11th Hour Man: Hartings Enjoys Good Life

ALLEN PARK -- You'll have to forgive Jeff Hartings if he doesn't harbor much sympathy for the Detroit Lions ongoing struggles ... comments and more inside from former Lion Jeff Hartings.

ALLEN PARK -- You'll have to forgive Jeff Hartings if he doesn't have much sympathy for the Detroit Lions ongoing struggles.

And the fact that he doesn't necessarily miss the Motor City. Oh, and that leaving this tumultuous mess wasn't exactly a complicated -- or heart-wrenching -- career move.

Afterall, the Steelers' starting center, who earned his second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl this season, left just in the nick of time. Before the implosion. Before the ongoing trainwreck commonly referred to as the "Matt Millen era" in Detroit.

He'll play his former team on Sunday, but won't be making the trip back to Detroit. Lucky for him. But even during his shortlived attachment to the honolulu blue, it never got this bad.

When Hartings was a five-year starting guard for the Lions during the 2000 season, it was also a difficult period. Difficult but progressive. A burned out Bobby Ross forfeited his coaching duties midseason and Gary Moeller took over in the interim, but still managed to lead the team to a 9-7 finish. A few bounces of the ball, including a home loss to the Chicago Bears, and the Lions would have been 10-6 and playoff bound.

The fallout quickly ensued, and Moeller, the bulk of the coaching staff and nearly the entire front office were part of a clean sweep orchestrated by Lions' ownership and supervised by the new GM, Millen.

Millen's brash change-of-pace had an adverse affect on many players. Hartings, the Lions' lone solid interior lineman -- and a former U of M standout -- was among them.

"I was disappointed with all the changes because I felt like we had a 9-7 team. We worked hard. We had a very close team," said Hartings during a conference call held on Wednesday. "We were just a play or a couple of plays away from being 10-6 and being in the playoffs. I really felt like we could go out and get better for the next year. When all the changes occurred, I treated it not as if I was a Detroit Lion anymore.

"With the situation with the ownership there, once a general manager changes it's going to be a new coach and new general manger. That's going to be a totally different team and organization really. That's what happened. There were a lot of changes in the front office, with the coaches, with the trainers and strength training.

"As soon as that happened, I had to treat it as they were just another team in free agency."

And so he left, for presumably, greener pastures. He couldn't have been more correct.

While the Lions (laughably) attempted to substitute Brendan Stai as his successor, only to field one of the more horrendous offenses in the league, Hartings flourished with the Steelers. Under Hartings' guidance at the center position, which he did not play in Detroit, Pittsburgh marched to a 13-3 record in 2001.

In fact, during Hartings' five-plus seasons in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have tallied 54 versus 24 losses and one tie. Pittsburgh is 10-5 entering Sunday's mismatch, fueled by an aggressive run game that is led by the former first round pick.

The Lions' progress, meanwhile, has been well-chronicled, although Hartings admitted even he's been surprised by the collapse of the franchise.

"I'm surprised with how long (it's gone on)," he said. "I'm surprised that there have been five years without a winning team. I expected Matt Millen to come in and do a great job. He's a great football guy. I just think things haven't gone his way with some draft picks.

"I don't really pay that much attention, but I don't think there's necessarily been draft picks that other teams wouldn't have taken themselves in those position. Sometimes they just don't work out."

And sometimes they do, but Detroit let this one slip away.

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