Many Detroit Lions fans spent Saturday celebrating the end of the Matt Patricia era. It was a necessary move for the franchise, and the mark of an ugly three years in this team’s history, even considering this team’s awful track record.
But the end of a bad era doesn’t necessarily mean the start of a good one. On Saturday afternoon, following her decisions to let go of both Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn, Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp had the opportunity to provide hope and optimism in just her second press conference since assuming the job back in June. With the eyes and ears of every eager Lions fan, she fell well flat of that goal.
The first sign of trouble came with the first question from the media: Were the final two blowout losses the final straw for the fates of both Quinn and Patricia? Her answer:
“Honestly, yes. Ten days ago, we looked like we had a good chance to be playoff bound.”
Ten days ago, this team was 4-5, had just blown a 21-point lead to one of the worst offenses in the league and was just a week removed from back-to-back blowouts against actual good teams in the Colts and Vikings. Anyone who had paid attention to anything beyond their record knew this team was struggling to compete with even the bad teams in the league. The playoffs were a pipe dream, and if she legitimately thought the team was playoff-bound at that time, I have to seriously question her judgement.
But let’s give her a pass here. She still eventually arrived the same conclusion as all of us: things were not going to work under this regime.
However, the rest of her press conference was filled with half-answers and reeked of a leader lacking in a true plan.
What will be the power structure going forward?
“We’re going to look at it all.”
What kind of attributes are you looking for in a head coach and general manager?
“That’s not completely defined yet.”
Will you be looking into hiring firms or getting help from the NFL?
“We’re open. We talked about that. We probably will.”
I get that they’re super early in the process, but there just doesn’t seem to be any foresight here.
Then she was given a softball. Tell the fans right now why it’s going to be different under you than in previous year.
Alright, Sheila. Tell them about your illustrious history of success, your long-standing love of the game, your difference from your parents, and your quick ability to learn, adapt and change. Here we go. Mic is yours. Drop that inspirational line that is going to lead every single newspaper headline Sunday morning.
“Well, again, you know as well as I do, there are no guarantees.”
She then followed it up with more generic ownerspeak.
“All I can say is I’m going to work as hard as I can along with Rod (Wood), and we are going to make this an extremely thorough and comprehensive search. We’re going to do the very best we can.”
I’m not sure channeling her inner Matt Patricia was the right move there.
To be fair, early in the press conference Ford Hamp admitted, “You’re going to have a lot more questions than I’m going to have answers to.” And it’s okay not to have all the answers right now. But on Saturday, she didn’t have any. No true insight into her hiring process. No hint as to what her vision of the team will be or the kind of person she wants to lead it.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that team president Rod Wood will be running the show right there alongside her. Captain “Not A Football Guy” is not being fired, will apparently be an integral part of this searching committee and will not see his role on the team change.
I get that Wood is a person she trusts, and he has made some positive changes on the financial side of the business including necessary upgrades to the stadium, cutting-edge payment plans for fans, and has shown he is not hesitant to crack open the checkbook for upgrades to the facilities. However, he has absolutely proven he should not be the part of any football decisions, yet it appears he will be standing alongside an owner with just five months of experience.
The signs that Wood will be a huge part of this process were all over Ford Hamp’s press conference.
“We’re going to lean on all sorts of resources, and the League will probably be one of them. Rod and I, too, but Rod particularly has some really terrific relationships there.”
“Rod and I are rolling up our sleeves already and we’re going to get to work immediately.”
“All I can say is I’m going to work as hard as I can along with Rod, and we are going to make this an extremely thorough and comprehensive search.”
Rod Wood played a role in hiring Bob Quinn. He played a role in hiring Matt Patricia. Why should this man be at the forefront of making the same decisions he failed at making five years ago? Sure, the Lions plan on bringing in help from the NFL or hiring firms, but that didn’t seem to help much last time. Yes, Wood now has five more years of experience and football connections than he did in his first time around, but is that nearly enough to turn wealth management director into a football guy?
Ford Hamp did make some vague references to potentially shifting the power dynamic, saying that “we’re looking at some organizational chart moves.” But if you were hoping to have an experienced football guru making top-level football decisions for this franchise going forward, Ford Hamp didn’t provide you with much optimism. And that should be a major red flag.
Combine all that with the rumors that the Lions took an extra day to fire Quinn and Patricia, because they weren’t sure about moving on from Quinn, and I’m not sure where any optimism is coming from right now. If firing Quinn wasn’t blatantly obvious to them from where the team stands talent-wise after five years, I have no reason to believe their judgement of the next team’s general manager will be any clearer.
All that being said, I’m willing to still give this regime a chance. Actions speak louder than words, and Ford Hamp is one-for-one with her actions. She got the necessary pieces out of the door. But if her press conference was supposed to truly inspire faith and confidence, I’m afraid she’ll have to rely on her actions more than her words there.