NFL: Milen back on TV — 0-16 and all

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Associated Press
The Monday morning chatter at Scott Truman’s Michigan office was all about the face that invaded people’s living rooms over the weekend.
Did you see Matt Millen on TV? Can you believe they put him on?
Truman and his fellow Detroit Lions fans are a bit biased, of course. It’s natural that seeing their former team president on NBC’s playoff coverage Saturday would rekindle their fury toward the architect of the NFL’s first 0-16 season.
The question is whether other viewers around the country will be similarly prejudiced by Millen’s recent history when he appears again on the network during its Super Bowl pregame show.
Millen is certainly more than qualified for a TV analyst job based on successful previous broadcast stints on CBS and Fox. But many football fans may have a hard time remembering that because of what’s happened since: Millen built the team that bumbled through one of the worst eight-year stretches in NFL history.
Every time Millen opens his mouth, will viewers scoff, “Why should I listen to this guy?”
Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson doesn’t think so. Millen’s talent as a broadcaster is all that matters, said Pilson, who now works as a media consultant.
“The fact is maybe he couldn’t put a team together,” Pilson said, “but he can still figure out what’s going on on a football field.”
NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol was unavailable for comment, the network said. In a statement Monday announcing the Super Bowl gig, Ebersol acknowledged Millen’s failures in his last job.
“Many of us have been blessed with second chances and fortunate to have new opportunities,” Ebersol said. “But the decision to have Matt join us for the Super Bowl was simple given that he is one of the very best football broadcasters of his generation.”
Said Pilson, “Putting the Lions debacle to one side, he’s a very attractive football commentator.”
It’s not unusual for recently fired coaches to pop up as TV analysts soon thereafter, and most lack Millen’s level of broadcast experience. Then again, most of them aren’t associated with a failure of quite that magnitude.
Truman, a general sales manager for Mid-Michigan Radio Group in the Lansing area, weighs a sports-figure-turned-analyst’s credibility when he watches TV. Take CBS’s Bill Cowher, the Super Bowl-winning former Pittsburgh Steelers coach.
“He’s been a real coach and had real success,” Truman said, “and you’ll listen to his opinion.”
Pilson believes NBC helped itself by not glossing over Millen’s failure in Detroit, having Dan Patrick interview him during Saturday’s broadcast. “Would you have fired you?” Patrick asked.
“I would have, actually,” Millen replied. “Probably not this year until after the season.”
Patrick later asked: “How responsible were you for this season and the last eight years there?”
“Oh, completely responsible,” Millen said. “When you’re head of football operations, you throw it back on me.”
If Millen’s presence draws attention to NBC, that never hurts, Pilson said. He figures as long as Millen proves that his skills as a broadcaster remain sharp, networks should want to hire him for next season.
“The 0-16, it will never disappear,” Pilson said. “But if Matt comes back next year, that will be yesterday’s news.”