Despite intense internet squabbling, there is more than one way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Spreading peanut butter on one slice, then jelly on the second slice to ensure even distribution on the bread with a reduction of the risk of contaminating the associated jars with spillover might seem the more logical approach. Regardless, some are quite capable of applying the jelly directly on the less porous peanut butter due to a strict adherence to knife cleanliness and attention to jelly distribution. Setting up a football organizational structure is not much different.
The ideal way for a symbiotic relationship is for the coach to describe what they need to be successful, then the general manager finding the best way to provide. However, there will always be a struggle for power as that is human nature in a field as competitive as the professional football. The coach is solely focused on the short-term success on Sundays. The general manager must keep an eye on the long-term health of the franchise.
Everyone wants their way to be wholly correct and to have complete control to show everyone. As Bill Parcells made famous, coaches do not want to do the cooking if they cannot shop for the groceries. General managers, conversely, do not want to be forced to put their reputations on the line when they know some of those groceries are of lower quality or priced too high after they have spent time studying the different markets.
One organizational structure to attempt to reconcile these differences is to give the power to either the head coach or the general manager with the other reporting to them. WFNY’s Joe Gilbert wrote
The first order of business should be giving the reigns of the organization to John Dorsey. Dorsey should be able to select his guy and not be forced into another arranged marriage by the Haslams. This is Dorsey’s show. The relationship between a general manager and a head coach should be a symbiotic relationship. The two should be able to work together and have a common goal and vision for the team. This was not the case with Jackson and Dorsey.
Such a structure can work. The New Orleans Saints have had sustained success with head coach Sean Payton reporting directly to general manager Mickey Loomis. There has been discord and power struggles with Payton reportedly wanting out in 2016 before owner Tom Benson stepped in and all parties came to an agreement on a path forward. And, Loomis has noted that they must have a working relationship where no one “pulls rank” in order to be successful.
There is no doubt Bill Belichick runs the football operation in New England. What had began as a mutual reporting to owner Robert Kraft with Scott Pioli on the general manager side of the ledger eventually led to Belichick seizing control. It is doubtful Patriot fans mind given the team success even if most of them could not name Nick Caserio as the director of player personnel.
After two consecutive coaches who demanded a great amount of input into the personnel side,1 the Philadelphia Eagles hired Doug Pederson with an eye on separating roles as they had in the earlier Reid years. The reporting structure has both reporting to owner Jeffrey Lurie as he is heavily involved. The construct of the structure is collaboration as noted by the Inquirer as:
Jeffrey Lurie kept talking about “collaboration” on Sunday — he said it seven times in 14 minutes — and that’s become a buzzword in the Eagles’ building. But there’s also a clear split in the roles, whereas in the past, the Eagles have navigated the complexities that come with the head coach maintaining final say on personnel and/or wanting his own personnel executive.
Pederson has said that he just wants to coach the team – he hasn’t shared any aspirations of picking the groceries. Roseman maintains final say of the personnel and oversees the football operations. That delineation is important.
The sovereignty of coaching and player acquisition model cannot work without the noted collaboration above. The player personnel department must understand the types of players the coaching department needs for their system to work. The coaching department must accept the personnel department is providing them players as best they can given the assets at hand. No matter the structure created, a lack of trust shall undermine the system at the root.
Such lack of trust was evident in John Dorsey’s previous employment with the Kansas City Chiefs as the trust and collaboration with the coaching staff eroded after the departure of director of football operations Chris Ballard. Remember, there is a reason he was available for employment on the seventh of December 2017. The team chairman, Clark Hunt, was the one whom both the head coach and general manager reported, which gave him insight into the working relationship. SI’s Albert Breer explains:
The stock criticism of Dorsey—that while he’s incredibly respected as an evaluator, he’s more scout than manager—was validated with a level of disorganization that was noticeable before the hyper-organized Ballard departed, and obvious after he left for Indy.
Others in the building saw signs of decisions becoming less collaborative, and more centered on Dorsey’s instincts. It also didn’t go unnoticed that Dorsey’s draft picks, like Fisher and Duvernay-Tardif, were the ones getting paid early. And the way the Jeremy Maclin release was handled—key members of the staff didn’t know until after it became public—didn’t help squash the internal whispering.
Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star detailed more reasons why an organization should be reluctant to rely solely on the managerial skills of Dorsey to steer a franchise.
Dorsey had removed two front-office executives without much explanation: “John does stuff and doesn’t tell people why.” Another source said Dorsey’s management style “could wear on people.”
The other areas Dorsey oversaw were contracts and salary cap management — and the Chiefs have been in cap trouble for a while — in addition to the general, day-to-day management of the team.
“He’s not a big disciplinarian or big on chain of command,” a source said, “so people did what they wanted.”
“It’s more about his management skills,” another source added.
None of the above should suggest Dorsey is anything but an outstanding talent evaluator. He has received rave remarks to the point even his criticisms lend themselves to his focus being too heavily on his scouting background. The early returns on even the 2018 draft have been positive with the lack of snaps Austin Corbett and Chad Thomas receiving balanced by Genard Avery’s emergence– not to mention Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward showing off massive potential from the top of the draft.
Dorsey’s demeanor, appearance, and background all point to a person who would do best when focused solely on player acquisition with a coach who trusts him. And yet, a popular opinion seems to be the magic bean is to hand over the control of all football operations to him. A role his history says does not befit his skillset. Doug Lesmerises of cleveland.com did not mince words in his evaluation:
Haslam repeatedly has hired a coach and a GM and made both of them report to the owner separately. In your “How to Create a Power Struggle” manual, that’s Step One. Heck, it’s practically the only step.
Haslam’s insistence on sitting not only on the pile of money but at the top of the power structure has set up the Browns to repeat their losing and their in-fighting. Now, if he has a GM in Dorsey that he trusts, he must put Dorsey in charge of the coaching search and in charge of every aspect of the football operation.
Haslam has had far more than his share of missteps. No one would call the performance of the Cleveland Browns on the field and front office anything more than a debacle under his ownership. He has had a quick trigger finger on firings to create constant turnover in every aspect of the franchise without any common long-term direction. As long as mistakes are repeated, the results on the field will continue ad nauseam.
The easy solution would seem to be eradicating the one common component from the failings, which is Jimmy Haslam. Given the proper leadership, such as a Clark Hunt type, the approach might have some merit. Do not be fooled into thinking it a panacea though. The incorrect person in charge will only obstruct internal issues and allow them to fester. Worse, any failings would be masked– potentially across several cycles of hiring and firing, again. The working history of Dorsey suggests balancing the managerial future of the franchise on his shoulders is not a great gamble.
Absent finding a football-savvy executive capable of running the organization, the correct approach is the more difficult one given the early returns. The Haslam family must continue in their attempts to learn how to properly run an NFL franchise with constant self-reflection to ensure they learn from each mistake made along the way. There must be safeguards such as trusted employees to help them abide by the lesson’s learned and directives as CEO’s do across many industries.
One benefit of the approach will be having a pulse on the day-to-day machinations. Haley and Jackson were both fired due to Haslam having an understanding of the failures both had in terms of making their relationship prosper. The move to rid the organization of the in-fighting and publicly state he would not tolerate such turmoil is a good first step.
There are many more to take, which will include pairing a coaching staff with Dorsey. The coaches he brings in must collaborate and trust the front office, while Dorsey’s group must respect and fulfill needs for them. Haslam must ensure both feel their voices are heard and rebuke any efforts to push for more power within decisions outside their responsibilities.
For the first 38 seasons of their existence, the Pittsburgh Steelers only made the playoffs once before kicking off an era of competence that continues to this day. It took decades of learnings for the Rooney family to understand how to make everything work properly for their franchise. The hope is that the journey will not be anywhere near as long on the Southern shores of Lake Erie.
Whatever structure and method used though, let’s hope that a consumable product is made this time around.
- Andy Reid and Chip Kelly [↩]