As a lifelong Lions fan I really want to tell Martin Mayhew something: "THANK YOU!"
I suffered through this franchises blunders along with the rest of you, and time and time again I walked away from my TV set thinking, "How can a team be this bad for this long in the NFL?" To his credit, Matt Millen achieved history with the less than mediocre teams he managed to field year after year. He never held onto a coach for very long, so that blame for the poor results could be shifted to someone else.
In a way, the man was a genius. He bilked Mr. Ford for millions and maintained his employment despite presiding over the worst franchise in sports!
I suppose doubt was the inevitable knee-jerk emotion when Mr. Ford replaced him with Millen's close confidante, Martin Mayhew. However, what I've seen so far from Mayhew leads me to believe that no matter how difficult the Lions years under Millen were for me, they were at least 10 times more difficult for Mayhew.
Imagine having the football knowledge and shrewd business sense that Mayhew has and having to sit in the war room with Millen in let's say 2003:
Mayhew: "We have the No. 2 pick Matt, let's be smart about this and take someone who will be a significant contributor for years."
Millen: "I couldn't agree more. Charles Rogers is a lock."
Mayhew: "Okay, we do need a wide receiver, but if we do this can we consider Andre Johnson? The scouts think he'll be an excellent selection and I've personally reviewed the tape and happen to agree."
Millen: "Marty, Marty, Marty, you've gotta go with the homegrown. You'll get the hang of this someday. We're selecting Charles Rogers!"
And then again in 2005:
Mayhew: "Matt, I really think we should consider DeMarcus Ware or Shawne Merriman with our first round pick".
Millen: "Haha, nice one. We need a wide receiver, Marty. When are you going to learn? Wide receivers can't bust in round one."
Mayhew: "Charles Rogers?"
Millen: "We're taking Mike Williams, and it's not up for debate!"
Mayhew: "But the defense..."
Millen: "We'll be so far ahead defense won't matter."
In a way, we're lucky Martin Mayhew is still alive. If I were him I'd have at least considered turning the car on in the garage after having to deal with years of Millen and his draft logic. To his credit though, maybe Millen did teach Mayhew something: what NOT to do! I suppose we can be thankful Mayhew seemed to learn from Millen's mistakes.
With Mayhew at the helm, the Lions have a decidedly better future. He has practically swept out all of the remains of previous Lions failures and managed to put a head coach in place who seems to truly "get" football and managing a team. Furthermore, Mayhew has done his fair share of work to bring "D" back to The D. Admittedly, last year the Lions were still very weak on the defensive side of the ball, but through one and a half offseasons Mayhew has managed to put together a somewhat respectable defensive unit.
On the line, we have two new starters in Corey Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch. The linebackers are the strongest unit, with three starters who actually look to be at NFL caliber when they play. And while the secondary is a work in progress, moves have been made to shore up this porous backfield by adding Louis Delmas along with Chris Houston. Johnathon Wade will be a nice Nickel package substitute as well.
With the addition of a Ndamukong Suh, dare I say Mayhew has given opposing QBs something to be afraid of?
On offense, things are not nearly as bad, with Matthew Stafford leading the way at QB, albeit behind a lackluster offensive line. There is also the always formidable Calvin Johnson to throw to, Brandon Pettigrew as a release valve and now Nate Burleson as a second option. The RBs are questionable, but solid enough to get the job done.
With the draft coming up in April, I could see the Lions taking Russell Okung and drafting a D-lineman in the subsequent rounds (due to the defensive depth in this draft), but my gut tells me if Suh is there the Lions won't pass him up. I'm happy either way: both areas need work.
I'm not going to say the Lions are headed to the Superbowl, or anything of the sort. I'm just not that delusional. But you'd have to be pretty delusional yourself not to be able to see that the Lions are making strides to get this thing turned around.
Whether you agree with the moves or not, Detroit is trying to field a respectable team. A few more solid drafts like 2009 and they'll be a lot more than respectable. Martin Mayhew had to endure more of Matt Millen than any of us could possibly tolerate, and the patience he showed in dealing with Millen has served him well. He's ready for the long haul in Detroit, and he knows too well how much we Lions fans want to see a winning product.
If anyone can restore the roar, it's the man who has years of experience in cleaning up Matt Millen's messes.