Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Opening The Vault Part I: Matt Millen

A couple of months ago I wrote that Sports Illustrated had put their entire archives online for free at SI.com. This was fantastic news for all the shut-in sports history buffs who would rather spend their Friday nights reading twenty-three year old articles about Dwight Gooden and Todd Marinovich instead of doing something frightening like talk to girls or leave my cat Scrambles at home by herself for more then an hour. Actually this isn't true. I don't want to play into the tired yet popular notion that all bloggers are basement dwelling losers who are afraid of human contact (In all honesty I don't see what's so great about human contact. Like the other day I was riding the bus and had no less than ten guys "accidentally" poked me with their boners. I know I'm a handsome man and people always tell me I look like James Spader in Stargate but I don't deserve that kind of treatment? It's not like I'm a woman).

Anyways in an effort to give full disclosure I thought I would get rid of the cloak of anonymity on this website and reveal my true identity. The name beefshower is an alias. I am really the spirit of Swami Vivekananda and whenever I get bored of travelling through India spreading the enlightening philosophies of the Hindu religion to the pure of heart I take some time out to blog about what's happening with sports in Detroit and breathlessly jack it to Paramore videos. Now that that's out of the way I thought I would put all those hours I've wasted going through SI's archives to good use by wasting even more time writing about those articles so that you the reader could waste your time reading my opinions of events that happened months, years even decades ago. It's a beautiful cycle really. Kind of like the circle of life only with a slower and more painful death.

I'm not going to be critical of the actual writing because my own writing sucks shit but rather I'm going to focus on the things that are funny or painful now that we look back on them with some historical perspective. I was thinking about writing something on the Tigers but they are so terrible and depressing right now that I couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't end up with me in tears or cursing a lot...or both. Instead I'm going to focus on this dandy that Peter King wrote during the summer of 2001 shortly after the Lions hired a man who would become famous for being worse at his job then anybody else is at their job anywhere in the country. Even worse then the guy at McDonalds on Woodward that gave me the Fish Filet value meal when I clearly ordered the ten piece McNugget meal. Seriously who requests barbecue sauce with a fish sandwich. Assholes. Anyways this isn't about the dumbass at McDonalds but for those of you who haven't figured it out yet and need me to spell out everything for them I'm talking about Matt Millen.

Matt Millen stood, soaking wet, outside the 226-year-old stone house he owns in eastern Pennsylvania. It was late May. A steady rain was falling on the 150-acre estate, and that made Millen happy. The rain was feeding his wife's endless flower beds and filling the property's cistern....

I know I said I wouldn't be critical of the writing because for the most part the writing in Sports Illustrated is top-notch but I'm going to nit-pick here. King goes on for nearly four paragraphs about some old cistern on Millen's property. Way to know your audience Mr. King. Although if any Quakers passing by from the 19th century happened by a news stand and picked up this issue hoping to find the latest in cistern news and advances in irrigation they would be in luck. Maybe later in the article he'll wite about James Polk's dealings with the British during the Oregon Territory dispute or maybe he'll provide the most humane method to kill an elderly relative suffering from typhoid fever. I consider myself a football fan as well as a pretty intelligent guy, as my rejection letter from the Everest Institute would indicate, and I had no idea what a cistern was until I looked it up on Wikipedia. Anyways if you want to read the rest of this cistern talk feel free to go to the article and read it. I'll just be sitting here waiting impatiently for you to return.

Millen recently began another rocky renovation project. This one, the reconstruction of the Detroit Lions, promises to be tougher than relining a 200-year-old cistern. The Lions last won an NFL title in 1957 and have won only one playoff game in the 44 years since. The previous regime tried to narrow the talent gap between Detroit and the league's elite by throwing huge money at players with slightly-above-average talent at best—running back James Stewart, quarterback Charlie Batch, defensive tackle James Jones, for example—thus creating major salary-cap problems for the new administration.

Mercifully thats the last of the cistern talk. At least Millen stopped the embarrassing habit of throwing large amounts of money at slightly above average talent. Instead he seems to have taken the radical approach of throwing big cash at old, washed up and way below average free agents such as Todd Lyght, Fernando Bryant, Damien Woody, Kenoy Kennedy, Marcus Pollard, Bill Schroeder, etc. I would continue to list the free agent busts but this post is already going to be about a million words long so I don't want to add another few thousand words by just naming names.

When Lions owner William Clay Ford handed the CEO and president job to Millen last Jan. 9, the hiring marked the first time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that the day-to-day operations of a team had been turned over to someone with no coaching, scouting or front-office experience. Millen played linebacker in the NFL for 12 seasons—with the Raiders (in Oakland and L.A.), the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins—and won four Super Bowl rings, but for the past nine years his association with the game has been limited to working as a broadcaster for CBS and Fox.

Transcript of Millen interview:

Ford: "Matt, you will be in charge of a team that is moving into a wonderful state of the art stadium in downtown Detroit. You will be in charge of ridding the franchise of a culture of losing that has permeated the team following a half century of sucking shit through a straw. You will be in charge of evaluating current players and handing out tens of millions of dollars in contracts a year to free agents. You will also have to spend countless hours scouting college talent in an attempt to land high impact first round picks as well as starters and positional depth in the later rounds. You will be in charge of assembling a roster with a payroll in excess of $100 million with players from diverse backgrounds. You will also have to hire a coaching staff that will develop these players and try to get the absolute most out of their ability, while also holding players accountable for their behavior on and off the field. You will also need to surround yourself with front office employees who will help you run an efficient workplace environment and assist you in handling the day to day business operations and decisions that are associated with running a multi-million dollar entity. What kind of experience do you have in this field?"

MM: "None"

Ford: "None. Why the hell should I hire you then?"

MM: "Because I was a slightly above average linebacker on three Super Bowl teams, all of which were supremely talented and brilliantly coached and could have won world titles without my contribution. I was pretty good at tackling people. That's about it."

Ford: "Wow. You're hired. Hell I'll even let you work out of your home. I heard you have a lovely cistern there."

"Matt came to see me at my home in Florida, and after 10 minutes with him I was charged up," Ford recalls about a late December meeting. "He convinced me there's little difference between our team and the great teams."

Ford went on to add, "He also revealed that he had evidence that my grandfather Henry Ford stole his idea for the automobile from a Jewish co-worker named Lowenstein while the two were employed at the Edison Illuminating Company. Grandpappy lured him over for lunch and Grandma Clara poisoned him with an arsenic laced bagel. Before disposing of the body Grandpa used the sack of gold tied around Lowensteins neck to start the Ford Motor Company and the Lowenstein Quadricycle became what is known today as the Model T. Matt also had pictures of my boy Billy fellating the Princeton lacrosse team during his time there."

This quote doesn't actually appear in the article but it should have because it would finally shed light on how Millen has been able to keep his job despite a 31-81 record as a G.M. Also legally I should point out this is all parody and that in all honesty Henry Ford is one of my favorite historical icons. Anybody who had their own secret police is a certifiable badass.

Hardly the executive type, Millen showed up for his introductory news conference wearing a wrinkled, seven-year-old blue blazer, sneakers that had belonged to Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington and a tie borrowed from broadcast partner Dick Stockton.

I might be wrong on this but I'm pretty sure the NFL is the most profitable business entity in all of professional sports. According to Forbes the Detroit Lions alone are worth 870 million dollars, which is more than the entire GDP of Zimbabwe. An NFL team could presumably hire some of the most intelligent and accomplished businessmen in the country to run their franchise but instead the Lions hired a man that doesnt even own a fucking tie. Although I probably shouldn't criticize somebody for their wardrobe or lack there of since I just pulled off the rare trifecta of wearing the same suit to my high school, college and law school graduation. But at least I was switching up my ties.

His office decor is best characterized by a pair of framed Three Stooges pictures that hang on the wall. He rides a Harley to work. In Millen's world every day is casual Friday, his typical attire being polo shirt, jeans, sneakers and a ball cap that reads DO IT ONCE—DO IT RIGHT. When Mike Holmgren, the Seattle Seahawks' executive vice president and coach, saw Millen scouting on the Michigan campus in March, he quipped, "Team president, CEO, general manager—and he looks like a schmo." Even the 43-year-old Millen admits, "I am an experiment."

So the first thing Millen does when he gets hired is throw some Three Stooges posters up on the wall? If I went to Midas to get my brakes fixed and I looked into the managers office and saw some Three Stooges posters on the wall I would just leave. Maybe that says more about me then it does Millen. Maybe this exposes me as some pretentious comedy snob who only finds stuff funny if they are shrouded in several levels of irony and who reads Steve Martin's autobiography while hi-lighting passages that discuss different comedic philosophies, but I just don't think the Three Stooges are funny. No, I'm really not that snobby because if I were I wouldn't rate Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure as one of the funniest movies I've ever seen but there is something about the Three Stooges that drives me nuts and now is not the time or place to explain why because I don't even know the reasons myself. I'm sorry.

Secondly I wouldn't hire a guy to run an NFL team that wore a hat with a cheesy slogan like "Do It Once - Do It Right" on it. Maybe if I were hiring a coach for a high school girls softball team I would allow it. Then he could print up sweatshirts that said things like "Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn't Work Hard." with cutesy girl nicknames like Short Stuf and half numbers on the back. On the other hand I don't think I would hire Millen to even run a high school girl's team. Not because he's so inept but because with his kind of moustache he looks like the kind of guy who would be the lead story on the 11 o'clock news after getting fired because he bought some chubby girls on the team wine coolers in exchange for them massaging his thighs in the dugout.

Finally if Mike Holmgren who looks more like an obese walrus than most obese walruses do says that some guy is a slob it might be time to re-evaluate things.


Millen's initial personnel moves were uninspiring. After firing coach Gary Moeller, Millen replaced him with Marty Mornhinweg, who had previously labored as an assistant deep in the shadows of Holmgren in Green Bay and Steve Mariucci in San Francisco. Millen loves Mornhinweg's football mind, his variation of the West Coast offense and his ability to deal with change in this era of extensive player movement. Millen impressed no one with his veteran free-agent pickups—(Brendan) Stai, cornerback Todd Lyght, tight end Pete Mitchell, utility back Amp Lee and backup quarterback Jim Harbaugh. On the other hand, the combined 2001 cap value of those five players ($3.95 million) is about the same as what the Lions would have had to pay next season to retain free-agent guard Jeff Hartings, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "We'll plug Stai in for Hartings," says Millen, "and not lose much."

Wrong. Hartings went on to be a two time All-Pro with the Steelers and helped them win a Super
Bowl during his final season. His ability to play both center and guard at a high level helped the Steelers have one of the most consistently good rushing offenses this decade. Brendan Stai sucked ass-barf for one season in Detroit before he was traded to the Redskins for a draft pick that was probably wasted on a lineman who sucked equally as bad, such as Kelly Butler or someone. I like this line of thinking by Millen though and I wonder if he applies in it other real life situations. For example if he went to a car dealer with the intention of buying a new Mercedes and the dealer said something like, "Sure that Mercedes is nice but for the same price I can sell you seven 1985 Mercury Topazes and you really wouldnt be losing that much in performance." would he take that deal? I'm leaning towards yes.

As for Hasselbeck, a source close to the Seahawks' front office says Millen tried to acquire him before the April 21 draft in a three-way deal that would have sent a high draft choice from Detroit to Jacksonville, with Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell going to Seattle and Hasselbeck, whom the Seahawks had gotten from the Packers in March, moving to the Lions. "How can I make this work?" Millen asked the Seahawks, according to the source. "I want Matt Hasselbeck." Holmgren, though, would not part with his former Green Bay protégé, and Detroit will stick with the cap-heavy and injury-prone Batch.

There is no way this paragraph is true because that deal actually makes sense. I wonder if Millen and the Lions fortunes would have been different had they traded for Hasselbeck or if the Lions aura of suckitude and overwhelming history of shitty quarterbacking would have ruined Hasselbeck's career. It's a pretty amazing What-if? scenario. Well, not really. I'm so pessimistic about the Lions that I honestly believe that if Hasselbeck had ended up playing in Detroit his career would have been ruined. I bet Hasselbeck wakes up screaming at night after having a recurring nightmare where he has to repeatedly check down to Aveion Cason as Dominic Raiola helplessly flails his short little T-Rex arms at a blitzing Lance Briggs.

Millen consulted confidant and former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who'd recruited Millen as a Pennsylvania all-state linebacker. (Millen signed with Penn State.)

Bo Schembechler was a great football coach but I wouldn't take advice from him on how to be a good executive. I loved the guy and he was a legend in Ann Arbor but his season as Tigers President was an unmitigated disaster. Dude fired Ernie Harwell for Chrissakes.

Millen will have to hope he hits the lottery with the draft and free agent signings. He saved the Lions another $2.5 million on this year's cap by persuading Jones and linebacker Allen Aldridge to take substantial pay cuts.

This paragraph isnt really that important other than the fact that I don't think Allen Aldridge ever actually existed. I've been a Lions fan my whole life and have been going to games for the past 15 years or so and I have no fucking clue who Allen Aldridge is. Though somehow he was making enough money to take a million dollar plus paycut. God I hate the Lions.

The Lions have a long-term question at quarterback: Can Batch stay healthy and become a consistent and accurate passer?

No. Also the Lions still have a long term question at quarterback for going on the fiftieth season. Is Erik Kramer available b/c he's still the best quarterback the Lions have had in my lifetime.

Strolling his property, Millen acknowledged the obstacles he faces, but he was undaunted. "Look at that house," he said. "In its day it was a great house, probably the finest in the area. But it fell out of repair and had to be rebuilt. Same with the Lions. Champs of the league long ago, but the franchise fell down. We need to bring it back to greatness. That's the only reason I'm in this."

Well if the Lions were an old house and Millen's been in charge of the renovations for the past seven years the house is a disaster. What he's done to the Lions would be the equivalent of driving a bulldozer through the side of the house, setting the ruins on fire, using the fire to light a big fat cigar and then pissing all over the flames to put them out while all the while Mr. Ford claps his hand gleefully and pays Millen with giant sacks of money with dollar signs on them.

1 comment:

Dr Huxtable said...

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