Sunday, March 9, 2014

William Clay Ford wanted to win, he just didn't know how

Former Ford Motor Co executive William Clay Ford Sr., the last surviving grandchild of the automaker's founder, Henry Ford, and the longtime owner of the Detroit Lions football team, died on Sunday at age 88, the company said.

Many Lions fans have blasted Ford in forums and message boards for the team's lack of success. Many believe that the Lions' fortunes might change since he's passed. That I don't believe will happen. Over the years fans have been led to believe that if Ford died or sold the team that the Lions would be better off. The biggest misconception of Ford was that he didn't care about winning. That was totally false. Ford wanted to win but he just didn't know how. However, he was highly thought of around the league.

I'm not defending the man at all. I didn't know him. I'm a Lions fan like many here in metro Detroit. I just don't believe he was as bad of an owner as many fans make him out to be. He cared about his team, he just didn't hire the right people to make it a winner. Ford was loyal to a fault. He kept general manager Russ Thomas in charge for 22 years despite three forgettable playoff appearances. Ford paid the $5,000 fine levied by the NFL to star player Alex Karras for gambling on games.  He probably kept coach Wayne Fontes a few years too long instead of hiring a coach that could get the Lions to another level. The coup de grace was signing team president and general manager Matt Millen to an extension despite the worse run (31-84) in NFL history.

Ford was mostly a hands off owner, but trusted the wrong people to run his football franchise.

"Mr. Ford was not a kind of guy who showed his authority," the former Lions player Mel Farr told the Detroit Free Press. Farr bought his first Ford dealership soon after he retired. "And I can see how it'd be very difficult for Bill to be able to determine -- he was a guy that did not want to exert his power, never have. But some of the people that he'd stick with (were) not very good."

Ultimately that would be Ford's undoing as an owner. His blind loyalty to those who simply couldn't get the job done. So while every team's failures start at the top, it wasn't that he didn't care. Maybe he cared too much and thought that the ship could be righted if someone was given enough time.

Bill Ford Jr. will be expected to take over the reins of the team and he'll be more involved than his father. Hopefully the son won't have to pay for the sins of the father. Lions fans hope that he can bring the team to an elite status that would include a Super Bowl win.

R.I.P. William Clay Ford

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