Does Mayhew = Millen?

By PFC Writer G. Mallory Jr

For nearly a decade, the Detroit Lions have been mired in ineptitude. Fans would do anything to relive the moments they shared with mediocre Lion teams of the 90’s. But when things seemed as though they couldn’t get worse, enter the 2008 season. A promising 4-0 preseason record turned into one of the worst regular seasons in professional sports history.  Going winless in a 16 game season makes the abysmal teams of the past few years look like Super Bowl contenders. Everything on the field that could go wrong did.

On the surface, one would think nothing good could possibly come out of such a season but many fans rejoiced at seeing their beloved team falter as it did. Their reasoning was only a season such as this would call for changes that they have wanted for so long. Many of their dreams were answered on September 24, 2008 when one of the biggest culprits of the Lions demise; Matt Millen, was relieved of his duties as General Manager.

This vacancy left many with hope that this team would clean house from a front office standpoint. Names of Matt Millen’s replacement were notable to say the least. Names included as possible successors all had years of NFL experience and success: Floyd Reese, Bill Parcells, Scott Pioli, and Brian Billick to name a few. So on December 29th when Martin Mayhew; the former assistant General Manager to Matt Millen and acting General Manager after Millen’s release, was name permanent GM, many fans and media alike were dissatisfied with the move. “How could a guy so closely associated with this dreadful regime be rewarded with more responsibility”, many wondered. But before we coin Martin Mayhew as “Matt Millen 2.0”, lets consider a few reasons why he may be successful as General Manager.

Working under someone in the NFL doesn’t mean you will garnish the same results as they did. Look no further than the winning machine known as the New England Patriots. Coach Bill Belichick is a 3-time Super Bowl winner and has amassed a hall of fame resume’. It would seem as though any who has learned under his tutelage would flourish once they were given more responsibilities. This has not been the case. I give you exhibit A: Charlie Weis. As Offensive Coordinator of the New England Patriots he helped sculpt Tom Brady into the All Pro quarterback we see today. Unfortunately, this success did not carry over when Weis became head coach at Notre Dame. His first two seasons were a very Patroit-esque.

Notre Dame finished 19-4 in the regular season despite losing both season’s bowl games. Quarterback Brady Quinn was a stabilizing force behind the Fighting Irish. Charlie Weis did not recruit Brady Quinn, former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham did. The past two seasons with  teams that had Weis’  recruits in prominent roles has saw him go 10-15  despite having the highly recruited Jimmy Clausen at quarterback. Former New England Patriots Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel has suffered even worse than Charlie Weis since his departure from Belicheck. His stint as Cleveland Browns head coach was rocky at best as he finished with a record of 24-40 before being fired. As we can see, sometimes the apple does fall far from the tree. Maybe this will be the case with Mayhew.

There is also a strong possibility that Martin Mayhew was not in agreement with many of the moves made by Matt Millen. The best teams in football build from within, via the draft. The Colts, Steelers, and Patriots are just a few of the teams who have consistently drafted well and have been winning franchises this decade. Conversely, teams who draft poorly end up in the cellar of their division most years. Matt Millen is infamous for horrible drafting (remember his love for 1st round wide receivers).

During Mayhew’s first press conference as General Manager he mentioned how in the draft “war room” they would always have a pool of 3 to 4 players they would want at there draft position. He mentioned how in 2005 when the Lions drafted Mike Williams (who is no longer in the NFL) they also had DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman as potential picks as well. Was Mayhew in favor of drafting one of these All Pro players instead? It’s hopeful to think so but we will never know. However, a more telling sign of how Mayhew seems to differ in philosophy with Millen was found in that same press conference. He mentioned the importance of keeping quality players (specifically mentioning Dre’ Bly and Shaun Rogers) on your team even if they don’t fit your team’s schematics. This is a stark contrast to Matt Millen’s philosophy as his preference seemed to be less with talent and more with players familiar with his teams scheme; specifically the Lions Cover 2 defense. This led to the signings of many players who at one time played in the Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s Cover 2 (also known as Tampa 2) defensive scheme. These players included Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith, Calvin Pearson, and Chuck Darby. They all may know the scheme, but seem to be past their years of effectiveness. Hopefully this is one of many contrasts between Mayhew and Millen.

So does Mayhew equal Millen? Well as much as those first two points seem to show they are different, those facets are intangible. The only way we will know is by what Mayhew actually does as GM. Mayhew did ask the media in his inaugural interview to judge him not on what he may or may not have done with Millen, but to judge him by what he does as General Manager. Thus far, he seems to be on the right track. Since Matt Millen’s release Mayhew has made 4 major moves. Three of those moves sit in the “The Jury is Still Out” category. Placing former starting quarterback Jon Kitna on IR may have seemed unfair to Jon but it showed the new direction the team was trying to go in. Jon Kitna is a great teammate but is decent at best as a player due to his tendency to throw interceptions, specifically late in games.

Signing Daunte Culpepper left some scratching their heads. Although placing Jon Kitna on IR and signing Culpepper seems like a lateral move to some, one must look closer. Kitna at his best vs. Culpepper at his is no contest. Culpepper may have seen his best days past but he still has some mobility and with his arm strength him and WR Calvin Johnson have potential to become a good deep ball combination. The signing of Jim Schwartz (former Defensive Coordinator of the Tennessee Titans) as the new Lions Head Coach is another yet to be determined move. Schwartz seems to have an intelligent football mind, which could reap good results. The one move that Mayhew has made that is widely praised is his trading of Roy Williams.

First Round draft picks is like gold bouillon in the NFL so receiving a 1st, 3rd, and 6th round pick for Roy Williams and a 7th round pick seems like a steal. Let’s not forget, this was the Lions second best receiver behind Calvin Johnson. Williams was also a free agent after this year and all points indicated he was going to bolt for another team aunless the Lions made him a franchise player. Franchising him would have made him one of the top paid Wide Receivers in the league which would have been a curious move. He has shown potential but has battled several injuries over the years and plays inconsistent at times. Williams finished the year with 36 catches, 430 yards, and 2 touchdowns. His numbers are sure to improve next year but as of now this trade seems like a steal for the Lions and may have landed Mayhew his GM status.

Mayhew has a long road ahead of him. Its one thing to build a house from scratch but it is even harder to remodel an abandoned house riddled with fire damage. The Lions are a fire laden abandoned house. Hopefully Martin Mayhew learned from the many mistakes Matt Millen made and will try to steer his tenure as GM in the other direction. Let’s take a wait and see approach on if he was a good hire or not. After all, what else can Lion’s fan do every January but wait.

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