For years and years, some Detroit Lions fans have blamed the Ford family for all of the Lions shortcomings. I’m sure you’ve probably heard or seen all the classic complaints. Some of you might even have made those complaints. “They’re just collecting paychecks.” “No one in the Ford family knows a likc about football.” How many times have you seen the words “sell the team” over the course of your fandom? I’ve lost count on the amount of petitions to get the Fords to sell the Lions that have been tweeted or emailed to me over the last decade. I get it.
The Lions world is changing a lot these days, and I think it’s time we acknowledge the woman who’s at the helm of this change. Sheila Ford Hamp took over ownership of the Lions in 2020, and while she’s been the owner for a short period of time, the changes that have been made under her have been big and could very well have an impact that drastically affects the future in a positive way. Today I want to go through Ford Hamp’s first 1.5 years on the job and highlight some of the big things that have gotten done under her watch. Let’s jump right in.
Firing Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn
Ford Hamp took over ownership of the Lions from her mother Martha Firestone Ford in June of 2020 and the team had decided to retain Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia for one more year. Ford Hamp was a part of that decision to keep both Quinn and Patricia and she was also a part of making it known that the Lions expected success from Patricia and Quinn. When it became clear that success wasn’t happening, she stuck to the plan.
Twelve games into her first season as the team’s owner, she fired Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia after an embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving. This needed to be done and was ultimately one of the most important decisions this team has made in a very long time. It also showed Lions fans that they can believe their team owner when she says something.
There’s no telling how long Quinn and Patricia would have lasted under Ford Hamp’s parents. The classic narrative was that they were too loyal to GMs and head coaches. They may have fired a lot of people along the way, but it often felt like those decisions were made at the latest possible moment. It could be argued that Quinn and Patricia overstayed their welcome, too, but at least Ford Hamp clearly laid out expectations, and when those weren’t met, she didn’t flinch.
Bringing in football people
It’s long felt like the Lions ran the team like a business instead of a football team. Rod Wood felt like the epitome of that. Wood said himself that he was not a football guy when he was initially hired by the Lions in 2015, and yet, he was one of the main decision makers when Detroit hired both Quinn and Patricia.
Under Ford Hamp, the Lions took a much different approach. They built a squad out of great football minds.
In addition, #Lions announce that Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation Executive Director Rod Graves, Rock Ventures Vice President of Business Development Mark Hollis and Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders will serve as advisors to the team's search for a GM and head coach.— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 15, 2020
Bringing in football people to help solve football problems is something this team was really missing. This wasn’t just bringing in one guy like Ernie Accorsi to help make a hire, it was an entire team.
You can already feel some of the differences. Detroit’s head coaching and GM search was much more thorough this time around, and the addition of Chris Spielman is something that we’re still continuing to see impact how this team is run.
In league where diversity seems to be a serious problem among coaching staffs and front offices, Ford Hamp deserves some credit for establishing a very diverse front office and stepping up in some of the areas she’s stepped up at.
Right off the bat, Ford Hamp was supportive of her players peacefully protesting on game day. Her comments didn’t feel like corporates speak. They felt genuine.
“First of all, I think the understanding is completely different now,” Ford Hamp said. “I think most people really understand what the kneeling was really all about. I know the commissioner has said, and I completely agree, that we support our players’ right to peaceful protests. We support the First Amendment. I think this has finally, finally, thank goodness, gotten national attention that this is a serious problem. We, as an organization, plan to listen to our players and support them any way we can.“
On that same day she also said she would be supportive of the Lions signing Colin Kaepernick.
She’s continued to back this up. Bringing in the Fritz Pollard Alliance to assist in the team’s GM and head coaching search was a big step in the right direction for diversity in this franchise. The Lions now have one of just five black general managers in the NFL. The Lions also have many women in high positions within the franchise as well. One of which is Lindsay Verstegen, the team’s new Chief People Diversity Officer. Verstegen is in charge of helping the team focus on diversity and inclusion.
While there’s still always more that can be done, the Lions have really worked hard to be more diverse and inclusive in the last couple years.
Hiring Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell
We can’t and won’t fully crown Ford Hamp for these hires yet. What we can do is say that at this point, the Lions are looking pretty good with these two guys. Holmes has showed that he can draft well, and he has an all around eye for talent. Campbell has shown that he can be a great coach who can install a culture. Both guys were admittedly a risk with little-to-no experience at the jobs. But they appear to be improving with time, and Ford Hamp deserves some credit for that foresight. We’ll see where it ultimately goes from here, but the outlook remains positive.
Bringing Calvin home
The breakup between the Lions and Calvin Johnson was tough. Johnson is a Lions legend and like Barry Sanders, fans hoped he’d be a part of things moving forward. It seemed like things would never get patched up after the Lions made Johnson pay back part of his contract after his retirement.
Ford Hamp and the Lions have worked to repair this relationship little by little. Having Johnson get honored by the Lions at halftime of one of their games was huge. It would have been nice if Lions fans didn’t boo the entire time, but it was nice. The two sides appear to be getting even closer as of late. Johnson was at Ford Field last week, and while it was reportedly for something unrelated to the Lions, the fact that the Hall of Fame receiver is even teasing about being a season-ticket holder has to be considered progress.
This is a big one. Ford Hamp wants to be involved in making the Lions a better team. This isn't a situation where a billionaire owner writes a check and goes sailing on their space yacht to Venus with Jeff Bezos, Ford Hamp has an office in between Holmes and Campbell’s office in Allen Park. She’s sitting in on meetings and she’s sitting in the war room during the draft. You can find her at nearly every training camp practice and most practices throughout the year.
Ford Hamp has shown her true commitment to making the Lions a winner by how much she’s involving herself in the day-to-day operations of the team. She wants to learn and grow, and see how everything is currently operating so that she can what is working and what isn’t. That’s incredibly refreshing to me as someone who has watched this team my entire life. I have never once felt like the Fords care like I feel like Ford Hamp cares now.