Matt Millen made the leap from the broadcast booth to Detroit Lions' front office executive 16 years ago. The results were a flaming disaster, culminating in the only 0-16 season in NFL history.
With the San Francisco 49ers announcing John Lynch is the next man to make the jump from FOX to GM, Millen offered some advice. Speaking with the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett on Monday, Millen said managing people is the most difficult part of the job for an analyst-turned-executive.
"When I heard the news, good luck," Millen said. "He's a bright guy. I mean, the parallels are kind of funny, actually. He was a defensive guy, he was a really good player. All those things, all that crap. But none of those things are factors. The things that are factors are, can you manage people? Can you get everybody on the same page? Can you handle the politics? If you got that, fine. If you don't have it, then it'll turn out the way it turns out."
Millen went 31-84 leading the Lions from 2001 until he was fired in September 2008. After his tenure, Millen regretted many of his decisions -- including numerous draft busts. He said making the transition from Pro Bowl player to analyst to general manager is less about knowing football and more about knowing people.
"It's not about understanding the game and knowing the game. It's none of that. It's not Xs and Os. It's about managing people," he said.
"The biggest thing that helps in those jobs is experience and having been exposed to it. When you haven't been and when you don't have it, you're forced to rely on other people. For little things. And so that's why you have to know the people. That's why you got to know them. You got to know their eyes, you got to know philosophically how they are, you got to know what they're like politically, you got to know who's trying to work you. There's tons of stuff. And then you've got to know -- when I say know the whole building, you've got to know all the people in the decision-making process, up to and including ownership."
The 49ers could buffer Lynch's inexperience by adding a veteran personnel man to his staff. Tom Gamble (already in San Francisco) and Mark Dominik (who worked with Lynch in Tampa) are two names rumored for such a position.
One storyline propping up Lynch's hire is his familiarity with all 32 teams, having met with numerous coaches and players as prep work for calling games for FOX the past four years. Millen downplayed that experience, noting that analysts are "familiar with" people, but said he didn't know them as intimately as needed to run an organization.
"I was familiar with the whole league. I'd see them, I'd say, 'Hey, how you doing? Good to see you. Yeah, good to talk to you.' I'd talk to them for what, 30 seconds?" Millen said. "That's not knowing somebody You got to know people like how they work, what their work habits are, how they think. Reactions. The thoughts, philosophical, all that kind of stuff. that takes time. That takes working with somebody. Having been exposed to it before, all those things are important."
One benefit Lynch has over Millen is Kyle Shanahan. The Falcons offensive coordinator is expected to be named head coach after the Super Bowl and should have plenty of power over personnel and the 53-man roster. Millen went through four coaches during his tenure with the Lions.
"It's doable," Millen said of Lynch making the jump to the 49ers' front office. "It's just going to be a steep learning curve."
It's a steep learning curve that Jed York and the Niners are betting on Lynch and Shanahan overcoming quickly.