There's no blueprint for running a football team, Millen mused, as he sat at his Silverdome desk at dawn on a June morning—and nobody ever told him that he'd have to read up on the federal law on maternity leave. That's how this day started, with a meeting to determine how to restructure the community-relations job of Kim Doverspike, who is dividing her duties between home and office to accommodate the recent birth of her son. "I'm concerned with every employee because every employee touches this team," Millen says. "Everyone matters." That's a recurring theme with Millen. He's an autocrat with a democratic sensibility.
Millen's initial personnel moves were uninspiring. After firing coach Gary Moeller, Millen replaced him with Marty Mornhinweg, who had previously labored as an assistant deep in the shadows of Holmgren in Green Bay and Steve Mariucci in San Francisco. Millen loves Mornhinweg's football mind, his variation of the West Coast offense and his ability to deal with change in this era of extensive player movement. Millen impressed no one with his veteran free-agent pickups—Stai, cornerback Todd Lyght, tight end Pete Mitchell, utility back Amp Lee and backup quarterback Jim Harbaugh. On the other hand, the combined 2001 cap value of those five players ($3.95 million) is about the same as what the Lions would have had to pay next season to retain free-agent guard Jeff Hartings, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "We'll plug Stai in for Hartings," says Millen, "and not lose much."
After dealing with the maternity issue, Millen turned his attention to the team's need for a third wide receiver. He wanted Jerry Rice, who was about to be released by San Francisco, because Millen felt the veteran's work ethic would rub off on starting wideouts Germane Crowell and Johnnie Morton. If he couldn't get Rice, Millen would have to persuade Herman Moore, the club's alltime leading receiver but a player who was hurt much of the past two years, to rework Moore's contract. Shortly before 11 o'clock, Rice's agent, Jim Steiner, called to say Rice had decided to stay in the West. "I'm sorry," says Steiner. "It's down to Seat-de or Oakland. The trek to Detroit would have just been too much."
Millen was chagrined. Now he'd have to deal with Moore, who had already balked at Millen's request that he take a salary cut from $3.3 million to $1 million. Millen would have to raise the offer, but by how much? He convened a meeting of his personnel brain trust—Lewand, Mornhinweg, Warren, executive vice president of player personnel Bill Tobin and pro scouts Charlie Sanders and Sheldon White—in the conference room adjacent to his office. Millen has emulated Ron Wolf, the Green Bay Packers' highly successful general manager who retired recently. "Listen to what the people around you think," Wolf told him. "You already know what you think." Millen told the others about losing out on Rice, and they discussed the pros and cons of increasing the offer to Moore.
"What's your gut tell you?" Warren asked.
"Let's move just enough to let him win publicly," Millen said. "Start at a buck-two and see if we can get it done."
The new offer—$1.2 million—wasn't enough. Later in the day Millen authorized a bump to $1.5 million, which pushed Moore's cap value for 2001, including the prorated signing bonus left from his old contract, to $3.2 million. That was too steep for Millen's liking, but, he rationalized, Mornhinweg will use three wideouts on more than half of Detroit's snaps. What's more, the offense wouldn't be as effective with journeyman Brian Stablein as the third wide-out, instead of a healthy Moore, who can still put up big numbers.
Rice was the third impact player Millen had failed to lure to or acquire for Detroit; Barry Sanders, the Lions' retired all time leading rusher, and Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck were the other two. One winter day Millen and Mornhinweg knocked on Sanders's door in Rochester Hills, Mich., to find out if he had any interest in returning to the game after a two-season layoff. Millen asked the 33-year-old Sanders if he liked the multipurpose role—running back, slotback, wideout—played by the St. Louis Rams' Marshall Faulk. "Love it," Sanders replied. Millen challenged Sanders to play that role with the Lions. Sanders liked the idea, but not enough to come out of retirement.
As for Hasselbeck, a source close to the Seahawks' front office says Millen tried to acquire him before the April 21 draft in a three-way deal that would have sent a high draft choice from Detroit to Jacksonville, with Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell going to Seattle and Hasselbeck, whom the Seahawks had gotten from the Packers in March, moving to the Lions. "How can I make this work?" Millen asked the Seahawks, according to the source. "I want Matt Hasselbeck." Holmgren, though, would not part with his former Green Bay prot�g�, and Detroit will stick with the cap-heavy and injury-prone Batch.
The next order of business in the personnel meeting was a discussion about free-agent defensive lineman Alonzo Spellman. The raised eyebrows around the room when his name came up indicated that this subject had already been discussed. In 1992 Tobin had drafted Spellman for Chicago, and Tobin's brother, Vince, now the Lions' defensive coordinator, had coached him there. Further, Detroit defensive line coach Bill Young had worked with Spellman as an assistant at Ohio State. Spellman, however, was found to be suffering from bipolar disorder after barricading himself in his home in 1998. With the help of medication over the past two years, Spellman played well in a tackle rotation for the Dallas Cowboys, and Dallas wanted to re-sign him for the NFL veteran minimum of $477,000. Bill Tobin, Spellman's champion in this room, wanted the Lions to sign him for a little above the minimum. Millen has great respect for the 60-year-old Tobin, but the older, more experienced man was swimming upstream on this one.