ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Maybe things can get worse for the Detroit Lions.
A day after Detroit lost at San Francisco, falling to 0-3, Lions vice chairman Bill Ford essentially said he’d fire team president Matt Millen if he had the authority.
“I think the fans deserve better and if it were in my authority, which it’s not, I’d make some significant changes,” Ford said Monday.
Asked by a reporter if he believed Millen should leave the team, Ford said, “Yes, I do.”
The Ford Motor Co. executive chairman is the son of William Clay Ford, the franchise’s owner since 1964.
In rare interviews, the elder Ford has stood by his decision to hire Millen in 2001 and to stick with him since then. With Ford atop the franchise, the Lions have won only one playoff game and are an NFL-worst 31-84 since Millen took over in 2001.
Millen won Super Bowls as a linebacker and was an acclaimed TV analyst, but had no front-office experience when he was hired in Detroit.
Bill Ford couldn’t hide his excitement on Jan. 9, 2001, after he and the Lions lured Millen away from the broadcast booth to lead the franchise.
“I’m willing to stake my reputation on Matt’s success,” Bill Ford said after Millen was introduced at a news conference.
In recent years, however, Bill Ford has often declined comment when asked about Millen.
A message seeking comment on Ford’s Monday remarks was left on Millen’s cell phone and an interview request was made via a team spokesman.
Coach Rod Marinelli, who often talks about the importance of keeping outsiders from distracting the team, declined to comment on what Bill Ford said.
Marinelli did say, as he had the previous two Mondays coming off losses, that he is confident in his players and coaches despite the results.
The 49ers jumped ahead of Detroit 21-3 en route to a 31-13 victory.
In the first two losses, the Lions fell behind by three touchdowns before losing by 13 at Atlanta and by 23 against the Green Bay Packers at home.
Marinelli said the slow starts have disappointed him more than anything besides the team’s record.
“We’ve gotten behind so early so fast. That’s disturbing,” he said. “All three, we got behind very quickly and it’s tough to win that way.”
Tough was a word rookie running back Kevin Smith used after being benched Sunday in favor of Rudi Johnson, who had 83 yards rushing and caught a pass for a 34-yard score.
“It was the coaches’ decision. They went with Rudi,” Smith said Monday. “It’s kind of tough, especially because we didn’t win.”
In Sunday’s loss, quarterback Jon Kitna sprained his right knee, guard Stephen Peterman broke a hand, cornerback Travis Fisher had a strained groin and defensive tackle Cory Redding injured an ankle.
Marinelli said he didn’t know how long or if Kitna would be sidelined, but he hoped the banged-up players and the rest of the team would benefit from the bye week following Tuesday’s workout.
“I want them to get out of here because the bye happened so early this year,” Marinelli said. “This is the only chance they have to really get a break for the next 13 weeks.”
The Lions’ next game is Oct. 5 at home against the Chicago Bears.