O'HARA: Lions' management style will remain the same

Posted Mar 24, 2014

Bill Ford will expand his duties, if not his title with the football team, but he does not plan to take an active hands-on role in the team’s daily operations

ORLANDO -- The name at the top of the Lions’ franchise is still Ford, and the management style will remain pretty much the same in the transition since the death of William Clay Ford.

Bill Ford, vice-chairman of the franchise for nearly two decades and executive chairman of the Ford Motor Co., will expand his duties if not his title with the football team, but he does not plan to take an active hands-on role in the team’s daily operations.

In short, the Lions’ ownership style still will be to let people do the jobs they are hired to do until they prove they aren’t capable of putting a winning team on the field.

The transition of authority and ownership style has been a major topic of speculation since Mr. Ford’s death on March 9. A statement was issued two days later, stating that the franchise would remain in the Ford family and that Mr. Ford’s wife, Martha, would be principal owner.

“Nothing has really changed,” Bill Ford said Monday morning during a break at the NFL Annual Meeting at the Ritz Carlton resort. “It’s still in our family. My mother is the primary owner. I’m vice-chairman. It’s pretty much the same as it always had been.”

But will he be more active?

“I’m here to help out however I can --  and yes,” Ford said.

“There are different ownership models around the league. I never felt a terribly hands-on model would fit our organization well.”

The perception for many years has been that if the ownership torch ever were to be passed, Bill Ford would steer a radically different course than his father had in 51 years as owner. Mr. Ford’s patience and loyalty to Lions coaches and executives was legendary.

Whether Mrs. Ford and Bill Ford have the same depth of patience will be demonstrated over time. Bill Ford’s duties with the auto company are his priority, and understandably so.

That position with the auto company makes him visible and adds impact to any activity he has involving the Lions.

The most recent example of that was two weeks ago, when wide receiver Golden Tate signed with the Lions as a free agent. Tate said his conversation with Bill Ford helped him make up his mind.

Talking to free agents is something Ford has done in the past, but talking to Gate made news partly because it came less than a week after his father had died, and the impression it made on Tate.

“For some reason, Golden chose to mention it,” Ford said. “With the week that was going on, he thought perhaps it was unusual that I would spend the time with him. I have (done the same) in the past. I just don’t really talk about it, and I will continue to do it.”

Negotiations with Ndamukong Suh are in different category because of the relationship he already has established with Suh, Ford said.

It seems likely that he will enter those talks at a time that seems appropriate.

“I have a good relationship with him and obviously would be happy to talk to him at any level about him staying,” Ford said. “It’s different with somebody you already have a relationship with. You’re not trying to teach them about the organization.

“He knows the city. He likes the city. He knows the organization and likes us. Now it’s a business deal.”

The Lions’ management tree is set up with President Tom Lewand, General Manager Martin Mayhew and Coach Jim Caldwell in the three key decision-making positions.

Lewand and Mayhew have been in their positions since 2008. Caldwell was hired in January to replace Jim Schwartz.

The Ford family will let those people do their jobs – subject to review.

“I always felt ownership at all levels is really there to provide support to an organization,” Ford said. “Whether it’s my father or my mother or it’s me or anyone else, it’s to put the resources in place, hire the best people, make sure they’re well supported and then do reviews on the performance to make sure that they’re all held accountable to a high standard.

“That won’t change.”