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Frank J. Bunker - LionsFans.com
Ed Note: This article was originally written On Sept. 8.
Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen is a student of military history and a follower of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. This marks very good news for the Lions, their loyal fans and the future of the organization. You see, like Millen, the general was all about winning.
Some of the General's philosophy can be found in Porter Williamson's book, "Gen. Patton's Principles for Life and Leadership." The tome is based on the author¹s experiences as a young officer on the general's staff during World War II. Drawn from war and peace, the many examples of Patton's Principles Mr. Williamson cites can be used to help all people become more effective at work and in their personal lives.
Of course, Patton's principles also apply to modern professional football. And thanks to Millen, we'll be seeing them soon applied to the Detroit Lions.
One Patton Principle of particular interest to the players on the field, the coaches on the sideline, and the fans in the stands is: "Never take counsel of your fears."
DON'T EVEN DREAD FEAR ITSELF
The General meant that people should not worry about what might happen to the point where they base decisions on what they are afraid will happen. Worrying about a negative outcome, at least, detracts attention from designing and executing the plan that will lead to success. Worrying may even thwart the execution of the plan, or, worst of all, keep the design from ever being drawn up or attempted.
Therefore, when challenged or surprised, stay calm and think things through, Patton advised. When charged with a difficult responsibility, call upon the self-confidence that comes from thorough training, excellent physical conditioning, practiced teamwork, and quality leadership, the General added.
CASE IN POINT: DETROIT LIONS FOOTBALL
Armed with his own blue-prints for building a successful NFL organization, the first thing Millen did as GM was find a head coach who could solve the team's traditional problem area, the offense, or lack thereof. Millen, demonstrating he was sufficiently ruthless for the job, fired the popular local coaching favorite, and went West to find a guy who knew how to put points on the board.
Millen found an intelligent, offensive-minded, enthusiastic, and young head coach to run the team. Now, thanks to first-time head coach Marty Mornhinweg and the fine staff he quickly assembled, the Lions will employ a totally new offensive system, one designed to move the chains -- through the air or on the ground.
In fact, judging from the bit of Mornhinweg's version of the West Coast Offense shown in the preseason games, first down calls typically will not consist of a hand-off for a "-yard gain. Instead, we may see a simple, but effective, high-percentage pass to a wideout, tight-end, or back resulting in a gain of five or six. And, if the opposing defense is kept guessing as to what to expect, they're more likely to give up five or six yards, on other downs, as well.
GIMMEE THE POINTS
Most happily for Lions Fans, starved for offense the past few decades, the system is designed first and foremost to put points on the board. Thanks to the aforementioned short-gainers, defenders will cheat up to stop the short stuff and get bombed by the long ball. It is not designed to run out the clock or to give the defense a rest, noble goals to be sure, but secondary to getting the ball in the end zone. Charlie Batch must be smiling.
Strategically, the new offense solves many problems facing more traditional schemes. Unlike the run-and-shoot where defenders keep adding defensive backs, or the ground game based on a brilliant runner where defenses would clobber Barry Sanders as he got the hand-off; the WCO provides plenty of both runs and throws. From a billion formations, from anywhere on the field, and on any down. Best of all, the system constantly evolves, making it harder for defenses to get the upper hand.
GET DEFENSIVE ABOUT IT
But that's not all. The new Lions agenda gives attention to the other side of the ball, too. Not quite as despised as the, um, understated '00 offensive scheme, the third-down enabling, bend-but-don't-break defense is gone-and-done-forgotten. Good riddance, too!
It seems Millen and Mornhinweg were lucky to find Vince Tobin's application in the stack piled high on Mornhinweg's desk back in January. The exact date will be remembered as a great moment in Lions history.
The reason: Tobin has installed an attacking defense. Not a contradiction in terms, the basic philosophy is to stop the run and clobber the quarterback. Not necessarily in that order. Sure, the defense will take risks in going after the QB. But knock the guy on his can enough times, and he soon ceases to be a major factor in the game.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ALL THIS MEANS FOR LIONS FANS?
For starters, while many of the starters and back-ups are the same, the way things are run in '01 will be a whole lot different from what's been going on for the last four and half decades. And there're a lot more changes to come.
One thing that needs to be addressed, but hasn¹t been touched by Millen, Mornhinweg or the rest of the Detroit Lions, is the role of the Fan. And that's what you, and me the Homer, are all about.
Another of General Patton's Principles is: "If everyone is thinking alike, no one is doing any thinking." This meant the General did not like a bunch of yes-men around to agree with everything he suggested. He wanted people -- loyal officers -- to speak their minds and point out weaknesses in a strategy or plan.
That's why it is so important to have people of different perspectives provide input. The information will make us stronger as a team and as individuals who have learned. Like Lions Fans who support Millen and those who don't, or the pro- or anti- [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE LION TO SLANDER HERE], someone may provide some valuable insight into what ails the team and how it can be solved. The thing is, Lions Fans, provide feedback in a manner that adds to the information that is known and understood. Otherwise, the good information will get absorbed with all the slop dished out by the fans of opposing teams and ignored.
That's also why it's important for the fans of the Detroit Lions to follow a positive philosophy in thinking about what the future holds. Think back when Mornhinweg talked about "Super Bowls." He had too then, and he does so now. If the leader doesn't broach the subject and state the objective, how will do it be possible for the team to believe they belong in the Big Game?
TURNING THE PLAN INTO ACTION
Thanks to the late Mr. Williamson, all Lions Fans can learn from Gen. Patton's philosophy and remember not to take counsel of our fears. And there's a reason for all of us thinking in our own way. And remember, too: Patton didn't just live for war; he lived to ensure victory. And that's exactly what the Lions need.
The Lions ownership did not take counsel of their fears (or loyalties, for that matter) last season. The Fords went out and hired Millen -- a football mastermind who has proven it on the field in his career, his observations from the broadcast booth, and in his decisions over the past eight months -- to run the organization.
And thanks to the new President/CEO/GM brought in by the Fords, we'll get the chance to see Patton's ideas put into play on the football field. Lions Fans, I think we're going to like what we see.