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Last dance in Motown

Millen has one more chance to save job with Lions

Posted: Wednesday September 6, 2006 12:12PM; Updated: Thursday September 7, 2006 2:02PM
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Matt Millen (right) aparrently still stands in good graces with Lions owner William Clay Ford (left).
Matt Millen (right) aparrently still stands in good graces with Lions owner William Clay Ford (left).
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

I recently had a brief conversation about the culture of the Detroit Lions with New York Giants cornerback R.W. McQuarters, who started 11 games for Detroit last season. He basically said the players lacked unity, the team lacked direction and the organization had no clue how to succeed. "They were just missing something," McQuarters said before casually strolling out of the Giants Stadium locker room.

The only thing that didn't surprise me about McQuarters' reply was that he didn't directly identify what they're missing: primarily, somebody who knows what he's doing at the top of the organization. It's been five years since Lions president and chief executive officer Matt Millen assumed control, and all he has to show for that tenure is a 21-59 record (the worst mark in the NFL during that time), two fired coaches and one local rally led by frustrated fans eager to see his employment terminated. It's that track record that puts Millen on the hottest seat of any general manager running a team this season.

A team source recently said that Millen is caught in a growing power struggle within the organization, with owner William Clay Ford Sr. being the only person of power who still backs Millen. Ford has been devoutly loyal to some of the most undeserving employees in the past, and he's been willing to stick with Millen far too long (as proven by the five-year extension he bestowed upon Millen at the start of last season). However, Ford's son, Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., doesn't agree with his father.

This same team source says that Ford Jr. is very close to Lions executive vice president and chief operating officer Tom Lewand and that there's a growing feeling around team headquarters that Ford Jr. wants Lewand running the team in the near future. It's already clear that Millen's responsibilities don't stretch beyond player personnel moves; Lewand handles the team's day-to-day business and has guided the development of the team's only real achievement this century, the building of Ford Field. Supposedly, most upper-management types already believe that Lewand's star has risen as Millen's has faded within the organization.

This is why this season is so important to Millen. If the team falls apart in the same way it has during every year of his tenure, his bosses already have a perfect candidate lined up to take his job. Add the fact that Bill Ford Jr. recently stepped down from his post as CEO of Ford Motor Company and presumably will be more involved in the daily operation of the Lions, and you can see where this is going. If you know Millen's history with the team, you know he must be sweating about how this season will play out. Lewand could easily become the Lions CEO while the Fords find a general manager to make football decisions.