William Clay Ford doesn't speak to the media too often (the last time was after Matt Millen was fired last year), but he did just that on Wednesday after watching the Lions practice. The full interview can be viewed here, but I'm going to highlight the more interesting parts below.
The conversation with Ford, as expected, started with Matt Millen.
Why didn’t it work with Millen?
"Again, tough one to answer. He didn’t really have much experience as far as being a general manager goes. He knows the game, obviously. Knew talent. Maybe he was a little precipitous about some of his judgments. I’m second-guessing him.
"But it didn’t work out, and he understood completely. There was no bitterness or rancor on his part. He said, ‘No, I can understand why you’re doing it, and I don’t blame you.’ "
Did you support him for too long?
"Well, maybe. But I think circumstances, timing, were important. You don’t want to jump ship after two games or one game or anything like that. When the fans were really getting fed up, you think, ‘OK, time to make a move.’ Thought about it, obviously. But the timing just worked out the way it did."
I don't want to rail on Ford this entire post, but it's stuff like the quote above that makes it hard not to do. When the question about supporting Millen for too long was asked, I imagine most assumed it was referring to too many years. Ford, on the other hand, seemed to think it was about supporting him for too long during last season. That is just one of the many things that gives me so little confidence in him as the owner of the Lions. No one cares about if Ford waited a game or two last season to get rid of Millen. We sort of care more about how Ford waited for years and years to finally fire him.
You reportedly haven’t paid Millen since firing him. Is that true?
"We’re all square with the board. I talked to him on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and everything’s fine. We’re still friends, and I’m glad he’s got the job that he’s getting."
Millen said last week the situation is ongoing.
Was it settled recently?
"Fairly. Yeah, a couple of weeks."
"It was really handled by his lawyer and mine. It never got to arbitration or anything like that, and I’m glad it (didn't), because as I say, we’re friends, and I don’t want to be on the other side of quarreling with a friend over ‘you said this’ or ‘I said this.’ So it worked out very peacefully. It worked out fine."
Millen was owed quite a bit of money, but I doubt he got all of it. If I had to guess, I would say that the two sides came to an agreement on a lesser amount of money simply so everyone could move on, especially since Millen has multiple TV jobs now anyways.
The conversation shifted away from Millen (thankfully) to discussion about the Lions' search for a new general manager and why Ford decided to simply promote Martin Mayhew.
Did you call Roger Goodell?
"Strangely enough, he called me. We had three or four conversations after that."
What did he say? Did he ask if you needed help or advice?
"Yes. He offered any help that he could. He was great about it. I said, ‘Well, I could use all the help I can get. I’m certainly not going to turn my back on you or anybody.’ Then he mentioned a few names, and I investigated those. He couldn’t have been nicer about it or really more helpful."
Did you investigate his suggestions for front-office executives?
"I did check into it, and nothing against any of his suggestions, but I felt I had the right combination here. So why go through the agony of bringing somebody totally new in that to learn what everything was about here? As long as it was in place, I didn’t have any problem with it."
Not that Martin Mayhew hasn't done a good job so far as GM of the Lions, but it hurts to know that there really wasn't an actual search for Millen's replacement. Ford was set on Mayhew getting the job and didn't even bother interviewing anyone else. I appreciate Roger Goodell for stepping in and trying to help, but at the end of the day, Ford basically listened to the Commissioner's suggestions and decided that he was content with what he already had. That's just disappointing.
What did Lewand and Mayhew do to impress you and make you feel so comfortable with them?
"I really don’t know how to answer that because there are so many different answers I could give. I’ll try to be specific by being vague. I like their judgment. I liked the thought processes they were going through to reach their conclusions. They don’t get an idea and then jump off a cliff. It’s all very well thought out, and it’s not just thought out for the day. They think about it for a long time, weigh all the other possibilities and then make their decision. It’s not a snap judgment on anybody’s part, and I think that’s important. Very important."
After talking a bit about how he didn't blame the fans that stopped going to games last season and how he doesn't really know what to expect for attendance next season, Ford started to talk about past coaching hires and the latest one.
You’ve been through so many coaches and approaches. Why do you think this might be the right direction now?
"This is going to sound a little egotistical, maybe it is. Because this was solely my decision, and rather than being influenced by a lot of other thoughts and people that … I respected their opinions, but they were not exactly the same as mine, which is fine, but they influenced the decisions that were finally made.
"If Jim Schwartz doesn’t work out, you can blame me 100%. I just have confidence in him."
You made the decision on Schwartz? He was your guy?
"Yeah. Now, I don’t mean to sound like I was too dictatorial about it. I got other people’s opinions on other people that we’d interviewed, and we all agreed, so that made it a shoo-in.
"It wasn’t … well, not bickering. But it wasn’t the arguments that we may have had in the past. If that’s the right word, maybe a little strong. The difference of opinion we had in the past.
"This was 100% from everybody. And long before I’d given my opinion, I asked them their thoughts, and I happened to agree with all of them. Anybody who agrees with you is a genius." (laughs)
Before giving you my take on this, here is the money quote of the whole interview, as far as I'm concerned:
The hirings of Mariucci and Marinelli were more contentious?
"I guess you could say that, yeah. I didn’t know their backgrounds particularly, and again, I relied on Matt and others for what their opinions were. The decision wasn’t mine. I’m not saying I was against it."
Ford is essentially deflecting all blame for the past failed coaching hires and putting it on Matt Millen and "others." I'm sorry, but as an owner of an NFL team, I find it hard to believe that Ford simply let Millen do whatever he wanted for all those years. He can say that he was hands off and let Millen make the decisions, but when you're an owner, the final decision is yours. I would prefer an owner that lets the GM hire his guys, but that doesn't mean he is blameless in all this. I could see if the only bad era for the Lions was when Millen was GM, but this isn't something new. The Lions have been a relatively mediocre franchise outside of the Barry Sanders years ever since Ford became owner of this team, and even then they have only won a single playoff game since 1957. The constant in all of this mediocrity is Ford, and even if he wants to blame Millen for the last eight years, it was Ford who hired him in the first place.
Have you ever ordered a coach to play a quarterback?
"No. I do not -- contrary to public opinion -- interfere with the football side of it. I mean, if so-and-so plays lousy, I’ll said I think he’s a bum. (laughs)
"But no, I’ve never said, ‘Play this guy or play that guy or don’t play him.’ These guys know more about the game than I do by 10 miles. I’m not going to try to second-guess them."
I don't think anyone has ever believed Ford was the one telling coaches who to play. It's pretty obvious that was all Matt Millen, as we saw during the Joey Harrington years. It's common knowledge that he and Steve Mariucci butted heads over drafting certain players and when they would play, which ended up dooming the Mariucci era.
How personally do you take criticism from the fans?
"Well, I mean, not that the yelling at the stadium does much for you. You get a couple of drunks, and they can lead anything. But by and large, you pay attention to it.
"I mean, if there’s a noticeable decline in attendance and the comments are not favorable, you pay attention to it. As I say, the fans are really the people we want to please out here.
"Especially now with Detroit and the shape it’s in, we’ve got to try twice as hard to give them their money’s worth. Money’s tough to come by for all of them. I understand that. But the least we can do is put on a good performance for them, and I think we will. I certainly hope we will."
The key phrase in the above quote is "decline in attendance." It was only when attendance numbers started to drop that Millen was fired. Comments weren't favorable for a good time before last season, yet Ford did nothing. Only when his revenue started to take a hit did he show he cared, which is why I find it hard to believe that he really cares about the fans at all. After all, the Lions raised ticket prices last year after one semi-decent season, trying to squeeze as much money out of fans as possible. Well, Ford got a first-hand look at what that coupled with a crappy team caused, and then he suddenly decided that it was time for a change.
Do you worry about your legacy? How badly to you want a championship?
"I want it. I can promise you that. Starting with Jim and on out as far as my livelihood goes, I’m going to shoulder the responsibility for any mistakes we’ve made.
"I don’t mean every play or stuff like that, but if things go sour and the fans turn against us, I’ll have nobody to blame but me. And I’m aware of that. But that’s a nice challenge to have, to try to keep them happy in bad times."
Let me get this straight. Ford is only going to take the blame for bad things that this team does starting now? Where has he been since owning the team? I find it comical that he apparently thinks the past hasn't been his fault one bit. Like I said before, the one constant in these decades and decades of mediocrity is Ford, and now all of a sudden he wants us to forget that? I hope I'm wrong, but until there is a change in ownership, I really have a hard time believing anything will truly change with this franchise. I have great faith in Mayhew and Schwartz, but Ford is still as clueless as they come.