Lions end Millen's reign of terrible

Detroit's decision to finally fire Matt Millen is unfortunate for Green Bay and the rest of the NFC North,'s Doug Ritchay writes.

Flags were at half-mast at Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago this week, when it was announced the Detroit Lions fired team president Matt Millen.

Millen was the architect who consistently drafted horribly and led the Lions down the same path every season — a sub-.500 record and a top-10 draft pick. As architects go, Millen couldn't design a pup tent.

Despite accumulating top-10 picks like the Los Angeles Clippers, Millen kept missing — like the Clippers. From 2003 to 2007 — five drafts — Millen selected four wide receivers in the top 10 of the draft: Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Calvin Johnson. Rogers and Mike Williams reflected the man who picked them. They failed.

Furthermore, Millen has yet to get a clue on how to hire a coach. Rod Marinelli? What did he do, throw a bunch of names in a hat and pick one? How else do you explain that hire?

How did he ever think of Rod Marinelli?

That hiring made Wayne Fontes look like Vince Lombardi.

It was a great move for the rest of the NFC North. He was on nobody's coaching radar three years ago when the Packers hired Mike McCarthy and Minnesota went with Brad Childress. Now, with Millen out of the way, Marinelli will be toast by the end of the season. Unfortunately for the Packers.

That was the last of Millen's coaching hires, and from the outside looking in, they mastered the art of losing. During Millen's tenure, Detroit was 31-84, good for a robust .270 winning percentage.

That's not that good of a batting average, you know?

"I think the fans deserve better," said Bill Ford, son of Lions owner William Clay Ford, before Millen's firing. "And if it were in my authority, which it's not, I'd make some significant changes."

Dad listened, finally.

Millen was a curious hire to start with, as he had no coaching or front-office experience in the NFL. He came from the TV booth, where he was popular. But calling a game on Sundays and building a team are different things.

Think about all the lost time for the Lions. Millen came to Detroit in 2001, a year after the Lions were 9-7 and he hired Marty Mornhinweg. The next three seasons, the Lions won a total of 10 games and made another coaching change, going with Steve Mariucci.

The Lions, along with Atlanta (thanks in part to Michael Vick), became the doormat of the NFC. For the Packers, traveling to Detroit used to be a hairy situation, especially when Barry Sanders was toting the ball.

But during Millen's reign, the Packers were 6-2 at Detroit.

The Lions' situation should make every Packers fan take a step back and realize how fortunate they are that the Packers are run by people who know how to run an NFL franchise. Sure, some question general manager Ted Thompson's personnel decisions at times (Brett Favre and Justin Harrell), but since Thompson has come to Green Bay, he has built a winner.

He also hired McCarthy, who prior to his arrival in Green Bay was the architect of the NFL's worst offense as the offensive coordinator in San Francisco. Thompson, nevertheless, saw something in McCarthy that neither Detroit nor Minnesota saw.

While everybody outside the Marinelli family was perplexed by Detroit's hiring, Childress was touted as the hot coaching prospect. During his first two seasons, the Vikings haven't tasted the postseason and it's reasonable to believe if the Vikings don't reach the playoffs this season, he could be in a race with Marinelli to see who gets fired first.

Meanwhile, the Packers continue to field playoff-caliber teams under the Thompson-McCarthy regime.

To win in the NFL, a team needs players. Just watch how New England fares without Tom Brady.

So, when you have a person like Millen calling the shots on who will be on the roster from year to year, you've accepted failure. For seven-plus seasons, Millen made draft picks like he was blindfolded, and the Lions accepted it.

With this move, is it possible the Lions could field a team that could compete? Let's wait and see, but at least in Green Bay, Packers fans know their leadership won't fumble away season after season like the Lions did.

It was a good run in Detroit, one that the rest of the NFC North can look back on with a smile.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to He has covered the Packers since 1993. E-mail him at

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