Monday, January 5, 2009


Raise your hand if you have ever taken an ill-advised shortcut en route to an appointment, work, school social gathering, etc.

Keep your hand up if you discovered that not only was that shortcut just plain stupid, but the traditional route wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Finally, keep your hand up if, at the time, you couldn’t accept that you were too stubborn to realize that you went the wrong way.

It’s amazing how much press and blog posts – this one included – there have been devoted to former Detroit Lions president Matt Millen’s appearance on NBC’s Football Night in America than the games he provided analysis for.

It’s amazing because, as anyone who seeks out sports news and stories knows, it is pretty hard to fight against being perceived as an abject failure after… well, having failed.

There’s not one Detroit Lions fan or member of the media that was not giddy when Millen was fired in the middle of what eventually became a 0-16 season. Yet, nearly all of them who enviously watched winning teams in the playoffs on Sunday probably threw a few dozen obscenities and remotes at the television when Millen was not only speaking about his dismal record as team president/de facto General Manager, but remained on the FNiA set as an analyst.

The mere sight of the man ignited a M80-like fury in the football blogosphere. On Monday, the mainstream media’s cavalcade (thanks to Fang's Bites) of mostly frustrated and angry opinions came in. As of tonight, it hasn’t stopped. If you asked anyone with a vested interest in the team, they’re probably angrier about Millen’s ineptitude as team president than they are about the ‘green’ campaign from Detroit's Big Three.

Yet, the man does have a right to go back to his roots, doesn’t he?

And NBC Sports does have the right to give him a chance, correct?

Now, this isn’t condoning Millen’s record as the team’s president. Even he told you that he would have fired himself after the 2007 season, a year in which the Lions were a playoff contender until they ran into an indomitable opponent (the month of November). Yet, the reality is that William Clay Ford, Sr. hired the man based seemingly less on his stellar playing career – including four Super Bowl championships – and based more on his television work.

In between his last year as a player for the Washington Redskins and his television career, Millen had never been involved in coaching or management at any level. Probably more damning was that he had never been involved with scouting; the underrated and certainly overlooked manner of actually finding players coaches and managers feel can succeed in a team’s scheme of play.

A scout’s work isn’t exactly glamorous and outside of the media, fans have little or no clue who one is. We know the names of every ‘hot’ coordinator being interviewed for head coaching jobs and every special teams coach that takes the fall for teams that fall short of lofty expectations. Truth be told that many GMs and team presidents have mostly administrative experience (Mike Tannenbaum of the Jets, Ted Thompson of Green Bay) or just happen to own the team (Jerry Jones, Mike Brown, Dan Rooney, Al Davis). However, there are successful GMs who came up the scouting ladder, such as the Giants’ Jerry Reese and the Chargers’ A.J. Smith.

Which leads to this point; what if Millen decided to take on some form of apprenticeship – as either an assistant in pro personnel, a position coach or a scout – before taking any helm, let alone for a franchise mired in decades of mediocrity?

Could he have better resisted the temptation to draft projected first-round wide receivers quickly of the draft board? Very likely as he would be less influenced to make a splashy, yet desperate pick and understood the perspectives of the coaches and scouts that have intimate knowledge of the players.

Could he have been a successful executive if he took one of those roles? That’s hard to say. After coaches and some expendable players, general managers and team presidents are the last to get the heave-ho after successive losing seasons. Considering how tough it is to win in the NFL in one year, it’s tough to say what kind of success the Lions could have had for more than one or two seasons.

It’s possible that in hiring Millen, Ford believed that he would find his own Ozzie Newsome, the Hall of Fame tight end who has been just as successful as the point man for the Baltimore Ravens. For all of his mistakes, Millen wasn’t just some guy who played football. You had to have been a pretty good player to capture four titles with three different teams (Oakland, San Francisco and Washington). Having become a trusted face on TV after his career ended seemed to have translated well to the front office… in Ford’s mind, that is.

Obviously, that couldn’t have been more wrong.

As for him being a part of NBC’s NFL coverage? Well, Millen was probably the analyst and color commentator that you could at least tolerate, if not respect or like, when he worked for CBS and FOX in the mid-nineties. He did something that as a 90’s-pre-teen-going-on-insane-teenager could appreciate; he actually gave you the game in ways that a fan can understand without dumbing down the specifics of the game. He could have easily gone heavy on the football jargon – as Ron Jaworski (a favorite over here) or John Madden (yes, I said Madden) – yet, he assumed that you were a football fan who was still trying to figure out what was exactly happening and why.

Hey, if you’re a Lions fan, your anger, while a bit much, is justified. A few of you may be able to separate Matt Millen, the executive from Matt Millen, the analyst, yet that in itself is an understandably tough task. For a couple of years, you’ll get a free pass.

Yet, as crazy as it seems, there was actually another former player who took a similar route. He went so far and ridiculously off the beaten path that his return to the small screen is as likely as the Oklahoma City Thunder winning the NBA title in June.

You can sleep easier now knowing that Millen could have been much, much worse.

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