September 24, 2008
Detroit Lions fans finally have something to cheer about.
It’s not a Super Bowl win, it’s not a playoffs win… it’s not even a winning record. All of those things would be nice, but by now the Lions faithful know better. They don’t ask for much and they don’t expect much. Year after year after year of football futility at its worst has gradually worn them down like an old chunk of weathered granite on a salty ocean shore.
They’ve learned to live with the losing, and the Thanksgiving Day embarassments, and the worthless draft picks. The inept coaching staffs and the shoddy gameplans and the washed-up players. With the poor tackling, swinging door defenses, and penalties. Oh, how Lions fans have grown to expect those penalty flags rather than be angered by them.
Detroit Lions fans are a resilient bunch, and though the lack of success on the field might leave them drunk, bitter, and disgusted on autumn Sunday afternoons like clockwork, most of them pick up the paper the next morning, laugh it all off in an exasperated chuckle, then do it over again next Sunday… even if just to see what could possibly happen next. (And it usually does.)
But there’s been one steady constant during this latest string of dark days of Lions football that no fan has ever learned to accept. His name is Matt Millen, he’s been the architect behind the joke of a team that trots onto Ford Field eight times a year, and up until now he was the dictionary definition of “Failed NFL GM.”
Now he’s just another schmuck in a long line of schmucks who’ve smeared their dirty hands all over the Detroit Lions franchise before being shown the door, never to be heard from again. Matt Millen, the worst GM in pro sports over the last decade–maybe ever–has been fired.
Say it with me now, Lions fans, and know that we collectively speaketh the truth: Matt Millen has been fired. He’s gone. He’s done. He’s history. Ding dong the dickhead is dead.
More on former Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen after the break…
Loss, Losses, Losing
When Matt Millen came to Detroit in 2001, he had no prior front-office experience. He was an ex-player, a TV broadcaster, and, apparently, a good talker too. He wooed the eminently wooable William Clay Ford, Sr., into a false sense of trust that his valuable football franchise was in the right hands. Early in his shameful tenure as Lions GM, Millen proclaimed that “the bar was high.” It became as clear as a plastic cup of Bud Light, however, that right from the beginning the only thing that was high in Detroit were the front-office goons who thought that hiring Millen was a good idea.
He brought in new coaches sporting new philosophies, and promised the world. Marty
Moose Mornhinweg and his vaunted West Coast Offense were up first–he lasted a full two seasons in leading the charge to an abhorent 5-27 record. Next up was noted WCO guru Steve Mariucci, whom Millen was so hot to trot for that he bypassed the league’s well-known rules about interviewing at least one minority candidate for every vacant head-coach position. The Mooch was slightly more successful, posting a 15-28 record before being fired a day after a Thanksgiving Day embarassment at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons in 2005. He was fond of saying his team needed “to freshen up:” that’s what I remember most.
Dick Jauron filled in for the remaining five games–of which the team won one–before Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was hired in ’06; “offensive mastermind” Mike Martz joined him as the team’s offensive coordinator. You know the rest of the story: Marinelli installed the outdated Tampa-2 defense, Martz is now with the 49ers, and the team has gone 10-24 under Marinelli’s leadership. They’ve started this year’s season 0-3, giving up at least 31 points in all three and falling behind by as many as 21 points to start all three. They’re pathetic, toothless, and heartless–they bear the stamp of Matt Millen, GM.
NFL Draft Picks NFL Draft Misses
I wrote about Millen’s incredibly bad record of draft picks last December. “Incredibly bad,” however, is too kind a descriptor for the Lions’ draft-day efforts these past 6+ years: an April 26 article in The Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed NFL executive as saying that Millen “has made more bad draft decisions than anyone else in two centuries.” Two centuries!
For a detailed breakdown of Millen’s draft-day antics (not including his latest one), please check out “The Sordid Draft History of Matt Millen, or How to Build a Laughingstock in Today’s NFL.” Here’s just an excerpt:
Thanks for the laughs, Matt–you really picked some winners this time around. Millen’s list of draftees from the ‘03 class reads like a “Who’s Who of Who the F#%k is That?” book about busts and never-weres. Chuck Rogers is most famous for his high-grade marijuana, but around these parts we enjoy ruminating on the fact that his fellow WR draft mate, Kircus, actually had a longer and more successful NFL career. (He also worked part-time at Subway for a spell in between teams, so he’s got that on Rogers too.)
Of the 11 choices,
twoone remains on the team, for now: Boss Bailey is now a starter with the Denver Broncos, while late last summer Redding re-upped on a contract that made him the highest-paid DT in the league (37 tackles, 1 sack in ‘07). The rest of these bums are either out of the league or riding the bench, dreaming of a career with the CFL’s Alouettes.
Celebrate Good Times Come On…?
As could be expected, Lions fans reacted to news of Millen’s firing with hysteric jubilation. Within minutes, a friend back home in Detroit texted me: “Matt Millen fired! Woo hoo!” Coworkers here in New York IMed me to make sure I saw the news and to offer their heartfelt congratulations. David Birkett of the Oakland Press reported that “the scene at the Allen Park practice facility [was] sort of surreal. A parade of fans has been driving by all morning honking their horns and waving Lions flags as if they’ve been liberated.” Forget about freeing Sarah Palin of the McCain campaign sexism–FREE DETROIT LIONS FANS!
And of course it is indeed welcome, long overdue news. Nevermind that Millen could leave Detroit with $50 million in his pocket for a job well done. He’s gone for good and he’s never coming back. You take what you can get when you’re a Lions fan… and the removal of Millen’s foul stench that had engulfed the entire state of Michigan for over half a decade is the biggest victory this franchise has scored in quite some time.
Will the Ford family learn from their mistakes? Will they clean house this offseason and hire a well-qualified, hungry, intelligent GM with respected NFL front-office accumen? History says no they most certainly will not, that this franchise is cursed (at least according to Roy Williams), and that they’ll bungle away another opportunity for redemption. At the very least, though, it’d be very, very difficult to emulate or equal Millen’s track record of failure.
But that’s all in the future–let’s not forget about the present. The Detroit Lions still have 13 painful weeks of football left before any sort of tangible change can occur. But next time Jon Kitna takes another sack, or Williams drops another pass, or the defensive line does their patented Swiss cheese imitation yet again, remember that at least Matt Millen isn’t watching from the press box any longer. It’s a small victory for Lions fans, but we’ll all gladly take it.