Lions Oust Millen
UPDATED (5:53 p.m.)... The Detroit Lions have announced the ouster of Matt Millen as the team's president and chief executive officer.
Lions owner William Clay Ford said in a written statement released by the club that he has "relieved Matt Millen of his duties effective immediately."
It had been unclear earlier in the day whether Millen had been fired or had resigned. The Lions did not use the term fired and did not release details about any financial arrangements that might have been made.
"I believe that this decision is in the best interest of this organization," Ford said in the written statement. "I appreciate Matt's efforts. Matt worked tirelessly during his tenure to win, and he would be the first one to tell you that you have to win in this league. It just didn't work out.
"The support of our fans continues to be incredible and they deserve a winner. Every decision we make must focus on that goal, and I believe this decision today will allow this team to move forward in a positive manner.
"I am very disappointed with where we are as a team after our start this season. Our sole focus now is preparing for our next game against Chicago. The entire organization must work together and do whatever we can to make this a successful season. Despite our record, it is still early and there is time to turn this season around.
"These decisions are for the duration of the 2008 season. Once the season is over, we will undergo a thorough and comprehensive evaluation of our entire football operation and put together a plan that we believe will transform this team into a winner."
The Lions announced that Tom Lewand, the team's executive vice president and chief operating officer, will now report directly to Ford on business, organizational and NFL matters. The club promoted Martin Mayhew to general manager from assistant GM and named Cedric Saunders its vice president of football operations. Saunders had been the team's director of football operations.
The decision about Millen was made during a meeting late Tuesday, according to reports by several media outlets.
Ford had been supportive of Millen throughout his unsuccessful tenure but son Bill Ford Jr., the team's vice chairman, said in recent days that he would fire Millen if he had the authority to do so. Ford also told reporters he thought Millen should resign.
"I think the fans deserve better and if it were in my authority, which it's not, I'd make some significant changes," the younger Ford said Monday.
Asked then if he believed Millen should leave the team, Ford said: "Yes, I do."
The Lions are off to an 0-3 start this season and had a record of 31-84 under Millen, the league's worst mark over that span.
The former NFL player and broadcaster was hired in 2001 to oversee the Lions' front office.
The Lions had a record of 9-7 in 2000, the season before they hired Millen. After hiring him, they went 2-14 in 2001, 3-13 in 2002, 5-11 in 2003, 6-10 in 2004, 5-11 in 2005, 3-13 in 2006 and 7-9 last season. The Lions began last season with six wins in eight games but lost seven of their final eight games to miss the playoffs.
Millen hired three head coaches--Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci and Rod Marinelli--plus 2005 interim coach Dick Jauron. Millen was fined $200,000 by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 2003 for violating the league rule requiring him to interview at least one minority candidate before he hired Mariucci. The Lions said they'd tried but failed to interview minority candidates who refused to take what they regarded as a token interview because Mariucci was considered a lock to get the job.
Failed draft picks contributed heavily to the Lions' lack of success under Millen. Their first-round selections that went awry included choosing quarterback Joey Harrington third overall in 2002, wide receiver Charles Rogers second overall in 2003, tailback Kevin Jones 30th overall in 2004 and wideout Mike Williams 10th overall in 2005. None of those players became a standout and none remains with the team.
Fans and media commentators regularly called for Millen's ouster--saying that few, if any, other front office decision-makers league-wide had gotten so many chances to turn around a club's fortunes in recent memory--but the team's ownership backed him until this week's comments by Ford.
Millen, 50, was much more successful in his previous roles as a player and broadcaster. He won four Super Bowls with three different teams--the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins--during a 12-year NFL playing career as a linebacker. His broadcasting career included stints with CBS and Fox, and an industry source said today it's likely that Millen would be intensely pursued by the networks if he decides to return to television work.
The Lions have a bye this week. They've been outscored, 113-59, in their three games this season.
Millen's ouster leaves Marinelli with little job security. He has a record of 10-25 since being hired in 2006.
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