It’s the first week of December and there are already four NFL teams — the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars — searching for their next general manager.
Hiring a general manager is the first step — a critically important one — toward turning an organization around. Once that person is in place, the new GM typically leads a search for a new head coach and ultimately makes his recommendation to ownership.
It’s important for new GMs to establish a criteria going into their interviews with head-coaching candidates so they can find the right person for the job. I’ve constructed my own criteria to use when hiring a new head coach based on what I learned from Pro Football Hall of Famers Dan Rooney and Joe Gibbs.
Rooney, the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner, emphasized three traits when hiring a head coach: leadership, communication and character. A head coach must command the room and be able to communicate with a diverse group of people. Gibbs focused on management ability and how well a prospective coach could evaluate players and staff. When Gibbs arrived in Washington in 1981, he wanted to run a wide-open offense, but quickly adjusted to a system that leaned on two-tight end sets after discovering his initial vision wasn’t working — a radical move in the NFL at that time. Being able to put his ego aside and construct a game plan that better suited his personnel was so valuable. He led Washington to an 8-3 finish that season after a 0-5 start, and won his first of three Super Bowls with the team the following season.
Next in the pecking order of general manager responsibilities is establishing the reporting structure — or who reports to whom. During my time as general manager in Washington and Houston, the head coach and I reported directly to the owner. Personally, I would not have taken a GM job unless I had a direct line to the owner because he or she will ultimately decide who is hired and, most important, fired. One immediate decision a new GM may have to make is whether or not to retain members of the current staff.
Lastly, establishing a great working relationship with the head coach is very critical to organizational success. The head coach must present his vision for what the team looks like on and off the field, and in turn, the GM’s job is to get the coach the players to fit the system. This vision must be clear for all parties and discussed in the interview process. Responsibilities on other matters — including final say on trades, waiver claims and free-agent signings — must also be discussed in full.
And all of that is just the start.
Today, after talking to my sources around the league, I’m breaking down the current state of the four franchises with general manager vacancies. Which areas of each roster must be prioritized? Here are three actionable items: