June 7, 2013 at 1:00 am

Chris McCosky

Bill Ford Jr. on Lions: Positive but realistic

Bill Ford Jr. is optimistic about the Lions' chances this season, and for good reason. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)

Allen Park — You hear what you want to hear; we are all guilty of that from time to time. But as reporters, journalists, we’re trained to avoid preconceived notions, trained not to bend what you hear to fit those same notions.

So imagine my bemusement when I flipped on one of those midday ESPN football shows and heard Suzy Kolber and Chris Mortensen talking about how Bill Ford Jr. gave “tepid” support of Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

I was there Tuesday and heard what Ford said about the direction of his team and his opinions about the coach, staff and general manager. His tone was upbeat and his message was positive but realistic.

Then I looked at the headlines from what was reported — “Ford high on Lions, mum on Schwartz’s future” was one. “Ford calls Schwartz very, very good coach,” was another.

One statement, two interpretations. So I don’t really blame the ESPN folks. The “Ford mum on Schwartz’s future” headline provides a better talking point.

Muddled message

But let’s try to put this all into context?

First of all, Ford didn’t attend that practice with the intent of addressing the media. He didn’t show up with any kind of agenda. He comes to quite a few practices, whether it’s OTAs, training camp or during the season.

Usually he walks by the media, says hello and goes about his business.

This time, maybe because we started to swarm him and it had been quite a while since he talked publicly about his team, he stopped and gave an impromptu presser.

But understand, he wasn’t there to deliver any type of public statement. Questions were asked and he graciously, patiently and thoughtfully answered them. This isn’t his first rodeo; he understands how this all works. He wasn’t about to stand up there and pretend like everything was all champagne and roses after a 4-12 season.

He knows that would’ve been disingenuous.

So as he was saying he was pleased with the direction of the team, pleased with the talent that’s been added, pleased with the new assistant coaches, pleased with the addition of Brian Xanders to the front office, he added this: “I think Jim would be the first to admit that there have been times where he’s learned on the job. But I think he’s a very, very good coach.”

Some took that quote, combined it with Ford’s refusal to discuss the contract status of Schwartz or general manager Martin Mayhew, and deduced he was still holding some reservations about the leadership of the team.

I didn’t hear it that way, nor did many others who were there. Don’t get caught up in Ford refusing to talk about contracts. That is a corporate policy. No public discussion of contract issues. Plain and simple.

What I heard him say was this — he loved the talent that Mayhew has assembled and he has “great confidence” in the staff’s ability to integrate that talent to produce a winning season.

It would serve no helpful purpose for Ford to declare this a make-or-break season for Schwartz or Mayhew. Look at what happened to the Eagles when their owner gave Andy Reid a win-or-else ultimatum before last season.

It didn’t exactly rally the troops.

Besides, what would constitute a successful season for the Lions? Clearly, another 4-12 or 5-11 season would spell the end for Schwartz; we don’t really need Ford to say that, do we?

I guarantee you Schwartz understands that.

Reasons for optimism

But it’s not as cut and dried as saying the Lions have to win X number of games or make the playoffs for Schwartz to keep his job. What if, God forbid, Matthew Stafford and/or Calvin Johnson got hurt and they still managed a .500 season? What if they won nine or 10 games and still somehow fell short of the playoffs?

There would be no benefit for Ford to go into any of that in June. To me, he’s taking the correct stance. Nobody really knows which season was the fluke — the 10 wins in 2011 or the four wins in 2012.

But with the likes of Stafford, Johnson, Reggie Bush, Nate Burleson, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Chris Houston, a healthier Stephen Tulloch, Glover Quin and a hopefully healthy Louis Delmas — there is plenty of reason for Ford to be optimistic and lean toward believing last season was the anomaly.

Ford doesn’t need to issue votes of confidence, tepid or otherwise.

The only vote of confidence that matters came in January when it was determined that Schwartz would remain at the helm and he and Mayhew began putting together the offseason plan.


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