Leo Durocher said it, though they got The Lip’s word cockeyed a little bit. Still, the spirit is there.

You probably think that Durocher, the legendary baseball manager, said, “Nice guys finish last.”

Not quite.

Leo, managing the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time (1946), was talking about his cousins from Manhattan, the New York Giants. Leo noted that the Giants were full of nice guys, like Mel Ott, but that they’d finish last anyways, as was their wont in those days.

“Nice guys,” Durocher said of the Giants. “Nice guys; finish last,” he added.

Thus was born “Nice guys finish last.”

But I digress—as is MY wont.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz is, by all accounts, a nice enough fellow. So is his boss, Marty Mayhew, who hasn’t done or said anything to indicate that he’s anything but a decent sort.

I’m sure the Lions players are a bunch of dudes that you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. There don’t appear to be any bad apples among the bunch. The police blotter doesn’t contain any of their names.

Yet they’ll finish last in their division this year, as they pretty much have done this entire century.

It’s easy to pound away on a keyboard and dictate who should stay and who should go when the subject is any professional sports organization.

So I shall, but I don’t take this lightly.

There’s evidence now, in the wake of the Lions’ latest Thanksgiving Turkey, that there is discord among the troops. There seems to be two factions, based on the post-game comments from players uttered after the 45-24 loss to the New England Patriots.

There’s the “We are tough and we’ll bounce back” group, and their counterpart, the “Some guys need to get called out and take this more seriously” circle.

Two high profile Lions spoke words similar to those after the game: QB Shaun Hill, of the former group, and DT Corey Williams, of the latter.

This is all understandable, of course. The Lions have perfected losing football since 2001. They have that down pat. What they’re having a hard time getting a hang of is this business about winning.

I’ve been a big supporter of Mayhew, the Lions’ aggressive, means-well GM. He’s had a couple of nice drafts in two years, and despite being the understudy for one of the worst sports executives of all time, the village idiot gene hasn’t been absorbed by Mayhew through osmosis, thank goodness.

But the frustrated comments of Williams and the counterpoint by Hill indicate that the losing is taking its toll, even on an organization that’s trying desperately to shed its old skin.

Truth?

This “losing culture,” a term that has been affixed to the Lions for the past 10 years like Velcro, can only be disposed of if the man on top of the mountain has been, well, to the top of the mountain.

No, I’m not talking about owner Bill Ford Sr.

The Lions have been a franchise that’s subscribed to the “blind leading the blind” method of operating for too long. It’s a twist, actually; the modus operandi with the Lions is more the “losing leading the losing.”

Mayhew is a fine man, but he hasn’t won in the NFL, wearing Armani.

Schwartz had never been a head coach before being hired by the Lions.

The team’s stalwarts—basically players who’ve been Lions longer than this season—have never won on the field with anything close to consistency.

My opinion: the Lions, if they ever hope to truly shed their losing skin, must bring in a high-profile man upstairs with a reputation of getting it done. Williams, among his words of anguish, cited a lack of accountability in his diatribe.

The Lions don’t win, haven’t won, because they have no winners in the two positions where it matters most: in the executive’s chair, and wearing the headset of the big cheese on the sidelines.

You can shuffle players in and out all you want; you can even have some nifty drafts, on paper.

It won’t mean a hill of beans if there isn’t anyone in the Ivory Tower who exudes accountability, winning, and success.

There are men like that who are out there, available—who could be coaxed.

A couple of years ago, Bill Parcells reached out to the Lions, i.e. Ford. Parcells wondered if his expertise might be welcome in Detroit.

Ford blew him off.

I think Mayhew has a nice eye for football players coming out of college. He hasn’t hit on all his draft picks, but who does?

If the Lions looked—and they wouldn’t have to look too hard—they’d find some folks who’d drop what they’re doing and fly to Detroit to have a chat with Ford, who has a reputation among the NFL’s circles for being one of the finest men you could ever work for.

That’s one of the reasons why Parcells dialed up Ford; The Tuna knows a good owner when he sees one.

Ever since the hiring of rookie GM Millen in 2001, it’s been the blind leading the blind.

Millen hired a rookie head coach, Marty Mornhinweg. Then, whether due to hubris or stupid pride, Millen failed to bring in a seasoned NFL personnel guy to help him with his first few drafts.

Those guys were out there, too—and they would have come to Detroit in a heartbeat, for this was way before Millen’s stock plunged like Enron’s.

But that’s all water under the proverbial bridge.

I’m not calling for the firing of Mayhew. I’m not even asking for Schwartz’s head. Not yet, anyway. Ford hates firing people, I know.

If Bill Ford Sr. could somehow be convinced that bringing in a top-notch NFL man who’s had a history of building winning football teams would be a neat idea, then the Lions might have something.

Let Mayhew run the draft. Give Schwartz another year, at least, to see if he has the chops to be a quality NFL head coach.

A winner at the top who is teeming with success, accountability and no regard for the losing history in Detroit would be the best thing to hit the franchise since Bobby Layne stumbled here with whiskey on his breath in the 1950s.

Parcells, by the way, was recently quoted that he feels he has one more rebuild in him.

And he’s not the only one who could make a difference with the Lions. Nor is he the only one who would love to come to the Motor City. Turning the Lions into a winner is the white whale that several quality NFL men would dearly love to slay. That individual would be set for life, whether with the Lions or any other franchise.

To be known as the Man Who Made the Lions Into Winners Again is a delectable prospect for the right guy.

That man is out there. The Lions just have to ask.

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