I sat down with Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. in an exclusive Detroitlions.com interview Wednesday that covered a wide range of topics.
In the first of a three-part series from the interview, Bill Ford Jr. discusses the job general manager Martin Mayhew has done over the last three years, the re-signing of receiver
Q: What’s your evaluation of the job Martin Mayhew has done over the last three years?
A: "I think Martin has been fantastic. He’s very thorough and he works very hard. As you know, he doesn’t like the limelight. He’s very modest, personally, but he’s done a fantastic job. He’s so prepared and he and Jim (Schwartz) and Tom (Lewand) work very, very well together. There is never any discord between the personnel department and the coaching staff and the front office. It’s really seamless and I think that’s important, too. You walk down there and Jim and Martin will be down there in Tom’s office or Tom will be in Jim’s office and there’s just a lot of informal conversations taking place and it’s very healthy.
“One thing Martin has that may sound trivial, but is a big deal, is Martin prepares for free agency and the draft together, rather than as separate events. Even though they are staged separately in the NFL in terms of timing, he tries to take a holistic look at who’s out there. Who’s out there could mean NFL veterans or fourth-round draft picks. So, in his mind, he doesn’t just do the draft and just do the free agency, he’s got all the pieces fitting in together, therefore he really gets the most out of both events by doing that.”
Q: They haven’t always gone hand-in-hand?
A: "They do go (hand-in-hand) but it wasn’t always the case. In the past, it was often treated as two discrete events because they aren’t timed exactly the right way. But Martin, he’s very good at that. I also want to highlight (vice president of pro personnel) Sheldon White because Martin and Sheldon work so well together and I think we’ve really seen that the free agents we’ve gone out and gotten, some of which weren’t obvious, and other teams didn't value necessarily very highly have all been productive for us. I think that’s because Sheldon works incredibly hard and he and Martin communicate very well together.”
Q: How important is it to you to have Calvin Johnson signed long-term?
A: “Well we really want Calvin here long-term and I think it’s important for us, important for Matthew (Stafford), it’s important for the fans and he’s a great guy. He’s a great guy on the field, he’s a great guy in the locker room and he’s a great guy off the field. They don’t make many better people than Calvin Johnson. We really want to get this done with him.”
Q: Does Johnson remind you of Barry Sanders as far as that type of elite player in the NFL.
A: “I think even Cris Carter would say that now (laughter). I’ve never seen anybody like him… and you’ve heard it all before. His nickname alone speaks to it. His ability to run, to jump, to get in and out of cuts at his size, and his hands. That’s the other thing: people keep talking about how fast, big and strong he is, he also has great hands. I couldn’t even begin to find a hole in his game, even a slight one. He’s got it all and then add to that that he’s also a great guy on and off the field… He’s terrific.”
Q: Jim Schwartz said in his introductory press conference that it was about time to find a replacement for Bobby Layne. Have you found it in Matthew Stafford?
A: “Oh absolutely. I think Matthew is terrific. I wouldn’t trade Matthew for any quarterback in the league, given his age. The guy is 23 years old, he just had a 5,000-yard season, the players love him, he’s a great young man off the field and yeah, I hope Matthew is the face of this franchise for many years to come.”
Q: Is Matthew the first real face of the franchise since Barry Sanders?
A: “Probably, yeah. We’ve had leaders on our team, but often they’ve been in positions that aren’t leadership positions. They might be offensive linemen… but yeah, I think certainly the quarterback position, which is the most important position in the NFL, and frankly I would probably say since Bobby Layne. We’ve had some good quarterbacks in that period, but given his age and given his talent, my hope is that Matthew can be here for many, many years and really his stature and team’s stature should grow together.”
Q. Can you talk about the parallels between the Lions and the Ford Motor Company in what each has gone through over the last three years?
A: “There are interesting parallels and really it all starts with having a plan and then sticking to the plan and not deviating when things don’t go according to planned. I think at Ford we had a plan, we stayed with it through thick and thin and there were a lot of white knuckle days there where everybody was extremely nervous, and yet, we all believed in the plan and the only question was do we have enough time with the world swamping us before our plan had a chance to work, and fortunately that didn’t happen.
“Here, much the same way, and I give a lot of credit to Tom and Martin for this, because it really started with finding a coach that Martin felt he was philosophically aligned with and then complete alignment with the coach in terms of how you build the roster. That may sound obvious, but it’s anything but obvious because many coaches want to win right now and would have advocated signing a whole slew of free agents, older guys, and then you’re back at it again in a few years.
"Jim and Martin both, and I think it really helped that Jim had a personnel background because most coaches don’t, Jim did, he understood not only the importance of building the team the right way, but the patience of doing it the right way. I think he and Martin really, from day one, had a plan and have stuck to it and now – and now no plan is static, it always needs a little tweaking, that’s true of Ford and it’s true here – I think now we’re at a point where it’s more important to re-sign our own players than it is to go out and re-sign a whole slew of new players, the draft obviously excepting, that’s slightly different. That frankly was the point we hoped we would get to and now we’re here.”
Check back with detroitlions.com on Thursday when Bill Ford Jr. discusses coach Jim Schwartz, the team’s philosophy heading into free agency and how he can’t get enough of mock drafts.