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New regime

Millen keeps Moeller, talks about Sanders' future

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Posted: Tuesday January 09, 2001 7:23 PM
Updated: Tuesday January 09, 2001 11:48 PM

  Matt Millen Millen's hiring may bring some much-needed stability to a franchise that has lacked a true GM since 1989. AP

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- Matt Millen moved from the field to the TV booth to the executive suite. And now, as president and CEO of the Detroit Lions, he plans to keep head coach Gary Moeller and is talking to Barry Sanders about a comeback.

"We've been ... pretty much stuck on dead center for quite a few years," team owner William Clay Ford said Tuesday. "Matt offers us an opportunity to move ahead."

Millen agreed to a five-year, $15 million contract. He will have complete control over all football operations.

The team hasn't had a general manager since Russ Thomas left in 1989. The Lions have allowed their coaches -- Wayne Fontes, Bobby Ross and Moeller -- to run the football operation since Thomas resigned.

Detroit has not won a championship since 1957, and has won just one playoff game since.

New Lions CEO opens door for Sanders to return
PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- Matt Millen did what Bobby Ross couldn't.

Millen, the Detroit Lions president and CEO, talked to Barry Sanders last weekend to see if the former star running back is interested in coming out of retirement.

But Ross was never able to actually talk to Sanders.

"If there's a spark there, let's talk about it," Millen said he told Sanders. "If not, I'll pat you on the back because there's always a place for you in the Lions' organization."

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    In one of his first orders of business, Millen said he spoke with Sanders last weekend. Sanders retired from the Lions in 1999 second on the NFL career rushing list.

    "I had a great conversation with him, and we're going to talk again. ... If Barry Sanders would like to play, you would want to explore that," Millen said.

    Sanders' agent David Ware said Tuesday that he hasn't spoken to Sanders, but said his client hasn't ruled out anything.

    Millen said he would meet with Moeller on Tuesday night, adding, "Right now, hey, Mo's the coach."

    Change has been a constant companion of the Lions over the last few months.

    Chuck Schmidt, executive vice president and a 25-year employee of the team, resigned Tuesday.

    The Lions fired their offensive and defensive coordinators along with their receivers coach after being eliminated from the playoffs with a loss to Chicago at home in the regular-season finale.

    Bobby Ross resigned midway through the season and was replaced by Moeller, a former coach at Michigan. The Lions finished 9-7 after losing three of their last four games.

     
    Lions VP Schmidt resigns in wake of Millen hiring
    PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- Chuck Schmidt, executive vice president of the Detroit Lions and a 25-year employee of the team, resigned Tuesday, a day after the hiring of Matt Millen.

    Schmidt succeeded Russ Thomas in 1989 as the team's top operations officer, although he wasn't considered a general manager.

    The Lions have allowed their coaches -- Wayne Fontes, Bobby Ross and Gary Moeller -- to run the football operation since Thomas resigned as GM.

    "I would like to acknowledge the love and tremendous support given by the fans to the Detroit Lions. ... You deserve a Super Bowl champion. Keep the faith. I will be cheering with you," Schmidt said in a statement released by the team.

    Millen, a former NFL linebacker and TV commentator, was hired on Monday. The Lions said Tuesday he would be their new president and chief executive officer. 
     

    The future of Detroit's remaining assistant coaches and front-office executives is unclear.

    "I can't tell you what I don't know," Millen said.

    Cornerback Bryant Westbrook is excited about the addition of Millen.

    "I think it's going to be a great addition to our organization," Westbrook said. "I think this shows that the Fords are dedicating to winning. Hopefully this will get us closer to getting to the Super Bowl."

    Westbrook hopes Moeller continues as head coach.

    "I think that would be the best for us," Westbrook said. "I think he's what we need. The veterans and the younger guys are comfortable with him because he loves football so much -- it's in his veins."

    The organization was interested in hiring Millen two years ago, but he asked to be removed from consideration.

    "I'm willing to stake my reputation on Matt's success," said William Clay Ford Jr., the team's vice chairman.

    While it was the younger Ford who contacted Millen two years ago, this time it was his father who initiated the contact a few days after the Lions' loss to the Bears.

    "They've installed their faith in me, and I'll make them a promise ... I'll give them everything I got," Millen said. "I'm all about work.

    "I'm a football player. I'm a football person. That's what I know. Some people say it's shallow, but that's what I'm all about."

    The 42-year-old Millen has been an NFL analyst for Fox Sports since 1994 and worked for CBS the two previous years. He also is the No. 1 analyst for CBS Radio Sports' NFL broadcasts.

    Millen's duties with CBS Radio will be completed after broadcasting Sunday's NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. His last assignment for Fox Sports was the New Orleans-Minnesota game Saturday.

    The Hokendauqua, Pa., native said his experience as a broadcaster prepared him for his job with the Lions because he would talk to coaches and players all over the league while also viewing practices and watching film to prepare for each game.

    "It became a living encyclopedia," Millen said.

    The former Penn State standout was an NFL linebacker from 1980-91 with the Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins. He went to the Super Bowl four times.

    Millen said he will be able to take something from each place he played to help the Lions win.


     
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