The 2009 season signaled the beginning of a new era for Detroit Lions football. Everything from the team’s management all the way down to the logo on the helmet changed with the mindset to improve this franchise and compete for championships. There were considerable changes to the organization starting with Mr. Ford’s promotion of Tom Lewand as team president and Martin Mayhew as general manager. Lewand oversees the direction of the organization, including business operations, and Mayhew is responsible for all football matters.
Both set out to find the best coach for this team, and with Mr. Ford’s blessing and endorsement, did so when the team hired Jim Schwartz, who had served as defensive coordinator for many successful Tennessee Titans teams, as the Lions’ new head coach. The 2009 season also marked the first time in franchise history that the team began the season with a new general manager, new team president and new head coach.
In just three years, with the vision Mr. Ford set forth, those changes are paying dividends in many ways. In 2011, the Lions returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1999, and they won 10 games for only the eighth time in franchise history and first since 1995. In fact, only two teams in Lions’ history have won more than 10 regular-season games (12 in 1991 and 11 in 1962).
The Lions 5-0 start to the season was the franchise’s best start since 1956, and it was only the third 5-0 start in franchise history. That 5-0 start capped off a nine-game regular-season winning streak (final four games of 2010) for the Lions, the longest since 1953-54.
Last season, Schwartz joined Buddy Parker (1951-53) as the only coaches in team history to improve the team’s record in each of their first three seasons leading the Lions.
Team and individual record-breaking performances generated wins and much excitement in 2011. Detroit set new NFL records with four 13+-point comeback wins, three 17+-point comeback wins and back-to-back 20+-point comeback wins. A 24-point comeback at Dallas tied an NFL record for the biggest comeback by a road team.
The Lions also produced much fire-power on offense throughout the year. It scored at least 45 points in three different games for only the second time in team history and first since 1952. A 45-point winning margin in Week 2 against Kansas City was the largest margin of victory for the Lions in a regular season game, and it tied the 1957 Championship game for the team’s largest margin of victory ever. In a 45-10 win at Denver, the Lions tied the second-most points scored on the road in franchise history.
On offense, the team set new standards for points scored (474), total yards (6,337) and net passing yards (4,814). Among the NFL’s leaders, it finished fourth in scoring, fifth in total offense and fourth in scoring. On defense, the Lions led the NFL with seven defensive touchdowns, which also tied an all-time single-season franchise best.
Individually, QB Matthew Stafford completed the greatest season for a Lions quarterback in team history and one of the best all-time in NFL history. He set new team records in virtually every passing category, became the fifth passer in NFL history to eclipse 5,000 yards (5,038), and his 41 passing touchdowns tied for the seventh-most among League single-season leaders. All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson set a new franchise record for touchdown catches (16), and he accumulated the second-most receiving yards (1,681) in team history. He became the first player in NFL history to catch two touchdown passes in the season’s first four games. TE Brandon Pettigrew once again set new team single-season records for Lions tight ends in receptions (83) and receiving yards (777).
Two players also surpassed two significant career milestones. K Jason Hanson became the first player in NFL history to play 300 games for one team. He became the fourth player ever to record 2,000 career points, and he became the first kicker ever in NFL history to make 50 50-yard field goals. Joining him in career milestones was T Jeff Backus who set a new team record with 176 consecutive starts.
Performances in 2011 built upon the team’s progress it made from the previous year when it was one of the NFL’s most-improved teams and ended the season on a four-game win streak.
Over the past three years, the Lions have upgraded and developed every position on the team. This progress has been forged with tremendous effort from the front office, a coaching staff that excels in game-planning and player development, and players who are combining ability and work ethic to ensure this team is moving in the right direction.
The strong leadership team that Mr. Ford has formulated guides the franchise on and off the field with a plan that will elevate this team to new heights.
On the football side, Mayhew has re-vamped the team’s player personnel and football operations in numerous ways and those efforts have resulted in successful drafts. In that time, Mayhew and the front office have worked diligently to improve the team’s roster utilizing every resource from free agency and trades to the League’s waiver wire.
Mayhew has worked alongside Schwartz to find players based on their shared philosophy on the types of skills that are necessary to win in the NFL. To guide those players on the field, Schwartz has built a coaching staff that is working to maximize those talents and produce game strategies to complement the players’ abilities. For Schwartz, he leads with the philosophy that consistency with the coaching staff and the team schemes provides a competitive edge in the team’s development.
After the playoff-clinching win vs. San Diego on Christmas Eve, Schwartz and WR Nate Burleson presented a game ball in the locker room to Mr. Ford for his overwhelming support, dedication and commitment to the team.
“Last year was quite an important step for this organization and reaching the playoffs signifies that we are moving forward the right way,” said Mr. Ford. “You can see where we are headed, and winning last year provided tangible evidence to our progress.
“To see how our team came together was quite exciting, and it was thrilling to see how passionate and supportive our fans were, especially at Ford Field. I don’t think there is a better home-field advantage in all of sports than Ford Field. The Bears game on Monday Night was a phenomenal site with how engaged our fans were, and we were able to share so many other great moments, like clinching a playoff berth, with them as well.
“I firmly believe this organization is prepared to compete among the League’s best. Coach Schwartz continues to move us in the right direction on the field. Consistency we’ve had in our organization, especially on our coaching staff, positively impacts our team. Martin has done a great job with the player personnel department, adding talent any way he can. And Tom has positioned our team’s business to fully complement our ability to win.
“We all know it was important to achieve what we did last year, but it was not our end goal. Our priority is to always focus on winning a Super Bowl. That’s what’s most important for our organization, our family and our fans.
On the business side, Lewand continues to forge ahead with a strategic approach to make sure every element off the field impacts the team on the field. Whether it is through revenue streams generated at Ford Field, effective management of player contracts, improvement of the club’s financial processes or building stronger relationships with fans and business partners, Lewand ensures that Mr. Ford’s vision to become one of the best franchises in professional sports is being realized.
As it’s always been with Mr. Ford, the mission is for the Detroit Lions to win a Super Bowl. Mr. Ford understands that with competitive realities of today’s NFL, reaching the game’s pinnacle takes a concerted organizational effort both on and off the field. While everyone appreciates the importance of the coaching staff and the front office staff, you also need the proper infrastructure, such as state-of-the-art stadium and practice facilities.
Mr. Ford’s commitment was evident in the Lions’ return “home” to a new downtown Detroit stadium, Ford Field, in 2002. The $500 million stadium enhanced the Lions’ ability to compete in several facets of the game. In this NFL age, the revenues produced from Ford Field help level the economic playing field with the Lions’ NFL counterparts.
The Ford Family and Ford Field were the overwhelming factors in Detroit being awarded the right to host Super Bowl XL in February 2006. That championship game clearly added to the city’s economic landscape in numerous ways, including a $260 million boost to Metro Detroit, and the impact the Ford family had on bringing the Super Bowl to Detroit was apparent.
“We wouldn’t be here if it were not for the Ford family, who led the way in developing Ford Field as a catalyst for the redevelopment of downtown Detroit, including the return of the Super Bowl to Detroit,” former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue pronounced in 2006 during his annual state of the league press conference held just prior to Super Bowl XL.
“And the Ford family’s leadership has certainly been a big part, not just of the NFL and NFL history, but of Detroit and our nation’s history.”
Ford Field has been a key cog in shaping further revitalized growth for the city of Detroit. The stadium’s effect on the city continues to be comprehensive with its contributions as it hosts several events besides Lions’ games.
In May 2003, the Detroit News honored Mr. Ford as a Michiganian-of-the-Year, an annual tribute to select citizens who made significant contributions to the state or local community, as he had brought the Lions “back home” and opened Ford Field’s doors to reap benefits for Detroit. In September 2005, he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
Additional confirmation of his steadfast dedication to the team was the completion of the team’s $36 million Headquarters and Training Facility in Allen Park, Mich., that opened in April 2002 as the NFL’s premier training center.
Thanks to Mr. Ford’s addition of the Lions Headquarters and Training Facility, the entire organization develops year-round in a world-class environment. Both the short-term and long-term impacts are significant as the team trains under conditions second-to-none. This joint venture between the Lions and Ford Land Development Corporation provides state-of-the-art facilities for players’ off-season workouts, training camp, and in-season meetings and practices.
Throughout his tenure as owner, William Clay Ford has guided the Detroit Lions organization with a sense of balance, integrity and honest leadership. Never one to seek the limelight, Mr. Ford has not sought public accolades for his many contributions to football, the automotive industry and his community.
Known as Bill Ford to his friends and business associates, his relationship with the Lions began during his childhood when his father, Edsel Ford, took him to the University of Detroit Stadium to see the first Lions’ team play in their maiden season in the Motor City in 1934.
He became a club director in 1956 and was asked by then-Lions’ President Edwin J. (Andy) Anderson to become the Lions’ president in 1961.
In November 1963, Mr. Ford purchased the team outright for $4.5 million and officially took over the club January 10, 1964. The 2012 season will mark the 49th year of Mr. Ford’s sole ownership of the club.
Of course, Mr. Ford’s other passion in life is the automotive industry, he being the only surviving grandson of inventor and auto pioneer Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company.
For the entire Ford family, 2003 marked a year of great pride and celebration as Ford Motor Company commemorated its historic 100 years as an icon in American industry.
In May 2005, Mr. Ford retired from the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company after nearly 57 years of service. He remains director emeritus on the Board of Directors. Mr. Ford most recently served as a member of the Board of Directors and was on the company’s Finance Committee, and in years past served on its Governance Committee. He had been a board member since 1948 and was chairman of the company’s Design Committee from its inception in 1957 until his retirement as vice chairman in March 1989.
Utilizing his expertise in design, Mr. Ford was also on special assignment as a design consultant focusing on the Jaguar.
During his career with the company, Mr. Ford gained special satisfaction and acclaim as the executive in charge of the design, development and subsequent introduction of the Continental Mark II, the successor to the classic Lincoln Continental that had been developed and introduced by his father Edsel in 1939. In 1973, Mr. Ford was appointed vice president-Product Design.
Mr. Ford was elected to the Board of Directors in 1948 and began his employment at Ford following graduation from Yale University. He served several executive positions before appointment as vice president and general manager of the Continental Division in 1954. In 1956, he assumed responsibility for corporate product planning and design.
When the Design Committee of Ford’s Policy and Strategy Committee was formed in 1957, Mr. Ford became the committee’s first chairman, a post he held until retirement in 1989.
In 1978, Mr. Ford was elected chairman of the Executive Committee and appointed a member of the Office of the Chief Executive. He was elected vice chairman of the Board in 1980 and chairman of the Finance Committee in 1987. He retired as chairman of the Finance Committee in 1995.
The youngest of Edsel’s four children, William Clay Ford was born March 14, 1925. Following a tour of duty with the U.S. Naval Air Corp in World War II, he enrolled at Yale, where he lettered in both tennis and soccer at the Ivy League school. As a collegian, he won league tennis titles in singles and doubles, and he earned All-American honorable mention honors in soccer. In fact, he was a nationally-ranked tennis player until two Achilles tendon surgeries relegated him to the sidelines. Mr. Ford’s athletic participation today includes golf, a game in which he became nearly a scratch performer, while registering a remarkable seven (7) holes-in-one over the years.
He graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s of science degree in economics and then joined Ford’s sales and advertising staff. He later served on the industrial relations staff where he was a member of the committee that negotiated the historic 1949 contract with the UAW-CIO.
Mr. Ford also is chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees of The Henry Ford. He is an honorary life trustee of the Eisenhower Medical Center, is a national trustee for the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America and honorary chair of the United Way Community Services. He is also on the Texas Heart Institute National Advisory Council. Mr. Ford received an honorary doctor of science degree from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., in 1981.
Mr. Ford’s generosity as a benefactor was again recognized in 1997, as the outdoor courts of the University of Michigan’s new tennis center were named in his honor. Also, a new addition to Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital (which bears the name of Mr. Ford’s grandfather) opened in 1996 - The William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine - which is one of the leading sports medicine treatment and research institutions in the country.
He is married to the former Martha Firestone of Akron, Ohio. They are the parents of three daughters— Martha, Sheila and Elizabeth— and a son, William Clay Ford, Jr., who serves as the Lions Vice Chairman, in addition to his role as Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company.