One thing we can say this year with certainty is that this team is no longer the “same old Lions.” As loved as Bill Ford was by many, he had a lot of issues as an owner of an NFL franchise. The most glaring of which was his unfailing loyalty to the people he put in power. There’s a fine line between giving someone enough time to turn around your franchise and giving the wrong person too much time to ruin it. The prime example is, of course, Matt Millen. The hire in itself was odd enough as he was pulled from a broadcast booth as opposed to a scouting department. However, despite the evidence that the guy had no clue what he was doing, he was given just over seven seasons as Football Czar of the Lions. It took three years of fans chanting “Fire Millen!” (including at Red Wings and Pistons games) for Bill to finally cut the cord.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Great! Now they can finally turn this thing around with that guy out of here!” and normally, that would be the case. It’s rare that an interim general manager would end up inheriting the full time job after such an epic failure. But no, Millen’s right hand man was given the job outright after the 2008 season. Bill Ford once again was loyal to a fault and let his personal feelings get in the way of a football decision. Martin Mayhew did some things right while trying to correct course for the Lions. Stafford was a clear number one pick at the time and the Lions were definitely on the winning side of the Roy Williams trade. I even like some of the free agent pick-ups that he was responsible for – Golden Tate being my outright favorite. Where Millen’s rosters were completely devoid of talent, Mayhew constructed one that made the playoffs twice during his tenure. Alas, it wasn’t enough. Too much of the old regime remained and if the Lions were ever going to really compete, it was time to start from scratch.
Despite what we heard about Bill Ford Jr. taking over the reins after the passing of his father, the 2015 season showed us that this was Martha’s show. After a blowout loss in London, it became clear that she did not harbor the same attitude as her late husband. Both Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand were let go shortly after the team cut ties with Joe Lombardi. Yes, a 90 year old heiress of a tire company will be our salvation. She even went so far as to address the fans letting us know that we “deserve much better” and included such wonderful word as “please know that giving you a championship football team is the singular goal for me and my family.”
It was a refreshing thing to hear from an ownership that for so long seemed to keep the team as a hobby, just a place to spend Sundays with friends and family. That’s not Martha’s attitude – if you’re not steering this team towards a ring, you’re not welcome. There were rumors floating around that the day Mayhew and Lewand were let go, Mrs. Ford was riding around the practice facility in a golf cart dismissing employees that didn’t share this attitude. I for one, choose to believe it.
Enter Bob Quinn
Martha’s words rung true and the team got competitive over the second half of the season. She also stayed true to her word by hiring Ernie Acorsi to assist in the nationwide GM search. Bob Quinn was hired away from the Patriots after spending 15 years with the dynasty under the warm hoodie of Bill Belichick. This marked the first outside GM hire (from an actual football organization) in decades. No more promoting the interim guy or thinking that you could find greatness in someone that had spent their whole career with our losing football team. They went to a winning organization to find a smart, talented guy who wanted to win.
Not only did Quinn’s hire represent a new chapter for the Lions, it ushered in a lot of changes. When Quinn took the job, he made it clear that he wanted to evaluate the whole organization from top to bottom, meeting with everyone from the scouting department to the groundskeepers. I love it. What I love more is that on top of eschewing the last of the Millen regime, Quinn actually took action after weeks of evaluating the folks in Allen Park. The most prominent being the replacements on the conditioning staff and uncovering something that most fans were unaware of. Our Director of College Scouting and most recently the Senior Personnel Executive had been with the organization since 1987!
Twenty nine years of bad drafts and missing on countless second round picks and Scott McEwen was not only still in the building but kept getting promoted! What was he being rewarded for, taking Sanders, Johnson and Stafford early? I’m never happy when people lose their jobs, but damn. It took almost three decades of failure for the Lions to show him the door.
Brand New Lions
We may not be Super Bowl bound for another few years of roster building and better coaching but I can tell you one thing. Martha is sick of losing. She’s sick of being the laughing stock of league, sick of fans wearing bags over their heads in shame. She’s tired of looking like a joke to pundits and potential free agents. With the power in her hands, she’s quickly and aggressively made changes that are at least a step towards being a winning organization. I’m confident that with Martha in charge and Quinn in the building, this team is not “the same old Lions.”