steve ross

Why the GM hire matters so much

Massive. Gigantic. Huge. Key. Crucial. There are many adequate words that can be used to highlight the importance of the Miami Dolphins upcoming general manager hire. While this might seem inherently true to some, others may ask why. To those who already agree, I still think there is value in pointing out why this decision is so ___insert word from the beginning___.

Let’s start by looking at the data. Here’s the list of current general managers and head coaches for the NFL. Of note, for the purposes of averages, owner/GMs Mike Brown and Jerry Jones were excluded.

 

Team

Head Coach

Tenure (yrs)

GM

Tenure (yrs)

Bills

Marrone

1

Whaley

1

Dolphins

Philbin

2

*Ireland

6

Patriots

Belichick

14

Belichick

14

Jets

Ryan

5

Idzik

1

Ravens

Harbaugh

6

Newsome

12

Bengals

Lewis

11

Brown

23

Browns

*Chudzinksi

1

Lombardi

1

Steelers

Tomlin

7

Colbert

4

Texans

*Kubiak

8

Smith

8

Colts

Pagano

2

Grigson

2

Jaguars

Bradley

1

Caldwell

1

Titans

*Munchak

3

Webster

2

Broncos

Fox

3

Elway

3

Chiefs

Reid

1

Dorsey

1

Raiders

Allen

2

McKenzie

2

Chargers

McCoy

1

Telesco

1

Cowboys

Garrett

4

Jones

25

Giants

Coughlin

10

Reese

7

Eagles

Kelly

1

Roseman

4

Redskins

*Shanahan

4

Allen

4

Bears

Trestman

1

Emery

2

Lions

*Schwartz

5

Mayhew

5

Packers

McCarthy

8

Thompson

9

Vikings

*Frazier

3

Spielman

2

Falcons

Smith

6

Dimitroff

6

Panthers

Rivera

3

Gettleman

1

Saints

Payton

7

Loomis

12

Bucs

*Schiano

2

*Dominik

5

Cardinals

Arians

1

Keim

1

Rams

Fisher

2

Snead

2

49'ers

Harbaugh

3

Baalke

3

Seahawks

Carroll

4

Schneider

4

AVG

 

4.1

 

4.2

 

*denotes recently vacated position with prior individual used.

The surprising number that stands out is the average. Although one might erroneously assume that GMs stick around for longer than coaches, both GMs and head coaches on average have typically been employed for the same length of time – about 4 years. However, as denoted, 6 head coaches have recently been fired, which will likely increase the average time for GM tenure over coaching tenure.

The other interesting trend is the number of coaches/GM pairs that have been employed in their position for the same amount of time. Have you heard that saying – a GM is going to want his guy? Well, it appears to be true for the most part; 17 of the 32 pairings have been employed for the same length of time. 7 GMs preceded their head coach and 6 coaches preceded their GM (again, Jones and Brown excluded from this).

Perhaps of particular interest to Dolphins fans, considering the possibility that Joe Philbin could be retained, are the 6 coaches that preceded their GM – Ryan, Tomlin, Munchak, Coughlin, Frazier, Rivera. Their performances have been mixed; 2 fired (Munchak/Frazier), one on the hot seat next year (Tomlin), and one recent success (Rivera).

 

Timeline and Impact of Decisions

Now while the duration of a head coach’s or GM’s tenure might not be significantly different, the impact of their actions certainly is. Examples of both majestic hits and devastating failures in both the draft and free agency can affect a team for years past a GM’s reign. Yes, there are certainly coaches with meaningful impact in talent acquisition (Pete Carroll – is one such example), but the most typical arrangement is for the GM to oversee both the draft and free agency acquisitions with scouting and coaching input. A coach or a GM can be fired after a disappointing performance, but complicated long-term contracts and hopes that ride on key players’ backs are not nearly as easy to be untangled. A big miss is a big miss not just because of the immediate impact, but also because of the impact yet to come. Recent examples for the Miami Dolphins include the drafting of Chad Henne and the acquisition of Philip Wheeler (yes, he has only played one year, but he has a big contract with a big cap number, and he was ranked as the worst overall LB by PFF this year).

 

Power and Influence over Other Positions

Many structural variations and models of NFL team organization infrastructure exist. Intriguingly, it is not uncommon for head coaches to have more of a final say over roster decisions, even over the GM, than one might initially assume.

Here’s one recent piece highlighting the variation in just the NFC East.

However, examples also exist of GMs that oversee not just roster management, but also team staffing. Most commonly, it is generally assumed that coaches and GMs have to work together in a close partnership on the majority of the important decisions. As suggested by the news reports trickling over the last day, the power struggle between Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin/Dawn Aponte, is one of the many examples of how a broken dynamic between the GM and the surrounding front office and coaching staff can irreparably damage a working relationship. Let alone the current coaches, the impending hire of a new offensive coordinator, a unit that has stagnated for the Dolphins, is certain to be influenced by the next GM.

 

Talent, Talent, Talent

The debate over whether coaching or talent is to blame for the Dolphins failures is one that could go on forever. Regardless of how much of each is the culprit, there is no debate regarding the importance of drafting and picking up the best players and the most value in this salary capped league. As described in our recent piece highlighting Jeff Ireland’s draft failures, under his reign, the Dolphins consistently failed to draft as many impact players as the winning teams in the league. Moreover, at best questionable, free agency moves such as the release of linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in exchange for Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, added insult to injury. The coaching staff surely influenced these decisions (how much is very difficult to know from the outside looking in), but ultimately a GM has to stand by the roster put together for the coaches to coach.

 

Stephen Ross: Owner, not Manager

Whether it is as the founder and chairman of Related Companies, chairman of RSE Ventures, or his ongoing philanthropy efforts, Stephen Ross is a busy man. Whereas Mike Brown and Jerry Jones are owners who have functioned as their teams’ GMs, Ross has shown a predilection for governance from afar. In buying the team, Carl Peterson’s large advisory role was well known; in the wake of the Incognito/Martin debacle, he named a former player and coach advisory committee; in the recent decision making regarding Mike Sherman and Jeff Ireland he has towed around his colleague Matt Higgins. Ross, one can logically assume, is looking for a point person who he can trust in this role. He is likely looking for an individual who can work well with the coaching staff and the rest of the front office and report the ongoing results to him in a non-dramatic and reliable fashion.  In so many words, Ross is looking to be a team owner, not a team manager and there’s a huge difference. Depending on the possibility of whether or not a team “czar” is created, this general manager might have much more power than his predecessor.

A Concluding Note on Attractiveness

Much has been said recently regarding how organizational politics and the possibility of Joe Philbin being thrust upon a new general manager is likely to negatively impact the recruitment of a high-level target. Let me conclude by offering my most sincere disagreement.

There are 32 franchises in the NFL, which is now one of the most successful leagues in the world. The general manager represents the pinnacle of sports management in the business of football. Aside from owning a team, there is no higher position that an individual can hold in operations of an NFL franchise. The rarity of this position alone makes it attractive.

Specific to the Miami Dolphins however, there is even more to be attracted to. There is a healthy salary cap for a general manager to work his vision and a roster that holds plenty of key pieces. There is potentially a franchise quarterback already in place – the most difficult of all talent to acquire. There is an NFL owner who is not only the league’s 3rd richest owner, but also the 286h richest individual in the world with a net worth of $4.4 billion. And about that theoretical possibility of being forced to work with Joe Philbin? There’s a built in excuse for any failure in year one.

The general manager position for the Miami Dolphins will undoubtedly be highly coveted. It is a ___insert word from the beginning___ decision; let’s hope Ross finds the right guy.

 

Pablo Knowles can be found on twitter – @pabloknows

 

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