By: Will Burchfield
Matt Millen's eight-year run as president/CEO of the Lions was an unremitting nightmare.
And never were things darker than in the 2008 season, when Detroit became the only team in NFL history to finish 0-16. Millen was actually fired three games into that winless campaign, but says he wasn't spared the pain.
"It was brutal because you may not be there physically, but you're still there mentally," Millen told FoxSports.com on Monday. "You have a tie to the players, you have a tie to the coaching staff, you work intimately all season long, and you're on the same page. So you know where the arguments were and you know where the agreements were and where the problems were going to be."
In looking back, Millen acknowledged the '08 Lions had some flaws. But he also pointed to a couple areas that he'd envisioned as strengths before the season began.
"We didn't have great depth," he said. "You're trying to solidify something, so we have at least a strength, and in the process of trying to solidify one area, you're weak in others. So our defense should have been solid, we had some receivers that should be able to play. But you've got to have depth and you have to have a quarterback."
The Lions' defense allowed the most points and the most yards in the league. It was anything but "solid."
Their wide-outs, in Millen's defense, fared a little bit better. They finished 21st in receiving yards and 19th in touchdowns. A large portion of that production, of course, belonged to a young Calvin Johnson.
Millen took over as team president in 2001, after the Lions had gone 36-44 in the five seasons prior. The losing only grew worse under his watch. The Lions stumbled to a 5-27 record in Millen's first two seasons and were 31-84 over the course of his tenure.
This extended futility stood in start contrast to Millen's career as a player, during which the former linebacker won four Super Bowls.
"It was foreign to me. I don't think like that," he said. "I don't think, 'Woe is me, here we go again.' That's not my mindset. My mindset is, 'Look, at the very least, we're fighting. And I will win a fight.'"
Millen serves as an NFL analyst for FOX nowadays. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), he's part of the broadcast team for this weekend's game between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns. The 0-11 Cleveland Browns.
Millen knows what that downtrodden team is going through.
"The assumption from a fan point of view is, 'Oh, the Browns stink, they can't win,'" he said. "And when you say that, and it's a blanket statement, the assumption within that statement is that they don't have any good players. But that's false, because there are some good players on that team. They just haven't found their rhythm, they haven't been consistent enough.
"And you can say, 'Oh, the coach stinks,' or whatever, too, because that's what you do when you're frustrated and you start lashing out -- because it has to be somebody's fault. But the truth of the matter is what they're trying to do is what's best for their personnel."
Perhaps the lone bright spot during Millen's tenure as Lions' president was the team's 6-2 start in 2007. From there, they lost seven of their last eight games and finished last in the NFC North.
"We had an opportunity to win a lot of those games," Millen said of the Lions' 1-7 free-fall. "The league is so close, and the margins for winning and losing are so small that you just have to find a way to win. But when you get on these slides, you find ways to lose.
"Once it starts going downhill, it's hard to stop. It's like it gets its own kind of momentum, and you start to believe it after a while. And it takes a mentally strong person to get out of it."
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