Lions: Ford Family Dynamics a Story to Watch


When Martha Ford took over as owner of the Detroit Lions following the death of her husband, William Clay Ford, she was seen as a wild card. No one knew quite what to expect from a now 90-year old stepping into the title of owner for the first time.

Any preconceived notions that her tenure at the top of the Lions organization would be just a continuation of that of her late husband’s were rocked with the announcement that general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand had been fired.

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It was a sweeping mid-season move that certainly was not characteristic of the franchise under Mr. Ford. It came at a time when angry internet mobs were starting to call on the Fords to sell the team or at the very least for Bill Ford Jr. to take control, as many assumed would happen when his father passed.

But in following the emerging details of how yesterday’s news went down, I can’t help but see that Junior’s role and pull in the organization is being marginalized and there are bit long-term questions to be answered.

It started with this quote from Adam Schefter in Mitch Albom’s piece in the Detroit Free Press today:

"“Martha Ford, who is the boss here, is listening to certain people more than she’s listening to other people,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who broke the initial story, told me. “There are certain voices within the Ford family that spoke louder than others that prevailed in the end. They got what they wanted.”"

Mrs. Ford’s statement yesterday called the firings a family decision but it is clear from Schefter’s quote that not everyone was in total agreement. Considering Tom Lewand was swept out in the move it doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power to conclude that Bill Ford Jr. was a voice that did not prevail.

Bill Ford was never going to be the guy who swept away Lewand, his friend and the second son William Clay Ford never had. That conclusion is reinforced with Lewand specifically thanking Bill Ford in a brief parting statement he put out today.

Someone in the family got what they wanted yesterday and it wasn’t Bill Ford. So is there a power play afoot with the Ford daughters? Schefter’s quote in the Free Press indicates there is and there is other evidence to add to the pile.

It was Sheila Ford Hamp who accompanied her mother at yesterday’s press conference and it appears she will be taking on a larger role within the Lions organization.

Go to the franchise administration page on and you’ll see all four Ford offspring listed in birth order as vice chairmen. Nothing about that seems unusually until you check the wayback machine and find that the daughters were listed with name only – no link to a personal bio page until sometime after September 6, 2015.

The timing is curious considering the Ford daughters first appeared on that page sometime between August 13 and September 27 of 2014. It doesn’t take a year to get a photo and create a profile page – it just takes a desire and interest to do so.

None of this really represents a problem, except what is the end game? That’s where things get tricky.

Jeff Moss of the Detroit Sports Rag has said many times that the Ford daughters have no interest in retaining the team in the family in the long term. Moss drops this bit again in his post today discussing the difficulty the Lions will have in attracting top candidates to fill their open front office job(s):

"I mean, why would an Eliot Wolf or a Nick Caserio come to Detroit with this family mess going down?Because here is the worst part. The three daughters have already done a bad job of keeping it a secret that they want to sell the team when Martha passes away.Now, I am sure we are now going to hear that Hamp, Martha Morse and Elizabeth Hudson Ford are in it for the long haul, but will any promising GM candidate believe them?"

But if the daughters want out, why the sudden interest?

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We can start with this: Moss also includes in his post more to explain why there would be a power struggle between Sheila Hamp and Bill Ford. What is going on with the Lions could simply be about ego, sibling rivalry and/or power within the family.

Or, knowing that Bill wasn’t going to be the one to make heavy decisions like firing Tom Lewand, Hamp, with or without broader support from her sisters, could be doing her part to try to maximize franchise value with an eye towards selling.

I don’t know what will happen. This much I do know; the family dynamic happening behind the news is the subtext I’ll be looking for as major moves play out in the Lions organization in the coming years.