ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Matt Millen knows that you think he is going to screw up the Detroit Lions' draft this weekend.
"Hey, I'm responsible, I understand that," he said Wednesday with a defense mechanism laugh and "what's-done-is-done" shrug of the shoulders.
You can say Millen is the most clueless executive in sports, but he certainly has a clue how he is perceived around the country and, at this point, seems to figure that since there isn't an explanation that would change any minds, why bother?
Of course, what else can he say?
It's not like he hasn't botched the second-overall pick during the NFL draft before – in 2003, wide receiver Charles Rogers (already out of the league).
He might trade down, but he didn't have luck with the third overall pick in 2002 (quarterback Joey Harrington, already on his third team). And, of course, there was the 10th overall pick in 2005 (wide receiver Mike Williams, already non-productive for the Lions).
Then there are the innumerable mid- and late-round picks who have generally produced little.
"The majority of our team are those guys," Millen said.
That helps explain the 3-13 record last season. Talk about your mock draft.
Millen took over a 9-7 team in 2000 and has proceeded to win a league-worst 24 games since. That's an average of four victories a season. Four!
He's failed at picking players, signing players and hiring coaches. In addition, he's had terrible luck.
On the bright side at least he is consistent.
There can't be an executive in all of sports more despised by his fan base and yet Millen keeps on smiling.
They've chanted "Fire Millen" at not just every Lions game, but any game featuring any Detroit team (Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers). Even road games. It's a special accomplishment to have a "Fire Millen" sign appear at the World Series … in St. Louis.
The media here have been appropriately ruthless; the newspapers apoplectic; talk radio nuclear. WDFN sports radio alone has sponsored anti-Millen billboards, a "Millen Man" protest march, a fan walk-out and one game where everyone was supposed to wear the opposing team's colors.
None of it has convinced Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr. to fire Millen.
"I don't know how it is in other parts of the country," Millen smiled, "but this is not a very critical [city]. Not one critical word."
And so this is what Millen is left with, deflective humor. Who knows, at this point, maybe it will work. Say whatever you want about the guy, but he is still standing here trying to explain himself, still graciously smiling, cracking self-deprecating jokes and talking positive in the face of widespread scorn.
"Write what you want, that is your job," he offered. "That doesn't bother me."
He's a fascinating case study if only because as a player he was an unqualified success: an All-American linebacker at Penn State, a four-time Super Bowl champion in the NFL. He was even a well-regarded Fox broadcaster until, despite having no experience, he was given the presidency of the Lions.
It was called "out-of-the-box" thinking at the time. Turned out the box was a coffin.
So a guy who only knew success has suddenly only seen failure. Maybe that's why despite not needing the money or, certainly, the aggravation, he's still doing this rather than a cushy broadcast gig. He has something to prove.
You'd cut the 49-year-old some slack but he hasn't just been bad at this job, he's been historically awful.
Consider that not once under Millen have the Lions ranked in the top half of the NFL in either offense or defense. Only once has either cracked the top 20 – the defense got to 18th in 2004, when the Lions won six whole games.
Around here, those are called the glory days.
It's not just the losses either, it's the buffoonery.
The Lions once had some players file a union grievance for having to practice too hard. They once lost a game after winning the overtime coin flip yet inexplicably choosing to kick. Millen himself got caught shouting a homophobic slur and on a radio show once questioned a player's toughness by asking "where are your testicles?"
Presumably he didn't ask that of an assistant coach who got arrested last year after going through a Wendy's drive-thru naked.
Only one person, Mr. Ford, knows how or why Millen is still employed. There is the off-chance Millen possesses some kind of Jedi mind trick that fools aging billionaires into employing him in the face of all rational thinking.
If so, he is going to make a mint teaching that on late-night infomercials. Of course, he'd have to leave the Lions first. You think you're here for years to come, Millen was asked?
"Decades," he laughed. "I like to say decades."
You'd call it gallows humor, but it might be true.
Of course, the draft is really Millen's big day. For the sixth consecutive year, he picks in the top 10. Hey, there is no substitute for experience.
This year the debate is whether Millen takes his fourth franchise wide receiver in five drafts or his second franchise quarterback in six drafts. Or if he trades down to "acquire assets" which opens Saturday up to even additional potential comedy.
Needless to say, half the league is tripping over their helmet phone to try to con Millen in some deal (the Jets offered the Brooklyn Bridge).
Of course, he could go with his signature: the predictably unpredictable move.
Whatever, he vows not to consider past disasters in present decisions, swears he and his staff have been working night and day prepping and believes this is still going to work out.
As for the critics, he says snipe away. After all, he's still here, still calling the shots.
"I took this job with my eyes wide open, I know what goes on," he said. "Hey, put a target on me and start firing. [I] don't live in a vacuum. I understand it. The only way to get rid of it is to win."
Hey, now there's a plan. Maybe with the second pick they'll take a new GM.
- Matt Millen