NFC North: John Madden
It's official. Former Detroit president/general manager Matt Millen has joined the ESPN family, where he will work as a college football game analyst and also as a contributor to NFL studio coverage.
I know how some Lions fans will react to this news, based on our discussion last month about the (albeit brief) possibility of Millen succeeding John Madden on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Millen's record as Detroit's lead executive speaks for itself. But I'm going to stick with what I wrote at the time, before anyone -- including me -- knew ESPN would enter the picture.
Here's where we landed then:
I don't think Millen's failure in Detroit makes him ineligible to ever broadcast again. There should be a place somewhere if he wants it, either in a studio or on Sunday afternoon assignments.
Now, back to Brett Favre.
Thanks to the magic of a 24-7 news cycle, our preceding entry was rendered obsolete about 1.6 minutes after I posted it.
Not long after I asked you whether Matt Millen should be a candidate to replace John Madden on NBC's Sunday night football production, the network announced that Cris Collinsworth would get the job. (A choice I can't argue with on any level. Collinsworth is excellent.)
But in the interim, more than a few of you accepted the offer to express your views -- most of which are still relevant as other opportunities figure to arise. Perhaps Millen could replace Collinsworth in the NBC studio or on NFL Network's Thursday night games.
If he does, some of you will dismiss everything he says. Torgo112 wrote:
No, no, no, a million times no. You can't build the worst team in the history of the NFL and then get a job analyzing the game on TV nine months later. His mere presence would be an embarrassment to whatever network he worked for.
Doug Pretty compared the situation to taking business advice from a once-successful CEO who ran his last company into the ground: "His recent failures taint his credibility."
JR of Gilbert, Ariz., wants to give Millen the benefit of the doubt but said Millen's failures were too stark:
If he was just a bad GM, fine. But this guy was statistically the worst GM ever in football and probably in all major sports. This is like saying, "Slingblade isn't the most articulate guy but can he take over for Chris Berman on Sunday NFL Countdown?"
But your responses weren't as one-sided as I thought they might be. Brett of Houston, Tex., is willing to give Millen a chance -- in a house-arrest kind of way:
As a Vikings' fan, I'd take Millen as a broadcaster. Sure, it may take awhile to forget the atrocities he committed in Detroit, but just because he's a bad General Manager doesn't mean he's a bad broadcaster. I just wouldn't listen to his thoughts concerning player talent very much. Or just think the opposite of what he says, until he proves otherwise. Detroit fans, on the other hand, are totally validated in hating him forever.
Of course, part of Millen's failures in Detroit were based on the eight-season stretch he was given to make them. Had he been fired after three years like most unsuccessful general managers, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion. Writes nicky_gumbatz:
People forget that it is real easy to say what should have been done and what should be done. There have been a lot of GMs who stumbled like Matt, but in his case the owners kept bringing him back. If you ask me the Ford family is to blame just as much as Matt because they should have fired him a long time ago.
My take? It would have been excessive to bring Millen back into a broadcasting role more prominent than the one he held before the Lions hired him. And while I agree with nicky_gumbatz, I also think Millen could have ended the misery himself by resigning long before he was fired. He shares some blame for that issue.
On the other hand, I don't think Millen's failure in Detroit makes him ineligible to ever broadcast again. There should be a place somewhere if he wants it, either in a studio or on Sunday afternoon assignments.
The only unanswered question is whether the Detroit experience lessened Millen's passion for the game. During the NBC broadcasts earlier this year, his style seemed more clinical and less entertaining than the way I remember him from his first stint. Half of the job is to elevate the fun factor, especially in Millen's case. Is he still capable of that?
[Update: Cris Collinsworth will replace Madden, moving over from the network's studio show, NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol said.]
There is some recent history between Millen and the network. Millen, a popular broadcaster before he joined the Lions in 2001, worked as an NBC studio analyst during the first round of the playoffs and also participated in NBC's broadcast of the Super Bowl.
This will be an interesting test for measuring how Millen's post-Lions life will be impacted by his performance in Detroit. NBC's Football Night in America is the league's signature production of the week. It's as high-profile as it gets, and at the height of his broadcasting career, Millen was appropriately qualified for it.
But is his analysis less credible after proving incapable of running a franchise himself? Or will the public, and therefore NBC, make the distinction between the skills required for broadcasting a game and putting a good team on the field? I shudder to think how well most sports broadcasters would do if they were in the general manager's chair.
I realize there is exceptional emotion on this issue from the Detroit sect of our blog. But I'm curious to know whether you -- all of you -- would accept Millen as a credible national broadcaster again.
Monday is the first day of 2009 that NFL teams can start manipulating their rosters in anticipation of the Feb. 27 roster compliance deadline. That's a fancy way of saying players can start negotiating contract extensions with their existing teams and clubs can start releasing players. NFL front offices have opened for business.
Some NFC North teams will be busier than others. David Birkett of the Oakland Press has added two names to the list of players the Detroit Lions are expected to release: Guard Edwin Mulitalo and tight end Dan Campbell.
That brings the total number of soon-to-be-released Lions veterans to four, including receiver Mike Furrey and cornerback Leigh Bodden. It's possible there will be others. We'll keep you updated.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Jerry Green of the Detroit News believes Lions coach Jim Schwartz will do a good job -- if the team's front office and ownership leaves him alone.
- Broadcaster John Madden, for one, agrees with Chicago coach Lovie Smith's decision to call the majority of the Bears' defensive signals in 2009. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the story.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks at the Packers' salary-cap situation -- they were $19 million under the cap and are expected to get at least $6 million in adjustments and credits -- and what they might do with the room.
As part of NBC's pregame broadcast team for Super Bowl XLIII, former Detroit president/general manager Matt Millen is spending this week in Tampa. We've gotten word that he's taken at least one ride on the Goodyear blimp. But one thing he most certainly hasn't -- and won't -- do is make himself available to the media throng.
Millen was absent Tuesday from NBC's media availability for its broadcasters. According to Leonard Shapiro of the Washington Post, the network's publicity department said Millen's attorney had advised him not to participate in interviews this week.
His attorney? What? Is Millen concerned about Lions fans pressing criminal charges for the job he did in Detroit?
Actually, no. (Or, at least, I'm pretty sure.) Far more likely, as Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com suggests, is that Millen is involved in a contract dispute with the Lions pertaining to the balance of his contract. Kowalski pegs the total under dispute at $12 million. Last fall, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported it was at $6 million-$10 million.
According to the reports, the Lions defaulted on Millen's contract after firing him in September. I can't say that I've seen Millen's contract, but standard practice calls for a team to owe the amount in full to any employee fired for performance reasons. (If Millen had resigned, the Lions would not have been liable to fulfill the contract.)
Millen took full responsibility for the Lions' predicament during an NBC appearance earlier this month and said he would have fired himself if it were up to him. While Millen was simply being honest, that sentiment could be used against him if the contract dispute extends to an arbitration hearing. If he would have fired himself -- in other words, resign -- that could be viewed as a tacit admission that he shouldn't be paid. Talking publicly about his time in Detroit isn't going to help him in any type of legal proceeding.
Millen has already pocketed upwards of $35 million for his tenure in Detroit, and no one is feeling sorry for him. But if you were wondering why you're seeing quotes from John Madden, Al Michaels, Jerome Bettis, Cris Collinsworth and the rest of the gang, now you know.