King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Detroit Lions are the Detroit Lions for a reason: 16 wins in four years earns boss Matt Millen a contract extension. Plus: Pro football annuals.


Salon Staff
August 4, 2005 8:25PM (UTC)

The Detroit Lions have given team president Matt Millen a five-year extension through 2010.

I liked Matt Millen when he was a broadcaster and hoped he'd do a good job in Detroit when he was hired out of the booth in 2001. But this is one of those moves that makes the Detroit Lions the Detroit Lions, if you know what I mean.

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Here is a list of the Lions' accomplishments in Millen's first four years:

  • Overall record: 16-48.
  • Playoff appearances: 0
  • Winning records: 0
  • Last-place finishes: 3
  • League-record losing streaks: 1 (24 straight road games)

    So was there some massive demand for Matt Millen's services around the league that forced the Lions to lock him up for five years beyond this one? And if so, was there a compelling reason not to let Millen go?

    "We want continuity in here," said owner William Clay Ford. Coach Steve Mariucci added, "Matt was brought here to do a job and I certainly think we are on the right track."

    In Millen's four years at the helm, they've won two, three, five and six games. That's the right track, all right. At this rate, they'll be a serious title contender just in time for Millen's extension to run out.

    OK, I'm not being entirely fair. The Lions started well before getting banged up last year, winning four of their first six, beating playoff-bound Atlanta on the road and losing only to eventual division champions Philly and Green Bay.

    And there is some hope that they'll improve again this year and maybe even contend for a playoff spot. Millen actually seems to be learning on the job, making a savvy move, for example, in signing quarterback Jeff Garcia cheaply to back up and challenge underachieving Joey Harrington.

    But the Lions have a history of hanging on too long to unsuccessful coaches and general managers. Their last winning season was in 2000, the year before Millen arrived, coincidentally. They've had two winning records in the last nine years. If there's one thing this team doesn't need, it's continuity.

    If Millen really does have the Lions moving in the right direction, let's see some results in this last year of his contract. Then reward him. I just don't see other teams clamoring for his services in the meantime.

    I have no stake at all in the Lions, personal or professional. I think they have classy uniforms, but other than that I've never so much as formed an opinion about them as a franchise I root for or against, like or dislike. So I have no idea why this move bugs me so much, but it does.

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    Ready for football? Me? [PERMALINK]

    A month ago I wrote that I was feeling like my fan light had dimmed, that I just hadn't gotten excited about the baseball season that was then heading into the All-Star break.

    I chewed over possible reasons for this -- needing a vacation, anticipating a baby, feeling like I need a respite before my toddler son becomes an insatiable sports fan, as is likely -- and asked for your tales of similar experiences, which I've been publishing in a tiresome regular feature I call "Letters From Lost Fans."

    There've been a couple of developments in my case since then. First, I'm getting back into the swing of baseball. Usually at this time of year I'm poring over box scores and doing little elementary statistical studies with my limited math chops, and I haven't been doing that.

    But I have found myself in an e-mail debate over the last few days with my friend Aaron over who's in the lead for the National League Cy Young Award. Aaron, a Cardinals fan, is a Chris Carpenter man. I'm not contemplating a Roger Clemens for Cy Young Stat of the Day feature yet -- the Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day last year was inspired by a similar argument with Aaron -- but it's something.

    But stranger than that -- and keeping in mind that I'm clinging doggedly to the "needs a vacation" theory -- I've become engrossed with pro football.

    That's right, the NFL, that thing that doesn't even start until September, the league that until the last couple of years had completely lost me with its picayune "No Fun League" rules about sock length and end zone celebrations and whatnot.

    Even in these last few years, when the NFL has won me back with its parity and its level of play, I've stayed away in August, when it runs the biggest rip-off in sports, a seemingly endless slate of exhibition games -- the league wants us to call them "preseason games" -- that teams force their season-ticket holders to pay full price for.

    And here I am salivating for Monday's Hall of Fame Game, featuring the third and fourth strings of the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears. I hate exhibition football, but I may tune in to watch a few plays just because I'm jonesing to see an incomplete pass or two.

    So I stocked up on preseason annuals and I've been obsessively reading them for a week or two now. The big news for 2005, if you don't know already, is the growing popularity of the 3-4 defense.

    Because I hate to do anything that takes up my time and doesn't end up in the column, I'll tell you that my favorite is the book "Pro Football Prospectus 2005," a title that's appeared before but has now been taken over by the writers of FootballOutsiders.com.

    I've written before about how much I like the innovative statistical work these guys do, and the book even features a back-cover blurb by me, which says, "A must for anyone interested in going beyond 'this guy has more yards, so he must be better.'" I'll stand by that.

    I also bought four magazine-style annuals: "Pro Football Weekly NFL Preview 2005"; "Sporting News Pro Football 2005"; "Lindy's 2005 Pro Football"; and "Athlon Sports Pro Football: 2005 NFL Preview Edition."

    My favorite of these is the Athlon Sports book. That's because it has a four-page photo spread of outrageously hot cheerleader babes.

    OK, that's not true. I just need the page views, and besides, Lindy's has a seven-page spread. The real reason is that Athlon comes clean about its mistakes from past years. Most annuals confidently predict what's going to happen this year and only remind you of past predictions that come true.

    If you make enough predictions, folks, some of them are bound to be right. Even I get one right once in a while. I picked the Lions to win the game that ended their three-year road losing streak.

    But it's pretty fun to read the little box in each team's Athlon write-up called "2004 Revisited," which features a good prediction and a bad one, labeled "The Prophecy" and "The Lie."

    A couple of sample 2004 "Lies": "Patient Chargers fans are likely in for more misery after suffering through last season's wretched 4-12 campaign" and "Despite all the changes on offense, the 49ers can be competitive this season." The Chargers went 12-4, won the AFC West and kicked away a playoff game they should have won. The 49ers went 2-14 and lost five games by at least two touchdowns.

    I also like the Pro Football Weekly annual, which has a lot of good front-of-the-book material, though all of the annuals have too much fantasy stuff for my taste. PFW is heavy on the scout-speak, if you like that sort of thing, and has the most detailed position-by-position analysis of each team and a good stats section.

    The Sporting News book is, like the Sporting News, solid in an unexceptional way, with lots of little features that look like they were dreamed up by a consultant, like a box for each team labeled "Nickel Package: 5 Things to Look For," as though there were exactly five things to look for with every team.

    I'm having trouble with Lindy's because the typography is so awful I can't read it for more than a minute or two at a time, but I did manage to learn that first-year Titans cheerleader Kimberly rides Tennessee walking horses, which I hadn't known before.

    Previous column: NBA megatrade

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