An Outsider

Matt Millen in happier (?) times

Remember Matt Millen?

If you’re a Detroit Lions fan you do. It was before my time, but the record shows the Detroit Lions were great in the 1950s. a 68–120 record (56.7% winning percentage). Championship teams in 1952, 1953, and 1957.

Over the next few decades it’s generous to say they started a descent to the bottom of the league. They never sniffed a Championship, and have only one playoff victory since. Their records and winning percentages by decade:

1960–69: 76–152 (50.0%)

1970–79: 83–176 (47.2%)

1980–89: 79–184 (42.9%)

1990–99: 79–160 (49.4%)

In 2000 the team had ended the season 9–7, but missed the playoffs on a missed field goal. In 2001, the Detroit Lions owner at the time, William Clay Ford, hired an outsider to run the franchise. Feeling the need for a major change, he plucked Matt Millen from the broadcast booth and named him President and CEO of the franchise. Millen had never held any post in football operations at any level, but was regarded in many circles as extremely knowledgeable about the players, teams and game.

During Millen’s seven-year tenure as President and CEO of the Detroit Lions he compiled a 31–84 record (27% winning percentage). including the first and still only 0–16 record ever recorded in professional football.

This history lesson is worth mentioning in the context of the recent Chicago Cubs World Series win, five years after they lured General Manager Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox, where he had won two World Series titles previously after working his way up the baseball operations ladder with several MLB teams.

When William Clay Ford was staring at a slow 50-year decline, I’m sure it made sense to pull the trigger on an outsider at the top. As Detroit Lions fans, the lesson we all learned from the dark years of 2001–2008 is even when things look bad, it’s still possible to make them worse. For me, watching the Cubs win the World Series was a harsh reminder of that fact. And it’s a lesson that will be on my mind in the days and weeks to come.