The Failure of Detroit Lions G.M. Matt Millen

Detroit Lions fans licking their wounds even after departure of Matt Millen.

The Failure of Detroit Lions G.M. Matt Millen

Matt Millen’s tenure as general manager of the NFL’s Detroit Lions has been described as “unproductive,” a “failed experiment” and a “bust.” And those are some of the more charitable descriptors. After Millen was relieved of his duties on September 24, the Detroit Free Press called Millen a “spectacular failure” and “the worst general manager in any sport.”

It’s difficult to argue with the results. During Millen’s seven-plus seasons on the job his teams compiled a record of 31-84, a won-loss percentage rivaled only by the Houston Texans (34-64 since entering the NFL as an expansion team in 2002), and the Oakland Raiders, whose motto remains “Commitment to Excellence,” in spite of the team’s 42-76 record since 2001.

Not surprisingly, Detroit was jubilant in the wake of Millen’s dismissal. In an interview with Failure, Detroit Free Press sports columnist Michael Rosenberg half-jokingly likened the mood of the city to that of the country on V-J Day (August 14, 1945, the day on which Japan surrendered to the U.S., ending World War II), invoking Alfred Eisenstaedt’s instantly-recognizable photo of a sailor kissing a young woman in New York’s Times Square.

Unfortunately for Lions fans, the team’s fortunes haven’t improved since Millen’s departure. Under interim general manager Martin Mayhew the Lions are 0-3, including a heartbreaking 12-10 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings, low-lighted by one particularly embarrassing play in which first-time starting quarterback Dan Orlovsky accidentally ran out of the back of his own end zone. (The resulting safety proved to be the margin of victory for the Vikings.) As of this writing, Detroit is 0-6 on the season, the fifth time in franchise history that the Lions have started 0-6.

Ironically, Lions fans were guardedly optimistic after team owner William Clay Ford Sr. hired Millen in January 2001. A second-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders in 1980, Millen had been a solid if unspectacular linebacker for three different teams (the Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins) during his 12-year playing career, winning four Super Bowls before retiring following the 1991 season.

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