Column: Giving Credit When Credit Is Due

While I have been far from alone in my criticism of Matt Millen during much of his four-tear reign as President and CEO of the Detroit Lions; I think it is safe to say that my scrutiny has been, at times, some of the more biting.

While I have been far from alone in my criticism of Matt Millen during much of his four-tear reign as President and CEO of the Detroit Lions; I think it is safe to say that my scrutiny has been, at times, some of the more biting. In past columns I have called Millen "evasive, condescending, and at times, outright belligerent." I have described him as "the second coming of Russ Thomas." On December 17, 2003, in what was my most critical piece on Millen to date I asked simply, "What does a President and CEO have to do to get fired around here?"

Last season, in the midst of yet another Lions' quarterback controversy, I wondered aloud about who was really in charge of choosing the team's starting quarterback.

I do believe that as a sports journalist, while it is important to be critical when it's warranted, I also believe there is a responsibility to be fair and give credit when credit is due. I believe that time has now come with regards to Matt Millen.

Millen's leadership and decision making over the course of the last two years has been, more often than not, right on the money. The free-agent signings of Dre' Bly, Earl Holmes, Damien Woody, Kenoy Kennedy, Marcus Pollard, Rick DeMulling Jeff Garcia and Fernando Bryant have served to give this team a level of leadership and experience that has been missing for the better part of the last decade. While of course Millen has had some whiffs in free agency during that period too(Tai Streets, Stephen Alexander, Brock Marion); the free agent moves mentioned above should go a long way in moving this team toward eventual playoff and championship contention.

Couple that with the solid trades and selections Millen made during the NFL Draft over the last two seasons to bring in young offensive players like WR's Roy Williams and Mike Williams; RB Kevin Jones, and OT Kelly Butler; as well as defensive players such as LB's Teddy Lehman and Alex Lewis; CB's Keith Smith and Stanley Wilson; and DT/DE Shaun Cody, and there is plenty for Detroit Lion fans everywhere to be excited about in looking toward the kickoff to the 2005 NFL campaign.

With the above moves, the Lions enter this season with the most talented and deepest roster in recent memory. Hopes are high in Lion country that the assembled talent is ready to turn the corner and return the Lions to the upper half of the NFL standings.

In addition to Millen moves with the player roster, he has managed to accomplish something that no other executive during the 41-year William Clay Ford regime has been able to accomplish – bring relative harmony and cohesion to the front office. With Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer and resident "salary cap-guru" Tom Lewand; Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager Martin Mayhew; Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing Bill Keenist; and Head Coach Steve Mariucci; the Lions have a leadership core that is on the same page for the first time since the Lions' glory days of the 1950's, when General Manager Nick Kerbawy and Head Coach Buddy Parker helped establish a level of supremacy that nearly three generations of successors are still trying to match.

With those accomplishments as a backdrop, it was not surprising this week that Millen and Lions' owner William Clay Ford Sr. have agreed to a five year contract extension that will keep Millen in Detroit through 2010. Some observers have questioned not only the extension itself, but the length of it. To me whether the contract was for five years, or three years, or one year is really of no consequence. What is clear is that with this move Ford Sr., who has often been accused over the years of remaining loyal to a fault, has made it clear to any remaining doubters that he believes that Matt Millen is the right person to lead the Lions' franchise back to not only respectability, but to championship heights. Whether Ford's loyalty proves faulty again or not remains to be seen, nevertheless his intentions are clear.

Needless to say the Lions' upcoming 2005 season is one of the most important seasons in recent franchise history. How much this team can accomplish on the field this season remains to be seen. It is clear though that for the first time in a very long time, all the elements of the Detroit Lions franchise are on the same page with one goal in mind – and that is to win Detroit's first Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Congratulations Matt Millen. Despite a 16-48 record, you have earned this level of job security by bringing a long floundering franchise front office stability, harmony and direction. While your first two years in Detroit were certainly the football equivalent of A Nightmare on Brush Street; you learned from your mistakes, reshuffled the front office and the coaching staff, and now have the Lions poised to turn the corner. With some more hard work, and a little luck, it is very possible that the second half of this new decade could be much more victorious than the first half.

By the way, I no longer think that you're "the second coming of Russ Thomas."

The football version of Moe Howard . . . maybe . . . but definitely not Russ Thomas.

"Follow me numbskulls, we're going to the Super Bowl!"

Nuk! Nuk! Nuk!


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