Thursday, June 11, 2009

Road to 0-16: 01-07 Train Wreck in Progress

Matthew Millen. Since we are getting into fairly recent history, I'm sure everyone is quite familiar with most of his... accomplishments. But since this is a look at 0-16, I had to ask myself: was he really the primary cause?

While he was certainly the engineer of the runaway Lionel headed for the incomplete bridge into the abyss, someone else was driving the train -- but it was still down the tracks that Millen built.

So what happened with Millen? While a perfect storm of events all at once happened in 2007, it was Millen's managerial style that ultimately led down this path. While many fans called for "the Buck" to be gone, there was never the acrid animosity that Matt Millen injected into the fan base. Lions fans were frustrated, sure - but ever bubbling optimism for "next year" dried up in the oughts.

Attempting to look over this time period with as neutral an eye as possible, I came up with one word that sums up the whole debacle: Arrogance.

Matt Millen in 2001 was an excellent play-by-play announcer. He was fun to listen to, and heir apparent to Madden. While a first time GM, with no prior front office experience, an engaging charismatic person can lead a franchise with a clear vision and talented staff who handle the football side of things.

It seemed Millen had a clear vision -- a tough, gritty defense and a powerful, smashmouth offense. But he was not at all consistent.

There is no doubt that Millen is charismatic -- anyone who has spent any amount of time with him will tell you how great a guy he is. At first, it seemed as though he may end up being ok. He kept Bill Tobin on, who actually ran the 2001 draft. Up until last year, that was the best draft by far of the Millen Era.

However, even from the get go, there were danger signs that only got worse the longer he was there. Bill wasn't too thrilled with some of Matt's personnel moves, and Millen canned him. He felt he could do better at picking talent. Virtually anyone who was not a yes man, or who wasn't hired by (thus beholden to) Matt was let go in a purge that included the front office and players.

Matt knew best, and Matt's way was the only way. Anyone who said otherwise was gone. "Group Think" set in at a very early stage and was never dislodged. Easily distracted from his vision, and impatient for "progress", he changed philosophies for the offense, defense, drafting, management, free agents, contracts, etc. more often than Barbie changes clothes and professions.

To double down the damages of inconsistency, the string of coaches he brought in followed the Ross model of making players fit the coach's system, not the system fit the talent. Coupling constant change, with constantly different player needs on both offense and defense led to the situation in 2007.

Having a series of disastrous drafts, the Lions were very thin young veteran talent. They had guys on their last legs, and rookies. They were missing that core of young veterans in their prime that is the heart of any team. Yet, thanks to Martz's prolific offense and a lot of luck, the Lions pulled off 6 wins in the first half of the season, staving off the headsman once again...

Still, the train was barreling closer to the abyss. By this point, everyone had learned not to question anything Matt Millen was doing, even though they knew it was ludicrous. Morale among the scouts had to be pretty low since their work stacking the board was routinely ignored in favor of whim or name. The coaching had gone from "I'll take the wind" to "Why is wind a big deal? Gonna mess up your pretty hair?".

Also, in addition to the poor outright mangement decisions was a haughty contempt for the Fans -- Season Ticket Holders on down. There was a permeation from the top that it didn't matter what the fans thought, they were doing it his way. The fans were too stupid to see the vision. This blatant disregard to the fans led to intense negativity towards the franchise from its own fans. Up until this era, the Lions had been loveable underachivers. Now, they were just perpetual failures and doomed for eternity, with every move good or bad blasted by fans and media alike. Contempt breeds contempt.

Individuals who lead with arrogance either do really well (if they truly are that good) or really disastrously. People who think they know what they are doing, but don't, are the most dangerous in any profession -- especially when coupled with an ego that does not allow them to admit mistake. This leads to people hiring those whom they can control.

This spilled down to the coaching level in 2008. By the end of 2007, it was pretty obvious that Rod Marinelli was overwhelmed as a head coach. He seemed to be learning a bit, but it was hard to tell what was him and what was Martz. Unfortunately, Rod wanted assistant who would do everything "his way." While not bad, Rod spent too much time with individual players and wasn't good at what a Head Coach needs to be -- overall management, planning, and coordination between his offense and defense. While a front of cliched unity was put forth, it was obvious that there was dissension among all levels of coaching that Marinelli was unable to control, or unaware of.

Now, even a blind bird can find a seed once in a while, and Millen was no different. While they may have been about half NFL starters at best, the Lions still had at least some professional football talent on the field. So what happened in 2008? Was it all lack of talent? Coaching? Management interference? Lack of heart? Scheme?

Find out in the final installment of "Road to 0-16: Goliath Beats David - Sixteen Times" later this week.


CHIEFGER139 said...

Millen sold out every single game at ford field, the day he was fired was the week it ended. Thats how you can see why ford was so patient with him. Sometimes Matt had to get his buddies from herman miller furniture or other companies he knew to buy the tickets but he always sold out. must admit Im guilty too, we were on board too-our little group and bought season tickets, but the 0-16 performance put such a bad taste in our mouths we cancelled them. figure we will all get together and go to a game with tickets from stub hub if we want to go. I think it is truely amazing millen went so long selling out every game-a master salesman if there ever was one. that will be his legacy , he can say my job was to sell out games -that I did very well.

DetFan1979 said...

The games selling out after the first 3 years was more a testament to the dedication of Lions Fans than it was to anything Millen was doing -- it was in spite of him, not becuase of him. The 7-9 season (6-2 start) sold out 2008. If you reverse that to a late season run, the early games may have seen a blackout.

As I said, he was/is very charismatic. However, his job wasn't JUST to sell tickets -- it was to run a football franchise. The goal of a football franchise is to win games and sell more merchandise. Sure, games sold out.


The Lions are at or near the bottom for jersey and other merchandise sales that would definitely grow if the team were winning. Those are huge profits that were unrealized during Millen's tenure.

Sure, he sold out Ford Field -- BUT -- had he put together a winning team, he would have still sold out Ford Field, and the merchandising booths would have been humming. Tickets would have stayed at a premium versus the heavy advertising spending to drum up interest, including giving "deals" and "discounts" on tickets to get butts in seats. (Pepsi Pack anyone?)

I'm glad it has become more affordable, but as a CEO he did a poor job of maximizing profit by not winning.

He also spent lots of guaranteed money, and big signing bonuses to guys who were cut, didn't contribute, and in other words paid a lot of $$$ to guys who hurt the business he was running. Again, as CEO, this was also not good.

Fans like you didn't go because of Millen -- you went in spite of him because you love your Detroit Lions.

CHIEFGER139 said...


Imperical Evidence said...

I found your comment on Millen not caring what the fans thought very close to what Mayhew said about the way the Lions would approach the draft. Interesting.

kitabug124 said...

If Lewand and Mayhew were hired as "yes-men" under Millen then what chance do we have, what hope? Do we delude ourselves that these two were just going along biding their time hoping that pops would someday give them the keys to the gold plated mustang?

What merit is there for hope? The off-chance that they are a better than average blind bird that gets that worm? Or are we just so desperate that "anything other than Millen" is enough to satisfy us?

The distinct lack of a plan, lack of a vision, by ownership dooms us to repeat history. Wanting to win a superbowl is no plan, no vision. It's a nebulous pipe dream- it's like saying I want to be a gazillionaire. Just because you want it won't get you there. True, you can't get there if you don't want it but ownership has to have some leadership, some vision, some stake in achieving the goal. Tolerating mediocrity removes accountability. If ownership never holds anyone accountable, how accountable to the fans do they feel? Some owners have vision some don't.

I don't want this to be true, but I fear that we can only expect this sad cycle to continue as long as there is no change in ownership. Please prove me wrong Lewand, Mahew, Schwartz, etc......

DetFan1979 said...

Imperical: Those are two completely different kind of "we don't care about what the fans think" statements.

Millen closed practices. Millen took away many of the benefits and perks season ticket holders enjoyed. Millen cut off lots of access to the players, and alienated the community and the fans through his arrogance.

When Mayhew said he didn't care what the fans thought it was in regards to who the Lions drafted/signed only. In other words, he wasn't going to bring in flash for the sake of flash and selling tickets in the short term.

In the long term, winning games means more than whether the big names get called on draft day. AS he saw firsthand with Crog, Mike Williams, Joey Harrington, et al the sheen of the "new toy" wears off pretty quick -- especially when you aren't winning.

What he has done is show the fans that he/the Lions do care about their experiences with the team. He is reaching out to fans and season ticket holders to let them know that a new leader is in town -- one who knows that the fans are #1.

Millen said that fans don't matter in a contemptuous way. Mayhew said what the fans think right now doesn't matter for the draft, as long as they know why they will support us when we win. In the meantime, he is taking great pains to show the fans that he supports them.

It is a nice change from the attitude of the prior regime.

Kittabug -- I'll actually dive into your concerns in the final chapter of the Road to 0-16 later this week.

Andrew said...

Waaw its really a great blog..worth seeing it..

This is pretty interesting...

Thanks for sharing..
Call Today for NEXT DAY Instellation to watch your Favorite Channels on HD reciever.