One thing came to mind while watching the NFL Network’s player profile series episode on Matt Millen.

I wish the Lions could fire Millen… AGAIN.

The first half of the one hour program did the usual kiss-up job to Matt’s intense and wildly successful 12-year NFL playing career as a four time Super Bowl champion with the Raiders, 49ers and Redskins.  They paraded out all the usual suspects to tell us what a stud Millen was on a football field.

Howie Long, Steve Young, Tom Flores, Ronnie Lott and others gave their perspective on the two-time All Pro.  As if they were going to say anything we didn’t already know.


Yes, he was a great linebacker in the pros and before that, a great All-American defensive tackle for Joe Paterno at Penn State.  Great, great, great.  Millen was GREAT!  Sold.  Got it. 

Then came his greatness as an analyst for FOX television on NFL games.  More stories about how outstanding he was describing the action in front of him combined with his disdain for a TV camera.  Millen was going to replace John Madden (obviously one of his idols) and be a multi-million dollar star for years to come.  Blah, blah, blah.

Get to the GOOD stuff!  Such as… his fine career as a president and CEO of the Detroit Lions!  That’s what we REALLY want to hear about.

To the credit of the NFL Network, and with the amazing resources of NFL Films, they didn’t hold any punches when it came to re-telling the Millen “Reign of Error” that began when he left television for his first foray into the high pressured world of running a sports franchise.

Running it… into the ground.

Problem is— the piece only scratched the surface. All you had to do was stick Millen’s record from 2001 until his firing on September 24, 2008 on the screen to give you all the perspective you need to know.  He was an awful president and a worse CEO.

31-and-84.  Yecccchhh!

It looks even worse now than when we (as a collective Lions’ watching group) lived it in the first decade of the 21st century.  Whether you were a fan, season ticket holder or media member, there is no way to slice up 31-and-84 and find anything good about it.

When Millen was asked on the follow-up special, “Backstory,” about his crowning achievement as chief cook and bottle washer of the Lions he could only muster a quick utterance of drafting Calvin Johnson and TWO of the people currently associated with the football team.

Even Martin Mayhew (also interviewed) and Tom Lewand had to cringe when Matt mentioned their names on the show.

That was it.

Matt did send out the love beads to owner William Clay Ford saying how fond he was of the team owner.  Sure he loved Ford!  The dude gave Matt not one but TWO contracts for many millions of buckaroos.  Who wouldn’t love that guy?

Of course, Millen said nothing of Ford’s son who ultimately pulled the plug on the worst tenure in NFL history three days after a loss to Matt’s former squad, the 49ers.  It ended the suffering three games into the season that would become the ONLY winless 16-game slate in the annals of the league.

Matt?  You got off easy and you know it.

Let me take you back to 1998.

That was the first time Millen was mentioned as a possible successor to Lions president Chuck Schmidt.  Rob and I were in our first year together on WDFN radio in Detroit as a tandem.  We certainly had our disagreements on all sorts of sports topics but we were brothers in arms when it came to Millen running a football club.  We were against it 100-percent.  It stunk from the start; it was no good.

Others at the station and callers on the air thought we were closed minded and didn’t know anything.  The Lions had languished for years and Millen was “just the spark” the franchise needed.

True, the Lions languished.

One playoff win since the last championship in 1957 was all the Lions had in their portfolio.  It was a beautiful 38-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in January of 1992 at the Pontiac Silverdome following a 12-and-4 season in ’91.  It remains the ONLY campaign in which the Lions won ALL their home games (8-0).

Schmidt was already in the big chair when that happened.  He replaced longtime Ford shill Russ Thomas.  Russ was known for his gruff exterior, gravely voice and 1950’s football mentality.  Ford loved him because he pinched pennies better than Ebenezer Scrooge.

Comparatively, Schmidt was the anti-Russ and quite frankly, a breath of fresh air.

Yes, he was known as the ultimate bean counter but not in a miserly way that Thomas employed.

The bottom line was, with the Hall of Fame prowess of Barry Sanders to lead the way, the Lions at least MADE the playoffs five times in ten seasons.  Everyone’s coaching punching bag Wayne Fontes led the Lions to four of those appearances.  Bobby Ross was coach for two more and one that didn’t even include Sanders.

If you’re scoring at home that makes SIX total post-season trips in the decade of the 1990’s.

Detroit was about to make the playoffs again in 2000 when an improbable 54-yard field goal by Chicago Bears kicker, and former Michigan State Spartan Paul Edinger, thwarted that effort.  The Lions finished the season 9-and-7.

Out went Schmidt.  In came Millen.

Once again, Rob and I bandied together on the radio to express our distaste for a Matt Millen hierarchy with the Honolulu Blue and Silver. This time it was obvious that it was going to happen. And once again, everyone thought we were nuts for not jumping aboard the Millen train.

Choo choo!

With no prior experience, the linebacker and analyst was given a hero’s welcome by Ford at the Silverdome in early 2001.  Thus began the worst era possibly in SPORTS management history, not just the NFL’s worst.

By Millen’s first season, the “Parker and The Man” show had moved from WDFN to WKRK 97.1 FM.  We blasted all over Matt literally at the beginning.  It started with Matt doing those strange TV commercials promoting a “new day” in Lions football lore.  Millen was seen in a white buttoned-down shirt with his name tag, like a uniform, on the back.  It was to indicate his gritty, working-man aura.

When the Pistons used a form of that with their “Going to Work” slogan, it resulted in an NBA title by 2004.

All Millen got was laughs.

And anger.

Mostly anger.  Vile anger.

Some of it came from the Parker and The Man show when the 2001 season got underway.

Marty Mornhinweg was tabbed as coach of the Lions by Millen.  On the advice of former San Francisco genius Bill Walsh, Millen hired someone in his image.  Not Walsh’s image— Matt’s image.

Mornhinweg had never been a head coach before.  And boy, did it show!

On the air, I had proposed that Millen made a mistake by not keeping Gary Moeller as the head man.  “Mo” had replaced Bobby Ross in 2000 when Ross’ health forced his resignation despite a 5-and-4 record.  Mo went 4-and-3 the rest of the way but was on the sidelines when Edinger kicked that infamous field goal ending the Lions playoff hopes.  Even though the ex-Michigan coach was given “carte blanche” by Ford at his coaching coronation, Millen thought it was enough to dump Moeller.

My thought was, why not keep Mo?  If he does well, Matt could take the credit as a psychic and if he did poorly then Matt had bought himself a full season to get comfy and cozy in the president’s office.

Stupid mistake number one.

Hiring Mornhinweg put Millen on the clock.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

By week six of that first season at the Silverdome, the Lions were 0-and-5.  Some of the Millen rats had already jumped off the ship.  They were like the people in the movie, “Poseidon Adventure” who realized, too late, that they should have followed Gene Hackman.

It was a home game in that week six that burst the bubble.

The Cincinnati Bengals were at the Dome and the Lions kicked off.  They stopped the Bengals at the four yard line to cheers from the partisan, and desperate, crowd.

I remember some media member turning to me in the press box saying, “Aha!  Here we go! It turns around TODAY!”

Yep, here we go alright.  On Cincinnati’s first play from scrimmage from that four yard line, QB Jon Kitna (Oh, is THAT poetic justice since Kitna would be part of the problem years later) handed the ball off to All-Pro running back Corey Dillon.

96 yards later, Dillon had raced into the end zone with the first touchdown of the game.

Cheers turned into BOOOS faster than you could say, O-and-6.

After the 31-27 loss, in which Dillon also scored the game winning TD, I went on a tirade in our post-game radio show.

We weren’t yet the flagship station for the Lions; that would come a year later.  Still, we did a post game show taking calls and letting it rip.  I was so hot about the six-loss start that I called for Millen’s immediate resignation.

“I want Matt’s resignation on my desk by 10 PM tonight!  He blows and has to GO!”

One of our regular callers who we crowned, “The Cryin’ Lion” was even worse.  I think we had to use our dump button because he swore a couple of times.

Rob was in the locker room after the games in 2001 and he would call in before making his way over to our broadcast location, “Stan and Glen’s Dugout.”  He didn’t get to hear my rant which was Regner-esque.  That’s in reference to my ESPN (now NBC) Detroit cohort Art Regner who used to throw out regular rants when the Fontes-led Lions were screwing things up.  Yes, the same Fontes who took Lions’ teams to the playoffs.  The SAME Fontes who is the organization’s all-time winningest AND losingest head coach.

At least Fontes NEVER started 0-and-6.

When Rob called the show I told him I had asked for Millen’s resignation.  Obviously we couldn’t call for Ford to FIRE Matt six games in because that would have been a futile effort.  The Ford car company would have stopped making the Mustang before firing a president six weeks into his first season.

In many ways, the awful beginning gave us validation that the hiring of Millen was looking like an epic failure.

Six more losses followed; a 0-and-12 start to 2001.  The Lions would finish 2-and-14.  A three point victory over Minnesota gave Millen and Mornhinweg their first “W” and a January 6, 2002 triumph over Dallas was the other.  It was the make-up date from the game postponed due to the 9/11 attacks.

But…back to that loss to Cincinnati in week six.

After the tirade, which came three days before Halloween, there was no home game until November 11.  I saw former Lions’ coach Monte Clark, who took Detroit to a pair of post-seasons during his Motown career, and he wasn’t happy.

“Matt is really pissed at you,” he told me.

Millen got wind that I had asked for his resignation on the air and fumed.

“Ok fine,” I said to Monte without much thought.

I had known Clark a long time. Not just from his coaching days but also by knowing his son Bryan since he was an MSU quarterback from 1979 through 1981.  Monte indicated that Matt wanted nothing to do with me.

He was right.  Millen didn’t speak to me for about three years.

It wasn’t until I was in year two of doing the Steve Mariucci coaches’ show on radio that Matt finally relented.  He called me “Marko” and everything.  I think by then he realized the bloom was off the rose and he probably SHOULD have resigned by Halloween, 2001.

And that’s another thing.  Millen owes me gas and lunch money from New Year’s Eve 2002.

Remember, he called a press conference to announce that Mornhinweg would be back for his third season despite a 5-and-27 record and “taking the wind” against the Bears in Champaign, Illinois.  If you forgot that one, look it up.  It’s a doozy!

Stupid mistake number…. Uh, oh… forget it.  I can’t possibly keep count.

Anyhow, I drove to Allen Park for the press conference and had lunch at my expense.  We all know that a couple of months later… Marty got fired and Mariucci got hired.  Rob had even penned a column claiming that “Our savior had arrived.”

See?  He isn’t always negative!

Mariucci wasn’t the savior, spent just two and a half seasons as Lions’ coach before getting fired himself during a power play with Millen after losing to Michael Vick and the Falcons on Thanksgiving, 2005.  I finished out the season doing the “Dick Jauron” radio coaches’ show.


Rob called me after the Millen “Football Life” show aired on the NFL Network.  He was excited because Millen mentioned HIS name during the interview.  He wrote a column asking for a “Millen Man March.”  It was a take-off on the much bally-hooed “Million Man March” on Washington.

The Millen Man March actually happened and Millen acknowledged it by saying, “It was Rob Parker!”  Matt also thought it was clever and funny.

I think “Mr. 31-84” uses humor to deflect his brutal tenure in the Lions front office.

He had four coaches from 2001 to 2008.  Mornhinweg, Mariucci, Jauron and Rod Marinelli.  The latter was another mysterious move

Stupid mistake number…. Oh yeah, I said no counting.

Rod had never been a head coach before (stop me when you’ve heard this pattern enough already) but Millen thought Marinelli was just what the doctor ordered in 2006.  I don’t know what doctor likes a 3-and-13 season but my guess is—he’s a Packer fan.

A “spectacular” 7-and-9 season popped up in 2007.  That’s the year the Lions began 6-and-2 and it looked like Millen might have something going on.  Receiver Mike Furrey got so cocky that he screamed, “Kiss my ass media!” in the locker room after the 44-7 blowout of Denver.

Alas, the Lions won only ONE more game the rest of the way to finish under .500 for the seventh straight season.

0-and-16 was on the docket for 2008, Millen was long gone by the time the 16th loss was secured and Rob Parker did his famous “son in law” question to Marinelli post-loss to the Saints at Ford Field.

Ah, the whole damn thing was just a mess.

As I mentioned earlier, epic failure.

Doing the pre and post game radio shows for the Lions on 97.1 during those years was a real hoot.  Every week brought another challenge on how to say nasty things about a football team going absolutely nowhere.

Rob would get into constant battles with radio color analyst Jim Brandstatter; callers would berate Millen week in and week out.  Even Monte Clark jumped on my case again for my SPOT ON impression of him.  Monte has passed away unfortunately but I still hold that my impersonation of Clark when HE himself was fired after the 1984 season is a thing of beauty.

It’s just too bad that the NFL Network couldn’t have done a better job outlining just how pathetic Millen’s era (error) was in Detroit.  Too much time spent on the “Fire Millen” rally cry.

The piece needed to go deeper.  One question never gets asked.

Why didn’t Millen just coach?

To me, that’s the elephant in the room.

I tried asking Matt about coaching (when he was actually talking to me again) and he didn’t have a good answer.

Think about it.  Millen could have been the next Mike Ditka.  Who knows?

We knew right away that he was NOT a good fit for president; way too emotional.  He was going to fix things with his passion and heart and not his head.  That can not happen in building a successful sports franchise.  Plus, if he truly wants to be the guy “with the sword leading the charge to the top of the hill,” he can’t do that perched next to the team owner.

He said in the show that he regrets not taking the advice of Bill Parcells and Madden.  He didn’t mention, however, what that advice really was.

Intriguing is how I see Millen as a head coach rather than a CEO.

Matt says he was “surprised” by how much minutiae was involved with running the joint.  Surprised?  For reals? Under his watch, Ford Field (big project) was completed and his drive to Pontiac lasted just one season.

That’s when he could find his way there from his home in Pennsylvania.

Not moving to Detroit was another stupid mistake.  Even those Millen supporters found it hard to condone a team president taking days off to be with wife Pat and his family which includes Army Captain Marcus Millen.  He’s a great family man, no doubt.  He digs his carpentry and wood working.  He’s very Machiavellian in many ways.

But he SUCKED as a team president.

The Lions literally wasted the last 13 years.  Millen may be five years removed from the job but the stench lingers.

Mayhew was Millen’s first hire in 2001.  While Martin was a fine player in his day with the Redskins, he is an attorney by trade and still hasn’t proven that he can run a championship franchise.  Since we all know that 2013 is a make or break year for both Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz, its plain to see not much has changed.

Heck, 2012 was SO bad there were chants of, “HIRE Millen” rather than “FIRE Millen.”

Oh, how quickly people forget.

Then again, no Lions fan who lives to tell about the first decade of the new millennium will EVER forget what Matt Millen did to the pro football team in Michigan.  Every time they see him on TV doing college games, they remember.  If only there was a pill to take… to wipe it away.  Oh well, at least Millen mentioned Rob Parker’s name.  There IS glory in the epilogue after all.