It's easy to forget that before he presided over the worst eight-year stretch of any NFL team since the 1940s, former Lions president and CEO Matt Millen was thought of as a pretty astute football guy. As a fast-talking, no-holds-barred analyst with CBS and Fox from 1992 through 2000, the former linebacker (and the only player to win four Super Bowls with three teams) was lauded for his sense of humor, knowledge and passion for the game. Millen was equally well-versed in offensive line play and defensive coverage schemes, and seemingly so destined for stardom that some around the Fox network offices called him Baby Madden. Says NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, who worked with Millen at Fox, "He was the second-best announcer in football in the opinion of a lot of people."
Millen, who was fired by the Lions three weeks into their winless 2008 season, reappeared as a guest studio analyst on NBC's postseason coverage last winter. He has since been hired by ESPN as a college football analyst (his first game is Georgia at Oklahoma State on Sept. 5) and will also contribute to the network's NFL coverage. And beginning in November, Millen will be the lead analyst for the NFL Network's eight Thursday-night games, replacing Collinsworth, who took the place of the retired John Madden on NBC's Sunday Night Football. "Hopefully I can find my way and fit into the evolution of where things are right now," said Millen.
Will Millen's disastrous tenure with the Lions (they are 31--97 since 2001) undercut his credibility? He will have to win over a new generation of viewers—especially in Detroit—who know him only as a bumbling executive. "It will be my job to change that opinion based on what they are viewing and what they are hearing," said Millen, who is not scheduled to broadcast the Lions this season. Had he not left for the Detroit job, Millen likely would have ascended to a No. 1 NFL analyst job, but he refuses to look back. "That's not the way I am made," Millen said. "What's done, you can't do anything about. All you can do is deal with what is in front of you. It's about starting over, and I'm O.K. starting over."