(ALLEN PARK, MI) -- As critical as I've been of Lions president and CEO Matt Millen, I think he's got it right this time. At Monday's press conference when Millen announced the firing of former head coach Marty Mornhinweg, Millen was asked several times why should anyone believe that he's the right guy to stay atop the organization following a two-year 5-27 record.
The best reply Millen could come up with was; "Because I'm the top dog."
Well, that might not have been the best response, so I've got one for you.
Millen wants this one worse than anything he's ever done. He wants to get this thing right and prove the critics who are laughing at him now, completely wrong. The pride and the fear of failure that burned so deeply into Millen as a player is still there. Millen made his reputation on being tough in the trenches and making the play when his team needed a stop. It won't allow him to back away from this challenge. He's willing to do whatever it takes to turn this team into a winner and all indications are that he's even willing to part with some hard fought power to get there.
Millen did the right thing by streamlining his organization so that he doesn't have too many chefs in the kitchen and that everyone's on the same page with no seperate agendas. When he was first hired in 2001, he removed several of the vice-presidents only to appoint a bunch himself. Now the organization is streamlined. Millen, "the top dog" is the CEO, Tom Lewand will handle running the day-to-day finance side of the business. Bill Keenist, the vice president of communications will be the de-facto, Chief of Staff running the office side of things. Everyone in the organization will report to either Keenist or Lewand. Keenist and Lewand report to Millen. Millen says he'll let people "do their job." That means hands off when Tom Lewand sits down with Chris Claiborne. Millen's willing to do that now.
Great. Now after the dust settles, Steve Mariucci will likely be named the head coach of the Detroit Lions, perhaps as early as the end of the week. He will likely want input on personnel. No one can expect him to be satisfied with just coaching. This will be the true test of how much Millen wants it. He will have to determine how much power on personnel to give Mariucci. He will likely want the last say on the roster. Millen might want to have some input to prevent a re-occurence of a James Mungro scenario. Mariucci will likely want input into the draft. Millen will want control of it.
How yielding will Millen be on these issues? Mariucci is a proven winner. A young charismatic, intelligent well-spoken man who will give the Lions a great face to their organization. If these two men can trust each other and work together, that will go a long way towards settling the differences of opinion over talent that invariably will happen.
Mariucci's presence in the Lions organization is a must. They can't settle for anyone else. The Iron Mountain native runs the west coast offense. He'd be comfortable with almost every coach currently under contract because they are familiar with the offense, save Bobby Williams. Sherman Lewis, who will get a courtesy interview for the job, in exchange for staying on as offensive coordinator, will work easily with Mariucci, the two did so for three years in Green Bay (1992-95). Anyone else would need two years to re-vamp the roster....again.
Matt Millen isn't afraid of getting fired. That isn't what motivates him. What motivates him is the fear of losing, the fear of failing. In his mind, that can't happen. His reputation is on the line. You saw the anger flash when the suggestion was made that people may think he's made a mess in Detroit. Millen fumed. He pounded the podium while trying to control his anger. He's never been a failure in his professional football career. He might be the laughing stock right now, but here's betting Millen gets it right this time.
It's fourth down.