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Matt Millen opens up on his time as Lions GM: ‘I was in over my head’

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Millen shares about his deadly disease, his time with the Lions and his past mistakes.

Virginia v BYU Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

If you haven’t heard, former Oakland Raiders linebacker and Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen is fighting for his life. He has a rare disease called amyloidosis, which is attacking his heart. Millen is currently going through chemotherapy to fight the sympotoms, but, sadly, he will eventually need a heart transplant in the hopes to live a longer life.

Millen shared the story of his medical journey with Sports Illustrated this week, and in true Millen fashion, he was incredibly open, honest and funny. Perhaps most amazing about Millen is how self-deprecating he was about his time with the Lions, in which the franchise suffered its worst stretch in its long history.

Millen describes two separate instances during the draft process in which he admitted to making huge blunders. First, here’s how he described what he calls a move that “killed him”: Taking USC receiver Mike Williams over defensive end DeMarcus Ware:

“I listened to the group. They thought if they got Mike Williams and paired him with Roy Williams that in the red zone we could do all these things. And I was like okay. Do you realize at that time, when we were just about ready to pick, I had DeMarcus Ware on the phone? And I said, ‘All right, take Mike Williams.’ My son was in the draft room with us, and that’s when my son punched me. What a dope I was.”

Williams was traded away from the Lions just two years into his career, while DeMarcus Ware retired just two seasons ago with nine Pro Bowls under his belt and is currently eighth on the all-time sack list.

A few years prior to taking Williams, the Lions kicked off their wide receiver addiction by selecting Michigan State’s Charles Rogers. But as Millen remembers, the Lions almost took a different receiver with the second overall pick in that 2003 draft. He just ignored the warning signs with Rogers:

“Like with Charles [Rogers]. I worked him out. I met with Charles. Charles wasn’t a strong person. I knew that. I miscalculated all the people that would latch onto him, especially being so close to his hometown; he was from Saginaw. And that was a real problem. My choice then was to take him or the kid from Miami, Andre Johnson. The only reason that I didn’t take Andre Johnson was I thought this would be good for the franchise—a hometown kid, and he had better speed, but Andre was a physical guy.”

While many fans may still hold a grudge against Millen because they got Rodgers and Williams instead of Johnson and Ware, it’s nice to see Millen admit to his mistakes. And, after all, it’s not his fault he was chosen to be the Lions’ general manager despite no personnel evaluation experience. Even Millen admits he was nowhere near qualified.

“Really when I take my steps back, I was not ready at all. Not even close. I was in over my head. And by the time I figured it out, it wasn’t necessarily too late, but we were in pretty deep.”

I would highly recommend reading the entire article, if not for the Lions background, then for Millen’s incredibly tenacity in the face of this horrible disease. Despite losing his stamina and over 50 pounds because of this chemotherapy, Millen still plans on calling games for FOX and Big Ten Network in 2018.

We wish the best for Millen and his continuing fight against this disease.