Ford’s appearance provides Lions with sense of urgency

The clock’s ticking. Nate Burleson hears it.

Time is precious in the NFL. Burleson has preached to all who have listened since spring’s organized team activities that the Lions must look upon 2013 with win-or-else urgency. If the Lions don’t move significantly forward this season, there could be some moving vans.

Burleson’s message might have received a necessary push at Friday’s opening of training camp. It wasn’t what anyone said, but rather what everyone saw.

There sitting in a golf cart in the middle of the practice field was William Clay Ford, the Lions’ 88-year-old patriarch. He rarely makes public appearances now. On previous occasions, Ford would observe practice from the second floor of the Allen Park practice facility.

But it was though Ford wanted to be seen Friday.

This is Ford’s 50th season of sole ownership of the Lions, but it’s hardly a golden anniversary celebration. Regurgitating the franchise’s many failings during that half-century isn’t required. Everybody already knows them. Also, there isn’t enough column space to list them all.

But perhaps the biggest frustration with Ford has been the lack of demanding excellence from his football people. He too easily accepted mediocrity, just being decent enough to make the playoffs once in awhile and keeping the seats filled most Sundays.

Ford proved too patient, too forgiving. Those are virtuous qualities for a decent man who values loyalty. But keeping friends isn’t a recipe for winning championships.

Ford is pushing 90. He hears the clock ticking better than anybody else.

Did that surprise Friday appearance finally send a message to every coach, every player and every fan that he will no longer happily accept that minimal standard?

“He’s basically saying ‘You guys better win or I’m getting rid of you,’ ” Burleson said following Friday’s practice. “That’s how I took it.”

Such extremism would be long overdue.

As much as Lions fans have griped about Ford’s inability to find that right formula of player procurement and development lo these many years, they’re as much at fault as Ford. They come back every year, investing themselves emotionally and financially, in the hope that this just might be the decade when the Lions win a second playoff game since 1957.

If the public demanded more, maybe ownership would have as well?

When I spoke with Bill Ford, Jr. prior to the start of the 2012 season, he insisted that his father still called the organizational shots and remained very passionate and committed toward winning. The Fords were never more optimistic about a team’s potential than a year ago, coming off a 10-6 playoff season.

And their reward for that confidence was a 4-12 season when Lions lost their last eight games.

Instead of the usual hopefulness that greets a fresh start, maybe the elder Ford’s visit on Day One is a long awaited dose of realism. Maybe it’s finally dawned on the man after 50 years that keeping his employees hungry is just as important as keeping them happy.

“It’s important for our players to see him out here and know how high expectations he has for the team,” Jim Schwartz said. “I think that’s always helpful.”

It’s helpful only if seeing Ford in the flesh actually convinces the Lions’ players and coaches they must win now — or else.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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