Detroit debacle must be stopped

DETROIT – William Clay Ford Sr. has done more damage to the NFL brand than Michael Vick, Adam "Pacman" Jones and Travis Henry could ever dream.

If you consider it in football terms and football terms only, it isn't even close.

It's time for the league's image protecting commissioner, Roger Goodell, to get as tough with an increasingly incompetent owner as he would with a misbehaving player. If the hard line approach is about protecting the NFL, then what's worse for the league right now than the chaos and carnage of the winless, hopeless, helpless Detroit Lions?

Ford, the owner of the Lions since 1963, may be a low key, law-abiding 83-year-old – a far cry from the troubled players Goodell has made examples out of with stiff suspensions and demands of accountability.

However, you never saw them destroy football in a major market. They didn't mismanage a franchise for over four decades only to kill it lately. They didn't reward failure, excuse ridiculousness and insult paying customers with season after season of non-competitive teams.


William Clay Ford Sr. has been the owner of the Lions since 1963.

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

They didn't put together the worst team in league history, 0-15 heading into Sunday's season finale at Green Bay. They certainly didn't declare the front office would return anyway or that the hiring a general manager with full control wasn't a priority.

"Let's see who's available and what experience they have and see if they fit in any of our slots," Ford Sr. told Booth Newspapers.

Slots? Just when you thought it couldn't get worse in Detroit.

By forcing the new guy to accept limited power and holdovers from the pathetic Matt Millen era, Ford is assuring no quality candidate will look twice at the position. The Lions will again get a desperate candidate willing to work within the illogical confines of the confused owner.

It's why football in Detroit is dead until there's a change at the top.

Goodell is doing the league and its fans a disservice by allowing such mismanagement. The Lions do not have NFL-caliber players or NFL-caliber coaches. It isn't an NFL organization.

He needs to step in and if not move Ford out, then at least demand he accepts league assistance to help the franchise become legitimate.

Ford Sr. is so delusional he thinks a tweak or two will do it. He isn't even considering following the path of the Miami Dolphins, whose response to last year's 1-15 season was to give Bill Parcells total authority. The Dolphins are now one victory from the playoffs.

If Goodell can get tough with players for off-field misbehavior, then why not an owner for prolonged on-field crimes against the sport?

The best case would be to get Ford Sr. to transfer power to his son, William Clay Ford Jr., who at least had the wherewithal to push for the firing of Millen earlier this season.


The Lions under Rod Marinelli in 2008 have been outscored 486-247 through 15 games.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

If that's not possible, then do what NBA commissioner David Stern did with the New York Knicks. He took self-destructive owner James Dolan (like Ford Sr. little more than a bumbling trust fund) and all but forced him to hire respected basketball executive Donnie Walsh. Half a season later the franchise has been stabilized.

Left to their own volition, guys like Ford Sr. or Dolan or Vick, Jones and Henry fall victim to arrogance and entitlement.

The players might break the law. The owner just breaks the will of the customers. Anger has been replaced by apathy for many in Detroit. Fans have given up on staging protest marches, wearing opposing colors to home games and screaming into talk radio lines.

In Ford's 45 years as owner, the Lions have won just a single playoff game (1991 against Dallas). What was once a mostly mediocre franchise has lately produced historic futility.

The current team has lost 22 of its last 23 games and is actually worse than the record.

It lost all eight home games this season by an average 22 points. In a football mad area, the majority of the games were blacked out. Fans that did attend often spent most of the game booing.

Head coach Rod Marinelli spent the season shrugging off charges of nepotism for hiring his son-in-law as defensive coordinator. Even with a defense ranked last in the NFL, Marinelli said he never once thought of firing anyone or taking over the duties himself.

Why would he hold someone accountable? No one is ever accountable with the Lions.

"Loyalty is my strength," Marinelli claimed.

This explanation came after a 42-7 defeat to New Orleans Sunday where the Lions didn't make a single defensive stop. It's little wonder plenty of irate fans thought local columnists should make more press conference jokes at Marinelli's expense.

Yet Ford Sr. surveyed this toxic environment and deemed it unworthy of a front office housecleaning. He has no reasonable plan forward. He has no chance of getting proper help.

If earlier this season Ford Jr. hadn't publicly ripped his father's management, it stands to reason Millen, the bumbling broadcaster, might still be in charge. After all, he was in the middle of a five-year extension Ford Sr. gave him despite years of draft busts and losing seasons.

This is the worst run franchise in the league and the biggest black eye on Goodell's operation. Ford Sr.'s actions have a far greater impact on the league than one player's dog fighting ring.

If Goodell's really so concerned about the health and image of the league, it's time he held old men in suits as accountable as young players in strip clubs.