Matt Millen: Genius or Control Freak?

COLUMN: For an organization expecting another ho-hum off-season, Millen's hiring into the Detroit Lions had the effect of a tornado in a trailer park. But has the hype over Millen's dictatorship clouded the judgement of journalists covering the team's off-season moves?

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With all the hoopla surrounding the Lions' off season moves, and the excitement of the upcoming season upon us, it's time to take a concrete look at exactly what has occurred from the outsiders viewpoint.

Move #1 - The hiring of Matt Millen. Millen's hiring brought shockwaves through an organization already in turmoil over the Bobby Ross fiasco. Millen quickly consolidated his base of power by firing Gary Moeller, and cleaning house of the old regime. For an organization expecting another ho-hum offseason, Millen's hiring had the effect of a tornado in a trailer park.

Move #2 - The hiring of Bill Tobin. The elder Tobin, out of football for some time, was a well respected choice to bring in for player evaluations and draft day. Although the move was one of pure neccessity, as Millen had no professional evaluation experience, it is to be debated whether it was the one which was best. In an offseason in which Tom Donahoe and John Butler were both available, it may be that Millen feared any challenge to his control, or any question who was in charge of the organization. It may also be however, that the hiring of Tobin was instrumental in bringing younger brother Vince Tobin aboard as well.

Move #3 - The hiring of Marty Mornhinweg. Mornhinweg was brought in for one reason only, to ignite a stagnant offense with a proven West Coast offensive system which racked up a terrific amount of yardage last season. Mornhinweg's pedigree is unquestionable, having been brought under the direct tutelage of Mike Holmgren in Green Bay and with proven offensive results, but has never been a head coach on any level. In an offseason where the two defensive coordinators of the Super Bowl contenders failed to land a job, it's questionable why you hire a coordinator from a team that went 6-10, and racked up many offensive yards while playing from behind.

Move #4 - The Jerry Rice sweepstakes. With Mornhinweg almost assuredly begging to bring in someone with intimate knowledge of his offense in order to more quickly install it, Millen made it be known that the team had interest in the 38 year old wide-receiver, and also used the chance to usher injury plagued Herman Moore toward the door. After failing to draw in Rice, Millen avoided a total public relations disaster by claiming victory when Moore agreed to a reduced contract. Truth is, he lost badly, and just barely managed to save face.

Move #5 - Losing Jeff Hartings. In Millen's first attempt to retain one of the Lion's own free agents, he came up short, although this one was not on him. After coming close to matching the ludicrous offer made to Hartings by the Steelers, saner heads eventually prevailed, and the offer was yanked from the table. After filling Hartings spot with the far more cap friendly Brendan Stai, it was expected that they would use the savings to shore up the O-Line with one of the many quality veteran free agents available, such as Frank Middleton, Pete Kendall, Tre Johnson, or Corbin Lacina. However, the front office deceided to go the way of the draft and Jeff Backus.

Move #6 - The usual. During training camp, the Lion's suffered their usual litany of injuries, and like previous years, we have once again been plucking the waiver wires, hunting the unemployment lines, and scouring homeless shelters in search of people healthy enough to play ball. Unlike years past though, the late crop has produced better yields than the usual amount of washed-ups, has beens, and never were's.

Move #7 - Ty Detmer. After playing possum at their interest in Detmer for months, the Lion's finally pulled the trigger on the trade. At the same time, the axed local favorite Jim Harbaugh, who they had strung along all through training camp. Although this was the type of player Mornhinweg must have been begging for all through camp, he arrives a little late in the hour, when he could have been here all along.

The local media, so starry eyed over Millen and his media appeal, have failed to make the hard evaluations neccessary of a good journalist. Although Millen's moves may prove him a genius, there is a flip side to the coin. It is entirely possible Millen is a control freak.

Before I am hung in effigy for stating this, review the facts from a third party point of view. Instead of going after one of the two league wide-respected GM's available for hire, he hires an out of work, over-the-hill, GM, who'd been away from the game for years. Why? Instead of even giving an interview to the defensive coordinator who's defense had won the Super Bowl and set a new league record, you hire an offensive coordinator of a 6-10 team. Why? After losing a respected veteran from the offensive line, we hire a fill-in, and draft a rookie, and call ourselves better? We once again have put a bandaid on a gunshot wound. Why? All these things may point to someone who not only must be in charge, but whom everyone must know is in charge. Is it possible that the media limelight has gotten to Millen? Is it possible that he is so image sensitive that he must be at the forefront of all things, even if it means giving the job he was hired for a back-seat?

For the record, this is not my personal point of view as to how things have transpired this off-season, but it is a very real possibility, an all-too real possibility. To quote an old Russian proverb though, "I would rather be a fool and be wrong, than be a pessimist and be right."

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