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Continuity key in ownership succession

3/10/2014

The continuity is key and considering how the Detroit Lions have been run over the past half-century, none of that should be a surprise.

The Lions announced Monday morning that Martha Ford, the widow of William Clay Ford Sr., will now have controlling rights to the team, both keeping the franchise in the family and essentially keeping the same power structure in place that had been there for the past decade.

The key to this, though, is William Clay Ford Jr., more commonly known as Bill Ford Jr. For the past few years, he has been the one who has turned into the public face of the franchise.

It was his criticism of then-general manager Matt Millen in 2008 that led to Millen’s firing less than a week later. And it was Ford Jr. who made comments about the Chicago Bears being "thugs" in October that caught people by surprise and became a news headline.

So even though his mother is taking control of the team and Ford Jr. will remain as the team’s vice chairman instead of having a grander title, this transition could offer him a chance to do more with the Lions.

He has a chance to help shape the Lions in his own image as long as he can do so with the blessing of his mother.

The Fords will never be owners like Mark Cuban or Daniel Snyder or Jerry Jones -- out in front and, for better or worse, the most recognizable part of an organization. The Lions should never want that, either.

It takes a particular type of owner and a greatly over-sized personality to be able to navigate that correctly. It can often turn disastrous for the structure of an organization if not handled perfectly.

Yet the surviving Fords can change some of how they run the Lions and perhaps help for the better. While the patriarch, the late William Clay Ford Sr., often seemed to take an overly loyal, completely trusting approach, Ford Jr. could end up going with a slightly more aggressive strategy.

It was Ford Jr. who, when speaking to the media following the hiring of Jim Caldwell in January, expressed frustration with the team’s lack of success. It was Ford Jr. who gave the indication that he expects Detroit to be able to win -- and win immediately with the coaching staff and players the team has.

But to turn around the fortunes of a franchise so synonymous with losing, it will take a little bit more. It will take a slight change in how the team is managed from the very top down. The semi-mandate to win was a start for this club.

Now, there has to be follow through.

Ford Jr. and his family gave Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand another shot to find the right coach and to build the right team to finally become contenders in a division they have never won in its current iteration.

But he needs to stick with that. If the Lions don’t win now. If they aren’t successful in 2014 or 2015 or both, then he and his family will have to take perhaps a different approach than what had been normal for the Lions.

Obviously, Ford Jr. and his family are hoping things don’t reach that point, that the Mayhew-Lewand combination found a man in Caldwell that can succeed when almost all others failed, sometimes in epic proportions.

So watch over the next few years, because not much will change immediately with the Detroit Lions, but eventually, possibly, they might.