- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

INDIANAPOLIS Matt Millen is not your typical executive. How many CEOs have their nameplates affixed to their office bathroom doors? How many organization presidents conduct interviews in their underwear? How many NFL general managers head-butt their players?
But it's not just the 43-year-old ex-linebacker turned broadcaster's behavior that's unusual. So is his background. The Baltimore Ravens' Ozzie Newsome who rose through the front office ranks is the only other former player who's in charge of an NFL team's football operations and isn't also its coach. However, 76-year-old Detroit Lions chairman William Clay Ford, whose franchise has won just one playoff game in his 37 seasons of ownership and is 70-78 since that 1991 postseason triumph, was fed up with mediocrity. So Ford is gambling that Millen is the right CEO/president/GM to restore the Lions' roar.
"Mr. Ford just got the best deal of his life," said former Lions defensive tackle Eric Williams, who started with Millen on the 1991 Redskins.
If Millen's record as a player is any indication, Williams is right. An All-American on powerful Penn
State teams in the late 1970s, Millen arrived in Oakland in 1980 and called the defensive signals on one of just four wild-card Super Bowl champions. Three years later, the Raiders won another title. Millen went to San Francisco as a Plan B free agent in 1989 and the 49ers repeated their championship. And in his final season, Millen started on the Washington Redskins' 1991 Super Bowl-winning team.
"I always felt like I could make my team better," Millen said Saturday in his Indianapolis hotel room before his Lions beat the Colts 27-26 in a preseason game across the street at the RCA Dome. "I would pull the guys together, pick somebody up when he needed that, put somebody in his place when he needed that. That's just people skills."
Millen has those in spades.
"Some people like their employees to be afraid of them, which stifles a sense of creativity and a sense of belonging," said Houston Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley, who held a similar position at Penn State and with the Redskins during Millen's tenures there. "Matt's totally the opposite. He's a people person. Matt understands that it's not the system or the plays that make the difference, it's getting the right people. If it comes down to Matt's ability to lead, he'll be as successful as anyone. "
Millen has always been a leader.
"My freshman year at Penn State, I got into an argument with one of our captains," Millen recalled. "I said, 'You're supposed to be a captain. Then lead!' I did the same thing my rookie year with the Raiders. Once I made a call and Ted [Hendricks, a veteran linebacker en route to the Hall of Fame] said it was wrong. I said, 'I don't give a [expletive]! If I make the wrong call, we all play the wrong call!' You can be wrong, but be wrong together. You can have the right call for the situation, but it can be wrong for the play they're running. But if you play together, you still have a chance."
Many NFL observers think Millen has a good chance to succeed despite having no coaching or scouting experience because of his passion for and knowledge of football and because during his pregame preparation as a broadcaster he made a point of getting to know equipment managers, trainers, strength coaches, receptionists and secretaries.
"Matt has been everywhere in the league, observing and picking up ideas from lots of different people," said Lions strength and conditioning coach Jason Arapoff, whom Millen hired from the Redskins. "Unlike a lot of broadcasters, Matt would go talk to people who really knew the players so he wouldn't just get the usual stuff from the position coaches."
Said San Diego GM John Butler, "Just being a player doesn't make you a GM, but Matt's such a student of the game and he has definite strong feelings on what he wants."
Millen, who was planning to return for a second season with the Redskins when CBS hired him in 1992, loved broadcasting, but he missed the emotions that only victory or defeat can provide. So he left Fox to accept Ford's offer even though his wife and three of their four children (the eldest is in college) remain at home in Pennsylvania.
"The best part of the job is that I'm in the game again," Millen said. "You don't make the plays, but you're responsible for the people doing it. For the last 10 years, I didn't affect anything. I talked into a microphone and walked away. You didn't win or lose. Now I can make a difference, try to build something and I win or lose.
"I love working out with the guys, showing them things," continued Millen, who recently backed off from that part of his leadership when he injured his back. "I jump in at practice and it feels good. One day I head-butted our rookie center, Dominic Raiola, in a screen drill and I got a knot in my forehead because I didn't have a helmet on."
A rare foolish move by Millen, who was schooled by such football legends as Joe Paterno, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs and John Madden.
"Eighty percent of the guys who play in this league know their position, but they don't know the game," Millen explained. "They know their assignment, but they don't know the big picture."
That's officially Millen's job now. He hired ex-49ers offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to coach the Lions, retooled the offensive line and signed aging cornerback Todd Lyght, but otherwise hasn't much changed a team that would've made the 2000 playoffs if it hadn't blown a 10-0 lead and lost its finale at home to lowly Chicago, 23-20.
"There's enough talent here," Millen said. "They whipped the [New York] Giants, who were in the Super Bowl. Why can't they play to that level every week? To me, a lot of that has to do with your mindset. Attitude makes a huge difference. The players are excited about some new ways of doing things, but they're still hoping that things are different. When they believe it, we have a chance."


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