The Lions Rebuild, part 1

This post is part of a series. Click here for the introduction.

Ah, yes, I am familiar with the Detroit Lions. This is the rebuild that feels the closest to infinite. The record here is pretty ugly. Last championship? In 1957. Last playoff win? During the 1991 season. Last playoff trip? 2016. Since the infamous 0-16 2008 season, just three playoff appearances (2011, 2014, 2016) and, of course, zero wins. Hell, the coach with the most wins in franchise history, Wayne Fontes, has a losing record (66-67). Oh, yeah, and the Curse of Bobby Layne! Layne led the Lions to three NFL championships from 1952 to 1957, and then was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers mid-season in 1958 (genius move!) Perhaps apocryphally, he said the Lions wouldn’t win another championship for 50 years. It appears he undersold his curse ability a little.

Needless to say, it’s been a tough team to follow since Barry Sanders retired. Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, and Jason Hanson have been great to watch and support, but real success has eluded the team for a long time.
So what should we look at when predicting an escape from this cycle? I’m thinking the three main parts of a team are the management (including the owner), the coaching staff, and the players. Let’s begin at the top.

Detroit Lions ownership philosophy :1961-2014

Lions fans love to complain about the Ford family’s terrible ownership tenure. William Clay Ford, Sr bought the team in 1961. Hmm, is there maybe a bit of correlation to the long fallow period there? Let’s just say he is not fondly remembered for his football acumen. When the Notorious W.C.F. died in 2014, his widow, Martha Firestone Ford, inherited the team. She is by all accounts a lovely and decent person. Her main edict to the only GM she hired (Bob Quinn) was to sign good character people and avoid players who have had legal and/or moral issues. And, hey, I’m all for this! Winning would be cool, too, but it’s nice to cheer for admirable people! Martha retired from running the team in 2019. Her daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp, has now taken over as principal owner.

Two things I like about Sheila: First, she seems to be emotionally involved while watching the team from the owner’s box. Martha seemed pretty stoic as an owner and often wore dark sunglasses obscuring how she was reacting. I honestly remember almost nothing about WCF’s presence, either on T.V. or in interviews. I’m sure he attended games and said things about the team at some point, but I’m not sure I can actually prove it. And second, she has been reaching out to former Lion greats like Barry Sanders and Chris Spielman to be a part of the process when it comes to football decisions. She seems to be involved with things, but listening closely to the experts she brought in. Seems pretty obvious, but a good sign, I think.

OK, we’ll turn towards the front office, coaches, and players next week; I’ll try to avoid reaching War and Peace length here. But so far, I think the ownership under the leadership of first Martha, and now Sheila, is trending up!