by | Jan 26, 2001 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

LET’S SEE. The Lions now have a CEO who never ran anything before, and a head coach who never head-coached before. All they need are some players who have never played before, and they’re all set.

“He’s a character guy,” Matt Millen said of his new hire.

“Our team will have character,” the new guy said.

Other nouns mentioned Thursday: “Class.” “Attitude.” “Commitment.” “Pedigree.” I’m not sure if we actually heard the word “win,” but …

“How did you think the press conference went?” the Lions’ new coach, 38-year-old Marty Mornhinweg, asked me after it was over.

This was a first. Usually, they don’t ask for reviews.

“Uh …well,” I said.

And it did. Kind of. Go well. For a new guy. For a first-timer. For an out-of-towner. For someone who never had to face–

OK. So it was a little cliched.

OK. A lot cliched.

OK, so maybe the best thing you can say about his first Detroit meet-and-greet is that years from now, when Coach Marty — and he said I should call him
“Marty” and I’m going to because that last name is damn hard to type — when Coach Marty has his Super Bowl ring, and he looks back on the tape of Thursday’s news conference in Pontiac, he’ll laugh and say, “Oh, man, I can’t believe how nervous I was!”

How else do you account for a statement like this: “I looked at next year’s schedule and we play nine games in domes.”

Yes, that’s right. Eight of those are at the Silverdome, same as every year.

Or this: “With a solid defense and a quarterback, you have a chance to win the game.”

Wow. Imagine if you actually have a receiver.

But hey. Give the guy a break. He’s new. He didn’t even set foot in Detroit until Monday, and was immediately confronted by the pit-bullish Millen, who kept him up until 3 a.m. He peppered him with questions, then woke him early Tuesday and kept him all day and into the night. More questions, more criticism, more grilling.

Finally, at some point, Millen said, “That’s it. Let’s do it.”

And Marty, free at last from the hot lights, said, “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

From the sounds of Thursday, he may just now be learning what he got himself into.

It’s family first

Here’s what I liked about the new coach’s address: He introduced his wife immediately. That shows you something. And he mentioned his four children, by name, before he ever spoke about football. He also tried a joke. It fell flat. He joked about it falling flat.

I liked all that.

But then, I would have liked it if my dentist did it, too.

Marty was hired as a football coach. A head coach. And when it came to football, well, the man certainly has worked under some fine people (Mike Holmgren, Steve Mariucci) and he certainly seems energetic, but I am in the words business, and here were some of the words that were actually said by the new coach Thursday:

On what it takes to win a championship: “You need to be in the top 4-6 in the league, you need to stay healthy, and now and then, you need the ball to bounce your way.”

Hard to argue with that.

On expectations: “The bar will be high.”

Good. So limbo dancing is out.

On Charlie Batch’s future: “Charlie will be the quarterback, unless something crazy or unforeseen happens. Or if I just change my mind.”

I’m sure Charlie’s sleeping well tonight.

On evaluating the current squad: “It appears that there is not the great, great player on offense or defense.”

What about the janitorial crew?

On where he goes to get such players: “They could come from the squad, the free-agent market and certainly the draft.”

Or you could just order one on eBay.

It’s cliches unlimited

Now, I hope Marty is not reading this and thinking, “Gee, this town is really harsh.” I like the guy. His energy is infectious. And even if most of what he said came straight out of the “How To Answer Like A Coach” Cliffs Notes, he seems so …innocent to it all, you want to give him a chance.

But he needs to understand that this is not Green Bay and this is not San Francisco, the two NFL cities where he has worked. Those are places where winning Super Bowls is fresh, where fans have reason for optimism.

This town? Well, this town has seen so much already, so many new faces, so many men who have never done it before but promise that they will do it here. Wayne Fontes said he was ready. Darryl Rogers said he was ready. Monte Clark said he was ready.

But in every case, there was nothing in the cupboard, no trophies, no proof. They had never won in the NFL before and they didn’t do it in Detroit. The only recent guy who came here having actually taken a team to the Super Bowl was Bobby Ross. And he walked off the job in the middle of the season. Some believe he was driven out by the Lions’ ghost, which can’t stand anything resembling a championship approach.

So perhaps Marty can understand why people are skeptical of light resumes. He does bring a good deal of experience with top-flight quarterbacks, Brett Favre and Steve Young (although, to be factual, he was only in Green Bay for two years, and his four years in San Francisco included much of Young’s concussion absences and ultimate retirement).

But he’s the guy. And Millen has another scalp in his promised “four-headed monster” approach to this team. We hope Coach Marty works out.

We may want to ask Millen about those all-night interview techniques, however. Does he use water torture? Does he allow bathroom breaks? Does he stick bamboo shoots under their fingernails?

Millen laughed. “I was heavily influenced by Maxwell Smart,” he said.

We’ll see how much.

And we’ll see how smart.


Who: Marty Mornhinweg.

Age: 38 (born March 29, 1962).

Birthplace: Edmond, Okla.

Personal: Wife, Lindsay; children, Madison, 9; Molly Lynn, 5; Skyler, 7; and Bobby Cade, 1.

Professional coaching: San Francisco, offensive coordinator (1997-2000); Green Bay, quarterbacks (1996), offensive assistant/quality control (1995).

Collegiate coaching: Northern Arizona, offensive coordinator (1994), running backs (1988); Missouri, offensive line (1992-93), slots and tight ends (1991); Southeast Missouri State, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks (1989-90); Texas-El Paso, quarterbacks (1986-87); Montana, receivers tutor (1985).

High school: Quarterback under Mike Holmgren at Oak Grove High School, San Jose, Calif.

College: Montana, four-year starter at quarterback. Set passing records for career yards and single-season yards.

Pros: Quarterback for arena league’s Denver Dynamite (two games, 1986).

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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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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