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Millen good bet for Lions

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001


Amid the flurry of front-office and coaching changes last week, the most interesting move was Detroit's hiring of Fox television analyst Matt Millen.

Although the Lions have not made an official announcement, Millen confirmed the numerous reports during Fox's broadcast of the Saints-Vikings game. He'll be president and general manager.

If the requirements of the job are heart, passion, friendliness and knowledge of the game, Millen will be a huge success.

Still, the Lions situation seems pretty chaotic. Millen may want to release coach Gary Moeller, even though Moeller signed a three-year deal and fired his offensive and defensive coordinators and the receivers coach. If anyone can get things straightened out, it's Millen. Long considered one of the TV industry's brightest football analysts, Millen is expected to put his unique stamp on the Lions. He was considered for the position last season, but a deal could not be worked out because he wanted to replace then-coach Bobby Ross.

A former linebacker who owns four Super Bowl rings, Millen certainly knows the game. He also is exceptionally affable and should have few problems meshing with coaches, scouts and personnel directors.

What remains unproven is Millen's ability to assess talent. He may be good at it, but he has no track record.

There is one certainty. Millen will be guided by an unbridled passion for the game. Anyone who has talked football with Millen learns instantly that his love of the sport, rooted in the old-fashioned values, is immeasurable.

As a player and an analyst, Millen was on top of his game. And he equally was adept in a stint as an official during the Bucs-Patriots preseason game. It's a good bet he'll reach a similar pinnacle as the Lions chief.

CHANGES: Along with Detroit, 14 teams have gone through personnel or coaching changes since the season opened. Five of those teams will have new head coaches when the 2001 season begins, five will have a new defensive or offensive coordinator and at least three will have new general managers.

BUTLER SHOWS LOYALTY: As Green Bay's season began to wind down, safety LeRoy Butler talked openly about the need for free agent Darren Sharper to show a little loyalty to the team.

Now he is giving Sharper an example to follow. Knowing his value wasn't as high as it once was and hoping to finish his career in the NFL's smallest city, Butler decided he could live with a pay cut and got a restructured deal in record time.

The agreement pays Butler about $1.75-million in 2001 and $2.25-million in 2002. His existing contract, which has five years remaining, paid him about $2.7-million next season and $3.3-million in 2002. Basically, Butler agreed to accept about two-thirds of the $6-million he was due in 2001-02. His decision helps the Packers with their salary cap problems. His cap number would have been $3.7-million in 2001.

"I just feel very loyal to the organization," Butler said. 'They've always treated me with so much respect. I really feel like we can win next year. I just felt like it's the right thing to do."

JET AWAY: Jets center Kevin Mawae said he and his teammates were less than disappointed about Al Groh's decision to take the Virginia job.

"I don't think there is much heartache about Al leaving," Mawae said. "Guys aren't hurt that he's gone. For the most part, guys weren't happy. It's hard to play for a guy when you're not happy.

"Yeah, we were 6-1 at one point, but a lot of that was despite the fact that Al as the coach. That was the feeling on the team. He tried to micromanage and a lot of guys turned him off a long time ago."

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