View Full Version : Ex-Lions find haven with the Steelers

01-30-2009, 06:40 AM
Ex-Lions find haven with the Steelers

TAMPA -- Three years ago, after the Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XL in Detroit, the players received their rings in a ceremony at Heinz Field.

They posed for pictures with the Lombardi Trophy, breaking into smaller groups with particular connections, such as guys who played the same position or went to the same college.

One of the groups was Lions alumni.

"All the Detroit guys," quarterback Charlie Batch said. "All the ones who got kicked out and ... couldn't do anything."

Batch said that if the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII, a similar picture probably will be taken. There are four former Lions who are now Steelers: Batch, Kirschke, Fernando Bryant (2004-07) and Sean McHugh (2005-07).

To be fair -- both to the players and the Lions -- each player left the Lions in different ways.

But they share a bond, having gone from one of the worst organizations in the NFL to one of the best.

And depending on the circumstances of their departures from Detroit, some certainly find a lot of satisfaction in their success with the Steelers.

The prime example this time is McHugh. The Lions cut him just before the season. While they went on to post the NFL's first 0-16 season, he went on to the Super Bowl.

"That's the thing I'll never understand," McHugh said. "They didn't think I was good enough to be on the worst team in the history of the NFL. But the people here, I guess, think I'm good enough to help the team out and play in the Super Bowl on Sunday."

"The people here" include director of football operations Kevin Colbert and college scouting coordinator Ron Hughes, both of whom came from the Lions' front office.

Colbert spent 10 seasons as the Lions' pro scouting director. He left for the Steelers in 1999, two years before the Lions hired Matt Millen as president. Hughes spent 17 years with the Lions, the last four as vice president of player personnel. Millen fired him in 2001.

"Ronnie taught us a system that they had developed in Detroit of evaluation, of organization, of draft development," Colbert said. "I was working under him for 10 years, and when I came here to Pittsburgh, we followed the same system that we used there. We added a few things here and there, but basically, it's Ron's system that we continue to work under today."

When Colbert left Detroit, both the Lions and Steelers were hovering around .500 and trying to take the next step. Since then, the Steelers have gone 94-49-1 in the regular season. They have gone to four AFC championship games. They have won one Super Bowl and are trying to win a second.

Since the Lions hired Millen, they have gone 31-97. They have never reached .500, let alone made the playoffs.

Batch pointed out the Lions were 9-7 the year before Millen arrived and that Millen had no experience as an executive, though he had been a player and broadcaster.

"It was a learning experience for the Fords," Batch said of the team's owners. "I'm sure they will never do that again."

Sometimes people tease Colbert about bringing in former Lions. But he has had a knack for finding players who didn't fit elsewhere but can play a role in the Steelers' system.

"He brings in a quality player," Kirschke said. "It might not be a star-type player, but will fit our scheme well and thrive in it. He seems to be able to find those types of players pretty well."

The former Lions marvel at the continuing struggles in Detroit, the winning culture in Pittsburgh -- and their good fortune.

"A door closed, and a world opened," McHugh said. "It's a lot more fun coming to work when you're winning."

Contact NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA at 313-222-8831 or ncotsonika@freepress.com.

01-30-2009, 11:53 AM
just more proof of how Millen was one of the worst GM's in sports history.