In the second part of my exclusive three-part interview with Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., he discusses coach Jim Schwartz, the team's philosophy heading into free agency and how he can't get enough of mock drafts.
Q. What jumped out at you about Jim Schwartz when he interviewed for the head coaching job three years ago?
A. "Jim had a great reputation around the league as being a very smart coach. It's interesting, I think if you look – and I've done this – at the great coaches over the last 30 years in the NFL, you'll find that there's a huge, wide disparity in terms of personality types. You've had the icemen like Tom Landry and Bud Grant; you've had extremely emotional coaches – Mike Ditka was a very emotional coach and a successful one, and there were others. But the one common denominator among all of the successful coaches was that they were all very intelligent. They were very analytical. So Jim immediately strikes anybody as an intelligent person, so that was a plus.
"The fact that he had learned the personnel department in (Cleveland) I think was hugely important because here is the other thing: this may sound odd to your readers, but a lot of coaches can't speak the same language as scouts. Jim had the ability, because he had been a scout, to put what he was looking for in a player into terms that a scout then could act upon. What a scout will do is they'll go out and rate every player, but you may have three players all rated similarly but Jim can say, 'Well these two guys are good players, but this person fits what we do better because of this, this and this.'
"The other thing that Jim can do – which I think is hugely helpful for the scouts – is to say, 'look, when you get to the middle and later rounds, every player is going to have a hole in him, but let's focus on what they do well rather than what they don't do well and is what they do well additive to what we need.' So maybe we're looking for somebody who is a big hitter and fearless, but (that player) may not have the range. But we know we're looking for a big hitter.
"That made life on our scouts so much easier: that Jim knew exactly what he was looking for, how these players would fit in and, therefore, who might not fit in. Some might still be a highly-rated player, but they don't fit what Jim was looking for. Jim's ability to speak to scouts in a way that could make their job easier also came through in the interview.
"Also the fact that Jim was a realist in terms of the fact that building the foundation the right way would take some time. He wasn't looking to patch things together in year one and then have to do it in year three again.
"He has a very distinct philosophy that, in today's NFL, you build your team around the quarterback and the guys who can get to the quarterback because, in the NFL, no team has everything because of the salary cap. Therefore, you have to prioritize certain things and Jim's priority was that we've got to get a quarterback and we've got to get people who can get to the quarterback."
Q. Talk about the difficulty the team now faces is having good players that make a lot of money and trying to keep all those pieces together.
A. "It is a good problem to have and, you're right, we have to make tough choices. That's the other thing. You look at the best teams in the league and they don't get sentimental. The one thing about the New England Patriots is they reload on the run. If they feel like somebody they considered untouchable even a year ago no longer untouchable, they'll make that decision and go.
"Martin and Tom certainly understand this. Again, that's what the salary cap forces upon you. The other thing it does is: it forces you to play your draft picks. If you look at Green Bay, they've drafted very well and they play pretty much all of them. They're not afraid to play them and, as a result, they're one of the youngest teams - if not the youngest team - in the league. I think that's, again, a function of today's salary cap. You pay your stars and you play your young people."
Q. Do you enjoy talking shop with Martin and the coaches and the scouts?
A. Are you kidding, I'm a huge fan and always have been. But I learned long ago never to interject my opinion as a fan because that's very dangerous to an organization. I've seen it done around the NFL and it usually doesn't end well. I do have opinions but I tend to keep them to myself, like any fan would have opinions. And if I have an opinion, I will run it by Martin to say, 'Tell me why I'm wrong here,' and often he does. Or I just don't see the whole picture and I love that.
"I love talking football. I love talking it with the coaches. I love talking it with Martin. I love talking it with the scouts. Around draft time, I spend a lot of time preparing for the draft as if I were the one actually doing it. Of course I don't. But I just love it. Right now I'm on all the draft websites. I have a day job at Ford but when I go home at night, the way I blow off steam is I start getting on draft websites and check out all the mock drafts and all the player ratings like any fan would.
"But I do have the advantage then of coming in and asking, 'Okay, tell me the real story on these guys.' That's fun and I love the game of football. I've always been a big fan. I went to my first game when I was a baby at Tiger Stadium. When we used to live in Europe, I'd have them put the phone next to the radio so I could listen to every game by phone. I get butterflies in my stomach every Sunday morning. I just do."
Q. So, is there a Bill Ford Jr. mock draft in our future?
A. "Probably, yes. You know what's really fun, too, is if Martin or Scotty (director of college scouting Scott McEwen) will show me film on somebody. But even then, unless they point out to me what I'm looking at, I don't see it, particularly if it's an offensive lineman. They say, 'look where he places his hands or his footwork.' I'm looking at if he made the block or not. But I don't look at all the pieces. I always learn a lot."
Q. Do you consider yourself a student of the game?
A. "I love it. I absolutely love it. I actually feel that way about all sports. I love hockey too and it's the same thing: I always like to analyze it and break it down. I think it's one of the fun parts of being around the Lions is that, in many ways, you do get to live a dream.
"I've often thought that between cars and football, every American male is an expert. I couldn't have picked two things to have in my life that people didn't have an opinion on. There is no American male who doesn't think we should put more horsepower in the Mustang or tell you that we need to draft. I never lack for conversation when I go out."
Check back with Detroitlions.com on Friday for the final part of the series when Bill Ford Jr. discusses the atmosphere surrounding Ford Field this season, what this season meant to the Ford Family, an interesting conversation he had with a fan at the coffee shop,