Opinion: Detroit Lions Millen: laid off or fired?

By Micah McVicker
Sports Columnist/Staff Writer

Finally! Possibly Christmas come in September?

Suffice to say, things are looking up in Detroit! President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Millen, fired on Sept. 24, just one day after William Ford Jr., the son of the team owner, said a day previously “The fans deserve better. And if I had the authority, I would have fired the general manager.” (Technically, he was the team president and general manager.)

Team Owner William Ford hired Matt Millen in 2001. Since Millen was hired, the Detroit Lions amassed an overwhelmingly dominant 31-84 record, including a whopping zero winning seasons. Their regular season clip is so fruitless that the epitome of dysfunction, also known as the Oakland Raiders, has posted 10 more regular season wins than the Lions. Such regular season futility prohibits the opportunity to win in the playoffs, something the Lions have done once since 1957. One time. In 51 years!

Now, Millen is out! At last! Hope springs anew in the Motor City! Is it too late to right the ship this season? Playing in the National Football Conference’s North division does not help matters. Yet, as week four approaches, by no means are the Lions done. In this young NFL season, the fact that anything can happen has been burning brightly thus far: Tom Brady is out for the season, the Dolphins running up and down the field against the Patriots in Foxborough, the Buffalo Bills atop the American Football Conference East and the Chargers’ two last-second losses.

Nevertheless, the Lions are 0-3 heading into a bye week. In the loss at San Francisco in week three, Frank Gore ran for 130 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown. Perhaps there was a reason, as ex-Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz was trying to prove a point, seeing as how he was fired in Detroit for not running the football sufficiently.

In week one, Michael Turner amassed 220 yards on 22 carries, scoring twice and averaging ten yards per carry. Matt Ryan played well in his NFL debut, as his first career pass attempt went for a 62-yard touchdown to Roddy White, leading the Falcons to a 34-point win.

For the second consecutive year, quarterback Jon Kitna guaranteed a ten win season. With weapons like wide receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson and running backs Rudi Johnson and dynamic rookie Kevin Smith, one would think such a prediction could be . Yet Kitna’s predictions have failed to come to fruition thus far, Kitna essentially threw his teammates under the bus, saying, “I don’t think I am the problem.”

Nice. This coming from a quarterback who is ‘going to do everything possible to help the Lions win.’ Because abstaining yourself from the blame is going to help you win on Sundays, right Jon? Taking your helmet off and walking off the field in disgust as Charles Woodson returns an interception for a 41-yard touchdown really contributes to the cause.

Kitna was signed as an unrestricted free agent on March 20, 2006 to a four-year contract. At the time, the signing brought in a quarterback with experience and leadership. Kitna enjoyed one of the most productive seasons by a quarterback in 2006, throwing for 4,208 yards and setting Lions’ records for completions and pass attempts. He threw for 4,068 yards in 2007, becoming the only Lions quarterback to pass or over 4,000 yards in two consecutive seasons.

With that said and because Lions’ fans have endured all the losing, I advocate that the next general manager, hired after an extensive and thorough search, emulate what the Atlanta Falcons did in the 2008 NFL Draft: chose their franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan.

In so doing, Lions’ fans now have more hope for the future, a foundation to build upon. Come April 2009, the Lions should draft Matthew Stafford. Detroit names Stafford the starter for week one in 2009 and allows him to take advantage of the wide receiver combo of Williams and Johnson and back Rudi Johnson.

Firing Millen was long overdue. The fans finally received what they want. Yet I cannot fathom why William Ford would remain loyal to Millen despite seven consecutive losing seasons.

Consecutive.

How much more losing could Bill Ford tolerate? Was he that loyal to Millen that he turned a blind eye to all the losing?

Now that the Lions are going forward without him, there is hope that the Matt Millen Era in Detroit, and the subsequent futility, may be put in the rearview mirror; the Lions can now proceed. Without fans asking when Millen will be canned.

Better late than never. Even though Lions fans have endured far too much losing. Give the Lions time. At least now, though, there is hope.