Friday, August 18, 2006

Millen Haters Have No Alternative

The numbers are stark in their reality, impossible to shrink from. They are able to be recited by even some of the non-fanatical pro football followers. They have appeared on homemade signs -- billboards of doom that are held up high at Ford Field, with the hope that the TV camera's eye will capture them for beaming into the homes of other beaten down denizens. In Detroit, the numbers are almost as much on the forefront of the sports fan's psyche as "John 3:16."


On first glace, they may see to be random figures, joined together by a hyphen arbitrarily. But then it sinks in, and you know what the configuration means.

21-59. Matt Millen's record as Lions president and GM. Hired January 2001. Vilified not long afterward.

The record is hideous, for sure -- the worst in the league in that time frame. It's almost impossible to defend, to play at a .283 clip -- not even a great baseball average -- for five NFL seasons, in this day and age of parity and lesser teams rewarded for their awful play with soft schedules the next season.

21-59. A cloak of shame for Millen and his underlings.

But I've never, and refuse to do it now, called for Millen's dismissal. I'm not ready to cast aside one administration for another, mainly because I don't know who the next administration would consist of.

And neither do Matt Millen's detractors.

In the five seasons of 5-11 and 4-12 and 3-13, I can count on one hand -- and have fingers left over -- the amount of people mentioned by the shrieking masses as being Millen's successor.

"Fire Millen!"

It's a chant, and another billboard of doom. It's a website. It's seen at out of town baseball and hockey games, like the John 3:16 placard. It's almost a countrywide joke.

"Fire Millen!"

And replace him with who?

Who is there, really, that the Lions can hire at this point and make significant strides toward respectability? Is another "fresh start" going to right the ship in one season? Or two?

It says here that the Lions will improve at the exact same rate -- and maybe quicker -- with Matt Millen as their president than with him not.

There's the coach, for starters. Rod Marinelli is, finally, the right man for the job. It's not an opinion supported by facts and figures, necessarily. It's simply one borne from a strong hunch.

Had Matt Millen made smarter coaching hires prior to selecting Marinelli in 2006, a lot of what ails the Lions would never have materialized.

The blind-leading-the-blind approach failed miserably when Millen hired Marty Mornhinweg in 2001, after one interview and a late night film session. A brand-new president hiring a brand-new head coach was a recipe for disaster. Millen should have, instead, tabbed someone with head coaching experience, a more grizzled veteran of NFL sidelines. That would have been a smarter start.

In 2003, Millen became just as enamored with Steve Mariucci as the fans and the media, which was another mistake. It's not anyone's job but Millen's to do his due diligence, and find out why Mariucci won in San Francisco, and whether those circumstances existed in Detroit. It's also his job to have queried Mooch and determine how flexible he would be to tweaking his West Coast Offense, based on the Lions' talent -- particularly the quarterback. That didn't happen, and Mariucci was a rousing failure.

So in 2006, the situation is 180 degrees away from that of 2001. Millen is the grizzled veteran now -- his record be damned -- and so hiring a first-time head coach isn't a recipe for disaster. It can, in fact, be exactly what the doctor ordered.

"Fire Millen!"

And get who?

Get back to me on that.

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