In Detroit, the people love their sports. Star athletes like Barry Sanders and Isiah Thomas were and still are treated like kings. Few cities sport such a rich history and such a loyal fan base quite like Detroit (and Michigan as a whole).
If sports are so important in Detroit, you can only imagine how strongly the fans dislike Matt Millen: the one who built the worst performing product in NFL history. He unintentionally brought great shame upon an already suffering city.
Matt Millen: Lions’ Bane
|Matt Millen nfl.com|
The former Oakland Raiders, Redskins, and 49ers linebacker with four Super Bowls rings was asked by the Detroit Lions on a fateful day in 2001 to come on as President and CEO of the team. Beloved by the media as a brilliant commentator and TV analyst, Millen was at the time seen as a popular pick to help restore the roar to the city of Detroit, even though he had no prior front-office experience.
However, the next 7 years were not at all what anyone had expected from this football man.
Under his leadership, the Lions went 31-84, and completed the first 0-16 season in NFL history. I had to sit and watch from afar as my beloved state of Michigan went through the national ridicule that can only be had by failing to win even a single game.
Millen’s failures in the Draft have become stuff of legend. First round failures such as Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, and Joey Harrington turned a relatively decent team (in the 1990′s) into the laughing stock of the NFL.
Every football fan is aware that Millen had such an affinity for skill position players, such as wide receiver, that he wound up using four top 15 picks on that position alone.
Not only did Millen “strike out” on some picks, but he retired the side (to use a baseball term). Charles Rogers had severe character issues that resulted in him being arrested multiple times on drug-related charges. Mike Williams almost never saw the playing field partially because of some college issues related to his eligibility, and also because of injuries and a reported lack of effort.
But aside from his obvious mistakes, this is where studying Millen gets very interesting. At a glance, you may notice some very strange things about his draft history (found in his Draft Blueprints).
For the record, this article is not an attempt to justify his actions. But many of the complaints about him are unfounded and unfair. So I want to take a moment to analyze some ill-informed statements by the general public.
One of the main criticisms of Matt Millen by the Detroit faithful has been that he used too many picks on the offensive side of the ball. We were all clamoring for more defense.
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I would be the first to confess being in this camp. In fact, it wasn’t until I had a lengthy conversation with Ty, author of The Lions In Winter blog, that I realized some startling observations about Millen’s drafts. Just after Martin Mayhew was hired as the Millen’s replacement, I became very excited to hear that there would be a renewed focus on the interior of the offense and defense; something I had convinced myself that Millen had wholely ignored.
If you thought the same, you’d be dead wrong.
I wasn’t alone when I said to myself prior to this year’s draft, we need to build through the trenches. “Draft a lineman with that first pick.” Lions’ beat writer for Mlive, Tom “Killer” Kowalski was clamoring the same thing. ‘Let’s do something Millen never did-draft some quality linemen to start off the new regime!’
Such selective memories we have, right?
I had blocked out the fact that Millen began by drafting LT Jeff Backus and C Dominic Raiola with his first two picks as head of the Lions.
Imagine my surprise to find out that Millen used exactly 30 picks on offense and 32 picks on defensive players.
Okay, so maybe Millen used about an equal number of picks on offense and defense. Perhaps he chose defensive players in the late rounds, and offense mainly in the early rounds.
Nope, that wasn’t the case either. Of his first day draft selections (rounds one and two), precisely ten players were chosen on each side of the ball.
Finally, Millen seemed to have followed conventional wisdom by selecting a balanced number of players on defense and offense, which has been a relatively common occurrence among the best drafters. His Draft Blueprints look very similar to those of the great evaluators.
I had a theory that his drafts would look structurally different on the most basic level (as shown in the Draft Blueprints). But his failures in the draft are more subtle.
A most disconcerting thought, perhaps Millen did many things right, but had the worst string of ill-fortune in the history of football.