Millen’s record speaks for itself

Details of Matt Millen’s departure still are a mystery, but some of the details of his stay there are not.

  • When Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr. hired Millen in 2001, he instantly made him the game’s highest paid general manager. By a landslide. At a time when a general manager such as Indianapolis’ Bill Polian was making in the vicinity of $1.5 million, Millen was paid a whopping $5 million per year. Media in Detroit reported the contract to be worth $3 million a year, but it was not. It was $5 million per year. And it’s hard to believe that Millen took a pay cut when he signed a five-year contract extension in August 2005 that tied him to the Lions franchise through the 2010 season. Assuming Millen didn’t take a pay cut to sign off on a five-year extension –- and who does that? –- it’s conceivable if not probable that he had at least $15 million dollars still owed to him at the time he and the Lions divorced.
  • Millen happily signed the five-year extension. But behind closed doors, Lions vice chairman William Clay Ford -– who ignited the fire Millen campaign with his public comments on Monday –- refused to sign off on the extension. The signatures of the other key figures were on the contract; but Ford Jr. would not comply until he was forced to sign it.
(Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

(Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

  • People around the league do not fault Millen for what happened in Detroit. They fault Lions chairman and owner William Clay Ford Sr. Ford hired Millen, who came off an immensely successful career as a player and broadcaster. But when the hire was made, Millen had no experience coaching, he never had been in management, never had been in scouting. And once he took over, it was not Millen’s practice to hit the road to go to a faraway college to scout players. He preferred to do it from Detroit, which he typically would leave later in the week, on Wednesday or Thursday, to return to his home in Pennsylvania. Other NFL executives referred to Millen as the Commuter GM. Commuting works for other jobs; but it was tough to do as a GM. For proof of this, check out the Lions before and after picture. When Millen took over team it was 9-7; since then, then the team never has finished with a winning record. One NFL coach said it was the equivalent of “someone taking apart an engine that was working and not being able to put it back together.” But many said that Millen does not deserve the blame for this. The blame primarily belongs to Ford Sr.
  • During the 2005 draft, the one receiver the Lions really liked was Michigan’s Braylon Edwards, who wound up going at No. 3. Few in the Lions organization expected that Detroit would go receiver at No. 10. But at slot, the Lions drafted USC wide receiver Mike Williams. The feeling within the Lions organization was that the Vikings would take Williams. But when Minnesota picked South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williams with the seventh overall pick, Millen made the decision to go for Williams, whom Detroit drafted one spot before DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman went on back-to-back picks to the Cowboys at No. 11 and the Chargers at No. 12.
  • When Millen opted to draft quarterback Joey Harrington with the third overall pick in the 2002 draft – his second with Detroit — the other player the Lions were considering was Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer, who wound up going to the Chargers. How much better would the Lions have been if they had opted for Merriman and Jammer like San Diego did? But then, in 2003, Millen’s second draft, the Lions tried to get Harrington some help at receiver and went with Charles Rodgers with the second overall pick. On the very next selection, the Texans picked Miami wide receiver Andre Johnson.
  • Millen also made some successful draft moves. He drafted wide receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson, offensive tackle Jeff Backus, and linebacker Ernie Sims. In that 2004 draft, he traded back with Cleveland so the Browns could draft Kellen Winslow and the Lions wound up with Williams and Kevin Jones. But the good moves Millen made are not the ones that people in Detroit will remember.
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