It's that time of year again. And in Detroit Lions territory, that does not always refer to the countdown on shopping days left until Christmas.
The fire-Matt Millen rumors have started again, as they always seem to at this stage of the NFL season with the Lions closing in on double-digit losses.
They fill the sports talk radio shows, they give bloggers a convenient topic on a slow day and generally keep the sports community buzzing.
With the Lions struggling into the final month of the season with a 2-9 record, a three-game losing streak and a formidable schedule down the stretch, there is no shortage of fuel for the speculation fires.
The fact is, however, that only Lions owner William Clay Ford knows for sure what his plans are for Millen and his floundering football team, and Ford has given no indication that he will not honor the remaining four years of the five-year extension he gave Millen a year ago.
Does Millen deserve to keep the job?
If you judge his job performance by the ultimate measuring stick -- the team's won-lost record during his nearly six years as team president -- he would almost certainly be shown the door; in fact, he wouldn't have gotten the contract extension in 2005.
The Lions were 9-7 under Bobby Ross, who retired, and Gary Moeller, who was appointed the interim coach, in 2000 when Ford decided it was time for a change. He turned the team over to Millen and the Lions have done no better than 6-10 in the ensuing five-plus seasons.
The Millen era includes four head coaches -- Marty Mornhinweg (2001-02), Steve Mariucci (2003-05), Dick Jauron (interim coach after Mariucci was fired with five games remaining in 2005) and this year's hire, Rod Marinelli.
The record went from 9-7 in the Ross-Moeller season to 2-14 in 2001, 3-13 in 2002, 5-11 in 2003, 6-10 in 2004, 5-11 in 2005 and with New England, Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago and Dallas left on this year's schedule, it appears unlikely the Lions will finish with more than three or four victories, at best.
The current six-season record of 23-68 is the worst for that length of time since the Lions moved from Portsmouth, Ohio to Detroit in 1934. There is no area in which the Lions can be considered a better team now than they were when Millen was hired. Two of Millen's six first-round picks -- quarterback Joey Harrington and wide receiver Charles Rogers -- were dumped by the current staff and a third -- wide receiver Mike Williams -- appears to be on his way out when the financial repercussions are less damaging.
Looking at the record alone, Ford can hardly justify keeping Millen any longer but Ford doesn't operate as most other NFL owners do. He is loyal to a fault and the next time he listens to what the fans recommend will be the first.
The "Fire Millen" chants began during the Thanksgiving Day loss to Harrington and the Miami Dolphins, and the speculation supporting that idea appeared within days, if not hours.
Because Ford alone makes the decision -- and shares his thoughts with no one -- it's impossible to speculate with any assurance what will happen but there is nothing to indicate he is in the mood to fire Millen.
An anonymous source within the organization said last week, however, that the feeling within the organization is that the only way Millen will leave this year is if he decides he has had enough and resigns.