Lions fire president Millen after 31-84 record

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- Matt Millen insisted he would stick with the tough job of turning the Detroit Lions into a winner instead of returning to the broadcast booth to make easy money. So the Lions got rid of him. Finally.

The Lions fired Millen seven-plus years after the acclaimed TV analyst and Super Bowl-winning linebacker took over as team president for one of the NFL's mediocre franchises and made it the worst.

"I have relieved Matt Millen of his duties effective immediately," Lions owner William Clay Ford said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Messages seeking comment were left on Millen's cell phone.

Millen's teams won a league-low 31 games since he took over in 2001, but his boss refused to get rid of him until now.

Bill Ford, son of the team owner, said Monday he would fire Millen if he had the authority.

Detroit was routed in each of its first three games this season, falling behind 21-0 twice and 21-3 once en route to lopsided losses going into its bye week.

"I am very disappointed with where we are as a team after our start this season," Ford added in his statement. "Our sole focus now is preparing for our next game against Chicago."

The 0-3 record dropped Millen to 31-84 overall, giving the Lions at least 10 more losses than any other NFL team since 2001, one of the worst stretches in league history. They gave up a league-high 25.3 points and ranked 30th with 18.3 points a game under Millen, according to STATS.

After winning just five games in his first two seasons, Millen bristled when a reporter told him some people were already predicting he would eventually walk away to get paid stress-free millions as a broadcaster again.

"Those people don't know me that well," Millen said in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. "I can't not finish something that I started. That bugs me. I've got to get this finished.

"This gray hair shows how much I care. Look at me. I look like Kris Kringle!"

The Lions' front office will now be led by executive vice president Tom Lewand, who will report to the owner on business issues, and new general manager Martin Mayhew, who will report to the owner on football matters.

"These decisions are for the duration of the 2008 season," Ford's statement said. "Once the season is over, we will undergo a thorough and comprehensive evaluation of our entire football operation and put together a plan that we believe will transform this team into a winner."

William Clay Ford also has been the target of criticism because since his first full season in 1964, the Lions have won only one playoff game. He has hired and retained people to lead the franchise, such as Russ Thomas and Millen, who weren't able to build a consistent winner.

In a rare interview late in the 2003 season, the owner said he hadn't considered firing Millen.

"I want him. I don't need any more reason than that," he said.

The tipping point might have been public comments made by the owner's son. Lions vice chairman Bill Ford said Millen should leave the team, and the Ford Motor Co. executive chairman said if he had the authority, he would make moves.

"I think the fans deserve better," Bill Ford told reporters. "And if it were in my authority, which it's not, I'd make some significant changes."

His father finally agreed that Millen had to go.

Drivers of vehicles whizzing past the Allen Park facility beeped their horns and gleefully yelled out about the end of the Millen era.

Eddie Gates drove through the team's parking lot in his minivan as his girlfriend, Sue Stanton, held a sign, "Millen Must Go To Get a Super Bowl," out the window.

"I've been a season-ticket holder for 28 years and because they fired Matt Millen, I'm going to renew," said Gates. "This is the happiest day of my life."

The Fords - father and son - were thrilled when they lured Millen out of the broadcast booth to run their hapless franchise.

"I'm willing to stake my reputation on Matt's success," Bill Ford said after Millen was introduced at a news conference in January 2001.

Millen was the team's first general manager since Thomas left in 1989. The Lions allowed their coaches - Wayne Fontes, Bobby Ross and Gary Moeller - to run the football operation after Thomas resigned.

"We've been pretty much stuck on dead center for quite a few years," William Clay Ford said when Millen was hired. "Matt offers us an opportunity to move ahead."

Coach Rod Marinelli will be left with the task of salvaging something from the final 13 games of the season. But he and the players haven't inspired much confidence with an NFC-worst 10-25 record since 2006.

Ultimately, the Lions are left with Millen's mess that led to a pitiful era that compares only to Tampa Bay's 12 straight double-digit loss seasons from 1983-94.

This offseason was productive and the practices were great, Millen and Marinelli insisted, but that didn't make a difference on Sundays.

The Lions are winless, and 1-10 dating to last season. The latest loss at San Francisco dropped Marinelli to 3-15 on the road and dropped the Lions to 8-60 as visitors with Millen in charge.

The former Penn State standout was an NFL linebacker from 1980-91 with the Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins. He won the Super Bowl four times. was the first to report Millen's departure.