Collected Wisdom: Matt Millen, ESPN analyst and former Detroit Lions president/GM

Former Detroit Lions president/general manager Matt Millen discusses the Penn State scandal, his time in Detroit and his trips in the Madden cruiser.
Interviewed BY BERRY TRAMEL, btramel@opubco.com Modified: December 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm •  Published: December 24, 2011
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George Seifert, he had a great ability to let his players play the game. Some coaches can't help themselves. They become part of it. Get in the middle. George didn't do that. Yet he was firmly in control.

Joe Gibbs, to me his greatest strength was the ability to adapt and adjust. He could do that as well as anybody. It was like that when I played against him and it was like that when I played for him. He could see things and adapt ‘em very efficiently. Joe could see things really quick. So could Bill Walsh. Those guys, when they see it, adjust on the fly, are rare people.

Probably the guy I learned the most football from was John Madden. I rode in that bus a lot of years. Learned a lot of football from him. Probably the most enjoyable times I ever had was sitting on the Madden cruiser, driving across the country. We'd talk about everything from Vince Lombardi to every current coach, comparing the way the game's played to how it is was, to rules, all kinds of stuff.

Couple of things you always knew: it was going to be great football conversation and in-depth conversation. Lot of X's and O's drawn up on pieces and papers. And we were always going to eat good.

I live in Pennsylvania; John has a place in New York. If we were going someplace, he'd pick me up at my farm, we'd drive to wherever. My wife would cook a bunch of food, we'd thrown it on the bus, we'd eat form eastern Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, then we'd be farting and burping up to Minnesota or someplace.

Hokendauqua, when I was growing up, it was four streets. A little company town, Thomas Iron Company, a front-runner for Bethlehem Steel. Kind of out in the sticks. Just a hard-nosed, working-class area. The town was no frills. I'm no frills.

I grew up with seven sisters and four brothers. Growing up, the greatest lesson I learned was the difference between a need and a want. I learned you didn't need a lot of things. You need very few things. I'm not one with a lot of wants. I just take what's necessary. I'm pretty simple. From the food I eat to the people I hang out with. Give me the meat and potatoes.

Coach (Joe) Paterno's probably the best preparatory coach I've ever been around. He had a great ability to break stuff down, know what they're going to do and prep you for it. That's why his bowl record was always so good. Give him two weeks, he'd always beat you. Chances are, we're going to win. Like his '86 national championship again Miami. Miami was a better football team.

The scandal, that was brutal. I still feel the same way. There's a part of me that's just sad. There's a part of me that's angry. I just don't understand how stuff like that can happen. And there's the other part of me too that still says, let it play itself out. Let the people whose job it is to prosecute prosecute and defend defend and let's find out the truth with all this speculation. I want somebody to be able to take away the sensationalism of it and just give me the facts and let the guilty, if they're guilty, be punished, because they deserve. But most of all, I just want it to end. If the allegations are true, it makes me sick.

Penn State will recover. But the university has to heal. And I happen to believe the group that will help it recover the fastest and the best will be the football program. They need to get the right person and they need to get it up and running. Need to get back to doing what they do well. That has always been the foundation that Coach Paterno laid. It's not going away. I have no idea what happened in this last thing, but I do know there are thousands of lives he has helped, and he has touched, and he has molded. There's a lot of good things Coach Paterno has stood for. It's a good base for someone to come in and build on.

The Lions, I guess when I look back on it, what I take from it, I think, what can I learn from it? There's a lot of positives. Things to take from it. I don't know what else you can do with it. There's some great people in Detroit. Great fan base. They love their football. Bottom line, we just didn't get it done. Hey, I'll step up front and center. I'll take the hit.

In the NFL, there's a couple of things you have to have. You have to have first and foremost, a quarterback. If you don't have a quarterback, you don't have a chance. And we didn't get one. Lot of other factors, but you have to have that. You can build around a quarterback. Look around the league right now, you can see the teams that have 'em, and the teams that don't. There's different ways to go about things. You have to agree on one, and move on. We didn't get that done.