In an age where ownership changes and franchise moves in professional sports have become alarmingly commonplace, William Clay Ford continues to provide the Detroit Lions organization, its fans and the community with unwavering stability and sound leadership.
His commitment to the franchise is imprinted on virtually every aspect of the organization. By combining one of the finest sports and entertainment venues, Ford Field, and a world-class headquarters and training environment with a strong management team, Mr. Ford has given the organization a structure and foundation that will ensure continued stability and competitiveness on and off the field.
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.
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).
That 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 have generated wins and much excitement over the past two years. On several occasions, the Lions executed late, comeback wins. 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. In 2012, three Lions’ wins occurred as the team scored go-ahead or game-tying scores in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
Over the past two seasons, Detroit has produced a significant amount of firepower on offense. In 2012, the team set new franchise records for total offense (6,540), passing offense (4,927) and first downs (382). Detroit ranked third overall on offense in the NFL, the highest offensive ranking since 1997. In fact, the club has broken the franchise record for total offense and passing yards in each of the past two seasons, after the Lions tallied 6,337 total yards and 4,814 passing yards in 2011.
In 2011, Detroit set a club record with 474 points scored and followed that up in 2012 with the franchise’s sixth-best output with 372 points. Part of that 372-point effort occurred via 17 rushing touchdowns, the most by the team since 1997.
Individually, QB Matthew Stafford has completed two of the greatest seasons for a Lions quarterback in team history, throwing for more than 10,000 yards combined in 2011 and 2012.
In 2011, he set new team records in virtually every passing category. Stafford 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. Last year, Stafford threw for 4,967 yards, second in the NFL, and set a new club record with 435 completions. He has eight 300-yard passing games in each of the past two seasons.
All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson set a new NFL mark for receiving yards in 2012 as he broke Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice’s single season record (1,848 in 1995) when Johnson registered 1,964 yards and threatened the unprecedented 2,000-yard mark. He had an NFL record eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games and tied the league record with 11 on the season. His 122 receptions in 2012 were the second-highest single-season total in team history.
In 2011, Johnson set a new franchise record for touchdown catches (16), and he accumulated 1,681 yards. He now has two of the three highest single-season outputs for receiving yards in team history.
Two years ago, Johnson became the first player in NFL history to catch two touchdown passes in the season’s first four games.
In addition to Stafford and Johnson, TE Brandon Pettigrew has now twice set new team single-season records for Lions tight ends in receptions (71 in 2010 and 83 in 2011) and receiving yards (722 in 2010 and 777 in 2011).
On defense, Pro Bowl DT Ndamukong Suh earned his second trip to Hawaii as he accumulated eight sacks, the second-highest total among defensive tackles in the NFL. In just three seasons, Suh has registered 22 career sacks and is tied for the fifth-most among Lions defensive tackles since 1982.
Over the past five years, the Lions have continued to improve and develop 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.
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 works 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 in 2011, 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.
“Our goal for this franchise will always be winning the Super Bowl,” said Mr. Ford. “Our fans deserve nothing less and we will do everything to achieve that goal. I believe in our players, coaches and front office. I am especially encouraged by this offseason and what we did in both the draft and free agency. We are as well-positioned entering a season as we have been in a long time.”
“We have made tangible strides over the past four years, and I expect that progress to continue this season,” Ford said. “But the only true satisfaction will be when we raise the Lombardi Trophy and celebrate with our fans.”
“The support of our fans, especially at Ford Field, over the past few years has been both exciting and humbling. They have made a real difference at Ford Field and have continually shown over the years to be the most passionate and loyal fans in all of sports. They deserve a championship.”
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 overwhelmingly factored 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.
“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 declared 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” with the opening of Ford Field in 2002. In September 2005, he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
Another example of Mr. Ford’s commitment was the construction of the team’s $36 million Headquarters and Training Facility in Allen Park, Mich., which opened in April 2002 and was hailed as the NFL’s premier training center. The joint venture between the Lions and Ford Land Development Corporation has continued to provide state-of-the-art facilities for both the front office and for the 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.
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.
Says, Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara, "There is no sure way to predict what (William Clay Ford) will do, whether it involves money, hiring a college coach or making an unexpected change."
Tori Petry talks with Sports Illustrated writer Chris Burke about his predictions for the Lions defense in 2015 and how they'll stack up in a competitive NFC North.