Lions' lesson? Don't mess with the women of the NFL

BY Mike Garafolo • November 5, 2015

George McCaskey sat in front of the Chicago-area media last December a humbled man, not only because he was announcing a coaching change after only two years and the firing of a general manager after just three years, but because the boss wasn't happy.

 The boss, being his mother and Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey.

"She's pissed off," George said. "I can't think of a 91-year-old woman that description would apply to, but in this case, I can't think of a more accurate description. She's been on this earth for eight of the Bears' nine championships. She wants more. She feels it's been too long since the last one, and that dissatisfaction is shared by her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.

 "She's fed up with mediocrity. She feels her and Bears fans everywhere deserve better."

Take out the words "Bears" and "championships," and that quote could easily apply to the newest stereotype-smashing, tough-decision-making franchise matriarch: William Clay Ford's 90-year-old widow Martha Ford, who fired general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand on Thursday.

Ford's moves came two days after the Tennessee Titans fired head coach Ken Whisenhunt only 23 games into his tenure and with 2-1/2 years left on his contract. That was a move made by Amy Adams Strunk, the daughter of late Titans owner Bud Adams.

For a league founded 95 years ago in an automobile showroom by male representatives of 11 teams, one thing is becoming increasingly clear in this day and age.

Do not mess with the women of the NFL.

"She knows football," Lions coach Jim Caldwell told reporters back in June, when Ford met the Detroit media for the first time as owner. "She reads, she studies, she knows what's going on."

Yeah, that's not good for you, Jim.

The Lions are sticking with their coach for now, but if Ford's moves on Thursday are any indication, she won't feel the tug of loyalty when it comes to deciding Caldwell's fate after this season.

Lewand had been with the team for two decades and was its president since 2008. It's not like there was a lot of success during his tenure to convince William Ford to keep Lewand around. Yet he did just that up until his death in March 2014.

Mayhew had been with the Lions since 2001 and, in 2004, he was appointed assistant general manager under Matt Millen. That portion of the team's history (31-81 in seven seasons under Millen) was a disaster, yet Mayhew got promoted to general manager in 2008 after the Lions went 0-16. Detroit has had only two winning seasons since.

To be fair, if a penalty flag against the Dallas Cowboys doesn't get picked up last January, the Lions would've won their first playoff game since 1991. Maybe Mayhew and Lewand still have  jobs right now.

But Martha Ford doesn't seem to care how close the Lions were. They're very far away right now after a 1-7 start, and Mayhew and Lewand paid the price for that.

"Oh dear," Ford said as cameras and microphones advanced on her back in June, according to the Detroit Free Press' account of her meeting with reporters that day. The paper also described her as "the sweet, doting grandmother who wants -- and expects -- nothing but the best from her kids."

When she doesn't get it, though, look out. And that goes for everyone across the league. Giants co-owner John Mara often described his late mother Ann as a demanding boss. Mara said after last year's 6-10 season his mother "suffers through this probably even more so than I do. I am on notice as well."

Ask Terry Bradshaw about the wrath of the late Mrs. Mara. She confronted him on the stage after the January 2012 NFC Championship game in San Francisco and reminded him she hasn't forgotten all of the times the FOX analyst picked against her team.

The clip went viral and everyone laughed, just as many did when John Mara relayed the story of his mother putting him "on notice." But as Ford, Strunk and McCaskey have shown, these owners mean business, no matter their gender or age.

 So don't mess with them. Ever.



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