started to change with a simple quote in September 2008 from Bill Ford Jr., who stated “The fans deserve better, and if I had the authority, I would have fired the general manager.” That shot across the bow signaled a new era in Lions policy, and within days the SS Matt Millen was sunk. And perhaps more importantly, they made the hard call and retained a Millen hire (Martin Mayhew) to be general manager. I wouldn’t have done this myself. I would have begged Scott Pioli to leave a winning organization such as the Patriots to become the Lions general manager. I would have fired anyone associated with Matt Millen in an effort to erase the losing culture in Allen Park. And I would have been wrong.
Time will tell if the Lions, under Mayhew’s tutelage, are building a winner. It sure seems so, but the pre-season can be deceiving. But it is evident that the organization has finally reached a level of professionalism to enable a winning culture. It is evident that the Lions are no longer considered among the laughingstocks of the NFL. I, for one, am thrilled. It is a sign of a big person when they can laugh at themselves. But, in sports, it is way more fun to laugh at someone else.