OK, this isn’t going to be filled with wise cracks and sarcasm and zingers. Not today. We’ve gone beyond that point now.
It’s no longer cute, in my mind anyway, to make fun of the Lions. No longer cathartic to vent. There are different stages of grief, they say, and I believe there are also different stages of anger and disappointment. And, sooner or later, those emotions have to give way to a more “fix it” mentality.
That’s where we are today, folks.
I’m usually not one of those Chicken Littles who say a football season is over after three games, but I’m willing to make an exception this morning. But it’s not just that another football season has bitten the dust before we’ve made our way out of September; it’s that an entire organization has perished.
It’s not with any attempt to go for laughs or for me to pander just so you might agree with me, when I say that the Lions MUST start over. Completely over.
We’ve just lost another three years, for this should have been done way back after the 2005 season, when Steve Mariucci was canned and Dick Jauron finished out the year. That’s when the Lions should have done what they absolutely MUST do now. And by now I mean, preferrably before the team plays another football game.
There’s more time than you think, because the Lions are on a bye this Sunday. So there’s 13 days until the next game, when the Bears visit for what should be another slaughter at Ford Field.
In those thirteen days, the Lions should:
1. Fire Rod Marinelli
2. Fire Matt Millen
3. Fire the scouting department
4. Fire the pro personnel people
5. Fire them all, really, except for the nice ladies in the front office, like the receptionists, secretaries, and the like. No sense punishing them, after all.
Again, I’m not going for laughs here. I’m not trying to just be another pissed off guy who’s stirring the pot. I’m past that. I’m talking about rolling up the sleeves and getting this thing fixed.
The Lions turned in another soft serve performance at San Francisco yesterday. Perhaps you’ve heard about it. And Marinelli still wants to look at the film. He may as well check out the Zapruder footage of JFK’s assassination, and watch that every Monday — you know, to make sure that Kennedy is really dead.
I was thinking about this yesterday — actually, I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time — and this is what I came up with.
First, let me say that I don’t really see more than two winnable games on the Lions’ schedule. Again, not going for laughs. I figure they might put it together enough to beat someone (like the Bears or Vikings, or Washington) at home — but no more than twice. I don’t see them winning any of their remaining road games. The tilt in Indianapolis later this season might be the most ugly thing you’ll ever see on a football field. I’d say that no one under 18 be allowed to witness that, and only with one eye open at any given time. So far the Lions have let Matt Ryan (a rookie), Aaron Rodgers (practically a rookie), and J.T. O’Sullivan (another practical rookie — and a journeyman to boot) shred them. The thought of what Peyton Manning will do to them is chilling.
So we’re looking at another 2-14 debacle — and I truly hope it ends up that way, for my little plan to have a chance of working, or even being implemented.
A 2-14 disaster would HAVE to, you’d think, mean the end of Marinelli, if he lasts that long. But that’s just the tip of my iceberg.
I’m dying to see if 2-14 would finally prompt Bill Ford Sr. to give Millen the ziggy. It would be the ultimate litmus test, since Matt has been in Detroit, of Sr.’s sanity. I mean, even Darryl Rogers eventually got fired, you know.
This has to be treated like an expansion team. When I interviewed Jack McCloskey for the first time, eons ago (actually, in 1989), he told me that when he came to the Pistons in 1979, he treated the team exactly as he would an expansion team: with precious little talent, and with the mindset that this was a bottom-to-top rebuild. He even went so far as to offer his entire roster to the Lakers for Magic Johnson, but was rebuffed. But you got to give him props for trying.
The Lions are in the same situation as the 1979-80 Pistons, who went 16-66.
They have precious little talent. And it must be a bottom-to-top rebuild. Check that: in this case, it’s a top-to-bottom rebuild. And here’s how you do it.
1. Hire a senior member of the league to be an advisor. This person would be responsible for helping you find the Lions’ Jack McCloskey. This advisor is probably someone retired, but who is still close enough to the league to be worth confiding in. Someone like a Don Shula or a Ron Wolf. Bring this person on board and let him help you find the person needed in Step 2.
2. Scour the NFL for the best and brightest minds in the offices of teams like the Patriots, Cowboys, and Colts. There must be someone who’s apprenticed and is ready to run his own team. Think the Red Wings, and someone like Jimmy Nill. You don’t think he’s ready to be a GM in the NHL? And if you were a fan of a team like, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets, wouldn’t you be excited if the Jackets hired Nill as your new GM, knowing his pedigree?
So, find that person, steal him away as he waits for someone to retire, and make him the football czar in Detroit. It’s cool if he’s never been a GM before, as long as he comes from a winning organization and is ready to be weaned. How many people had ever heard of Jack McCloskey when the Pistons plucked him from the bench of the Indiana Pacers? But he was steeped in NBA and college hoops experience. It served him well here, if you recall.
Get this person in place no later than the second week of January.
3. The new czar must then hire a coach, and here’s where it’s different than with the search for the new GM: the new head coach MUST have been a head coach before, and preferrably with some degree of success. But beyond that, (because we don’t want another Mariucci) the due diligence must be done to ensure that the new coach has the patience and track record of working with rebuilds.
This new head coach will be the most important hire the new GM will make, so let’s get it right. Let’s make sure he’s not someone who inherited a winning situation (like Mooch) and who had a dubious degree of influence over keeping the winning going (like Mooch). This person must be special, for you’re looking for someone with experience AND the personality to work with, essentially, an expansion team. Names will come later; I haven’t gotten that far yet. Actually, I do have one: Tom Coughlin. It’s worth a phone call. (Coughlin was the first coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars).
4. The new GM and new coach will then need to blow up the scouting and personnel departments. Totally. If you need someone to push the plunger down after you’ve planted the dynamite, you’ll have 20,000 people in Allen Park within an hour.
Poor drafting has cost the Lions dearly, for how can you constantly finish so low in the standings, and consequently so high in the draft order, for nearly a decade and come away with so little in terms of football talent? Millen rightly has taken a lot of heat for this, but the scouts have been awful, too. No diamonds in the rough have been found by this group. They all must go. Every single one of them.
5. So now we have a new GM, a new coach, and a new scouting department. It’s a start.
Of course, you can’t do any of this without the cashiering of Marinelli AND Millen. I realize that. But that’s where 2-14 comes in. It just might be our ticket out of hell. I’m telling you, it might be the best 2-14 season you’ll ever go through, if we can put the Eno Plan into place.
But getting rid of Millen is essential, and I don’t mean for the obvious reason, which is his record since he’s been in Detroit.
There was a time, back in early 2001, when Matt Millen’s football world was his oyster. Shortly after his leap from the broadcast booth to the Lions’ front office, he could have had the pick of the litter. There would have been no shortage of smart, seasoned, respected football people who would have said, “Sure, Matt, I’ll come to Detroit. I’ll work with you for Mr. Ford and we’ll get this once-proud franchise back on the NFL map.” No shortage at all. And that’s not just my opinion — it also happens to be fact. Millen, at that time, was unblemished as an executive. He was a fresh face who had tons of NFL contacts from his years as a broadcaster and as a player. With Ford’s blessing, which I’m sure he would have had (not to mention the old man’s dough), Millen could have attracted some top drawer NFL people here. I’m talking major, MAJOR, high profile dudes. Easily.
Yet Millen, incredibly, didn’t seek out all that much help. He wanted to do it all on his own. So he picked his own coach, by himself, and he blew it, horribly. But he still could have minimized damage by surrounding himself with a sound draft team — again, grizzled NFL minds who were drafting players when Millen himself was still at Penn State. But he didn’t do it. Wanted to handle the draft himself.
Millen isn’t unblemished anymore. He’s not pristine, not a fresh face. He’s damaged goods now — poison to the Lions. You couldn’t pay any self-respecting, qualified individual to come here anymore, at any price. Not as long as Millen is here. No one wants to associate himself, and his distinguished career, with an eight-year loser like Matt Millen. Not for all the tea in China.
Again, not trying to be cute here — but you simply will not be able to attract the kinds of football minds that you need to Detroit unless Millen is gone. Not my opinion. Fact.
So with the Eno Plan, you’re back to where you were in 2001: a new, fresh face in the front office who has his fingers on the pulse of the NFL world — and with no baggage. No poison. Then you can attract a top notch coach, but only then.
OK, so we’ve done all that, but what about the players?
Well, certainly, you can’t get rid of an entire 53-man roster in one fell swoop, no matter how much you’d like to do just that. Once again, not trying to be funny here, but I don’t know that there are more than five or six players on the Lions’ current roster who could land jobs anywhere else in the NFL. The Lions are so devoid of playmakers on both sides of the ball, it’s almost mind boggling. Even the kick return game, which used to be a rare bright spot, is in the toilet. I could run kickoffs back better than Brandon Middleton. He’s awful. Again, not trying to be funny. But he’s awful.
So it would be up to the new GM and coach to re-tool the roster, obviously. And it wouldn’t happen overnight. I won’t mislead you: the Eno Plan promises two or three more years of painful rebuilding. No question about that. But I promise you it would be two or three years that would be well worth the pain.
If you think this is hogwash, just look around the league, at all the winning teams. All of them have risen from the ashes (yes, the Pats and the Cowboys and the Colts, for starters, were all bad at one point or another within the past ten years) because they’ve drafted well, shrewdly signed free agents, and even more shrewdly let some players walk. All those teams have established stability in their front office and have outstanding scouting people. Again, I implore you to look at the Red Wings and see how they do it. The Wings have been Stanley Cup contenders for about 13 years now. That’s amazing. But they haven’t done it with luck and smoke and mirrors. Far from it.
You’re going to hear a lot this week, and next, about “blowing it up” and the like. Sports talk radio won’t be pretty.
But now’s not the time for anger or frustration. It’s all wasted on this team. Rather, now’s the time for some clear-headed thinking and a search for a way out of this mess. Not the time for zingers or profanity-laced tirades. Save it. Trust me, you’ll be happier if you do. This season is shot. This administration, we can only hope, is on its last legs. I think that maybe the wheels are finally going to come completely off this time. Ford Senior will have to act this time. Believe it or not, the man does have his limits. It’s just that his tolerance for pain is greater than ours. And shame on you if you haven’t figured that one out by now.
I’m not kidding around here. I’m not going for cheap laughs or “amens” from the choir. This is simply what I think needs to be done. But to do it, the Lions need to find their Jack McCloskey. I believe he’s out there, somewhere.