Detroit Lions: Bill Ford Jr. Must Finish What Senior Could Not


Oct 28, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford Jr (right) talks with president Tom Lewand (left) before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The time has come for Bill Ford Jr. to assume control of the Detroit Lions.

Like taxes, death for us all is inevitable and earlier this week the Detroit Lions lost their leader, William Clay Ford Sr.

With the death of Mr. Ford, controlling interest of the franchise will follow the Fords’ long-established succession plan of passing to his widow Martha Ford while his son Bill Jr. remains Vice Chairman of the organization.

Mrs. Ford, on paper, will take over for the owner who failed to win any Super Bowl Rings; but make no mistake, it will be his son who now pulls the strings.

But it’s not like Bill Jr. has had no input into his father’s previous decisions.  Remember, it was Junior who spear-headed out-of-the-box thinking by bringing in Matt Millen to run football operations.  A bold idea, but unfortunately once in the fold; Millen was a disaster.  He was allowed to maintain his position for far too long and pollute the front office as he befriended ownership and monopolized the ear of Mr. Ford.  The characteristics that served him on TV, helped further humiliate a once proud franchise.

After seven years of ineffectiveness, Bill Jr. spoke out publicly against his father and said Millen needed to go.  The internal uprising catalyzed a changing of the guard.  How long would Millen have lasted without Bill Jr. openly calling his father out on the carpet?

Nobody will know for sure, but former Lions GM Russ Thomas skated through 22 years of mediocrity until he retired.  Without Bill Jr. pressing the issue, Millen might still be using his draft day dartboard in his Allen Park office.

Nepotism is never easy, especially as it relates to leadership.  It is a delicate balance of assuming more responsibility while also giving reverence to the knowledge and position of the relative.  Not that Bill Jr. is incapable, on the contrary.  The Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company is actually overqualified to lead a professional football team.  It’s like Warren Buffet teaching an economics course at Nebraska – it’s not rocket science for him.

Along with the eradication of Millen and the removal of Jim Schwartz this off-season, Bill Jr. is showing his influence has been gradually increasing and the mediocrity that for decades was acceptable is no longer.

This passing of the torch may be what many Lions fans have yearned for – somebody in charge relatable to their plight.  Not financially of course, but Junior has lived his life under the same oppressive cloud of losing shared by the fiercest of Lions apologists.

Many have said nobody wanted the Lions to win more than Mr. Ford.  I disagree.  If there is anybody more passionate about the Lions returning to a winning tradition it’s Bill Jr.  Nobody has been more intimate with the team throughout a lifetime than he.  Running though the locker room in sailor suits, enduring the team’s bloopers in his bell bottoms at the Silverdome, Bill Jr. was privy to what many adolescent fans could only dream of.  It would be difficult to find somebody in Detroit who hurts more with a Lions loss than the man whose childhood was enveloped by his father’s team.

By all accounts, Mr. Ford was a good man.  A philanthropist with a strong sense of humility who was dedicated to his family, all tremendous traits to follow.  But as a team owner, one playoff victory in five decades is not something his son should choose to emulate.

Some try to excuse an abusive husband as a product of his environment.  He doesn’t know any better because that’s what he witnessed as a child.  This theory is delusional.  Every life experience is a lesson, it is up to the individual to determine if these actions are right or wrong.  How you process the information determines your direction as a person, for better or worse.

Bill Jr. has an advantage shared by few, years of exclusory audit that should provide endless examples to glean from.  It’s not like the ownership change in Cleveland where new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam admits he is learning on the job.  Junior’s learning curve is not steep and he is much further along the slope.  What should be expected going forward is an anxious leader driven to win and young enough to finish what eluded his father.

Bill Jr. will turn 57 this year.  1957 was the last championship year for the Lions and they’ve been rebuilding since.  57 years later, Bill Jr. will lead the Detroit Lions into the 2014 campaign.  Perhaps under his leadership, the number 57 could take on a whole new meaning – only time will tell.