by | Sep 25, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments


I mean, I know people wanted Matt Millen gone. I know Millen deserved to be gone. I know now that Millen IS gone, some people are dancing around campfires singing, “Ding dong! The witch is dead.”

But I still say this.


Because unless more changes come with the Lions, this was simply throwing away a steak that already had been charred beyond eating. It’s so late in coming, it should be wearing bell bottoms. By football standards, Millen should have been fired after his second coaching hire flop, or his second top-five draft pick went bust, or his second losing season. This is a Win Now league, yet the Lions haven’t operated by that principle in so long, you wonder how they keep their NFL membership card.

Millen, 50, was a quality person, a smart, curious man with a hearty laugh and a thick skin. And he was, performance-wise, maybe the worst to ever hold his job.

His numbers don’t speak for themselves, they bark. Worst record in the NFL during his tenure (31-84). Three years without a road victory. A trio of high first-round draft picks – Charles Rogers, Mike Williams and Joey Harrington – who are out of football. Three fired head coaches who have never been hired to lead another team.

Face it. His track record was not abysmal. It looked up to abysmal.

“Matt worked tirelessly …” William Clay Ford Sr. said in a statement Wednesday, “and he would be the first one to tell you that you have to win in this league.”

No, Mr. Ford. He’d be the first to tell you.

We know. Not facing the music

Which is why I repeat: Unless there is something more here, unless there is a true recognition by Ford Sr. that at 83, he is beyond the point of running this club, that he needs a board of some sort, a collective of real football minds to advise and hire and make decisions, and a leader of real NFL stature who gets total authority – and autonomy – then we’re going nowhere.

And we’ve been nowhere before.

Personally, I’m not confident. Take how Ford handled this whole deal. Nobody was really talking about firing Millen – since most fans know once the season starts, the GM is less significant than the coach and players. But Ford’s son, Bill Jr., makes a comment at an unrelated event, says he would have fired Millen by now, says it on Monday, and next thing you know, by Wednesday, Daddy does it.

Either this was a coordinated trial balloon, or the son taught the father a lesson, or all the public noise finally was heard behind the high walls of isolation where Ford Sr. lives. Whatever the case, it hardly shows strong leadership.

And then, when the plug was pulled, Ford doesn’t even make himself available: He issues a statement. That’s not exactly how you show fans you’re serious. You didn’t see President George W. Bush address the nation on the financial crisis Wednesday night by sending in a fax.

What else does Ford Sr. have to do that precludes him from facing questions on this? Or is it that he feels he doesn’t need to face questions, doesn’t want to face questions, or doesn’t have to face questions?

I know. That’s a lot of questions.

But remember, Millen was responsible for seven dismal years.

Ford is responsible for 44.

And counting. Right move at wrong time

Meanwhile, in classic Lions fashion, the decision the fans wanted most comes at a time when it helps the least. If you’re gonna lose your GM, lose him at the end of a season, when a new guy can bring in new players and run his own draft. Firing Millen now, with the Lions 0-3, doesn’t do a thing for their chances Oct. 5 against Chicago. Millen wasn’t drawing up the plays.

His bad judgment on players will remain on full display until someone is cut or traded. The coach he picked will continue to wear the whistle. What exactly changes? For now, the people handling his tasks will be Tom Lewand, the chief operation officer, who will take over Millen’s business, organizational and NFL responsibilities; Martin Mayhew, who will handle the GM tasks; and Cedric Saunders, who gets promoted to vice president of football operations.

How it takes three people to do the job Matt Millen did is a question for the ages.

Meanwhile, we have no clue about their capabilities, except that all three have been working here to this point, which is not exactly a star on their resumes. Worst of all, Lewand and Mayhew will “report directly to Mr. Ford,” according to the Lions’ press release.

In the world of phrases you want to hear, “report directly to Mr. Ford” ranks slightly below “report to the principal’s office” and barely ahead of “report for a colonoscopy.” Laughing and crying

Millen once told me in an interview, “If we win, when we win, things will fall in place. If we don’t, heck, I’ll fire myself.”

Didn’t happen. Not with bad drafts. Not with Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci. Not with Mike Williams or Shaun Rodgers, whom Millen once called “a leader.”

But before we close the book on Millen, remember a few things: The current players who are sleepwalking through this season are not all his doing. How many guys on this team are former Tampa Bay Buccaneers? How many of them once played for Rod Marinelli? You can bet it was Marinelli’s wanting those players on the team as much or more than Millen’s thinking he had to have them. So you can’t say every mediocre performance this season gets laid in Millen’s lap.

Secondly, Millen was hired with no experience. What exactly did people expect? He was a former player turned broadcaster who had a smart and sometimes snarky way of handling his on-air analysis, and many people said, “Hey, he’d make a good GM.”

This is a little like telling a photogenic teenager, “You’d make a good news anchor.” It may be true, one day, after years of training. But you don’t give her Katie Couric’s seat tomorrow.

Which should inform the Fords as to their next hire. Whoever it is, please, dear Lord, do not make it a former big-name coach who wants to get his feet wet running a team. This job cannot be a proving ground. It cannot be a place where you make your first mistakes.

Unless the Fords hire someone with a track record of excellence, in more than one franchise, they surely will screw up the decision. As it is, they won’t make it until the end of the year, rendering this season nothing more than Sunday after Sunday of exhibition football.

And it’s only September!

Be honest. You thought this firing would make you feel better. You thought you’d suddenly look forward to flipping on the TV. But it leaves you kind of stale, flat, wondering what will happen months from now, and what you should do next Sunday – watch, don’t watch or find a pile a leaves to rake.

I say wave good-bye to Millen, who at the very least, in the tradition of Wayne Fontes, gave us some laughs. His wife was quoted by ESPN as saying he is finally “out of football prison.”

If so, where does that leave us?

With one word.


Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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