Which comes first, the General Manager or the Head Coach?

TGC Shanahan AllenI spent the better part of this past week discussing the various tactics and strategies of the General Manager – Head Coach relationship in the National Football League.

With seven clubs dismissing their head coach and two their GM’s, it’s an inevitable question for the fans & media of these organizations looking to rebuild their leadership structure and get back on track.  Houston, Washington, Detroit, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Tennessee all fired their head coaches.  Miami released its general manager and upstate Tampa Bay completed a double dose of pink slip.

What’s it really like?

TGC Ryan Idzik

One of the more intriguing aspects of professional football is getting ANY behind the scenes look at the day to day dynamics of running an NFL club.  With so much access to other parts of the sport, this is the one area that media and fans clamor for more.  The “Hard Knocks” series has attempted to bring outsiders an internal perspective, but in reality this is really a quarantined area of the game.

Many try to presume and speculate what really goes on behind those closed doors.  Networks hire former players and coaches in an attempt to get a firsthand analysis of what is potentially taking place in the minds of those tasked with actually overseeing team operations.  So-called “Insiders” have built entire careers around breaking stories off their “in-the-know” status with front office decision makers, even though the majority of my former peers have no interest in releasing any of their intentions to the media.

Very thin lines

TGC Dorsey ReidThe precarious relationship between a team’s GM and its Head Coach is constantly being analyzed and dissected.  Both positions are vital in building championship aspirations, and yet are by their very nature diametrically opposed.

Coaching is inherently an emotional profession and with it goes the ups/downs, highs/lows of competition.  Coaching is predominantly a short term focus – “Win now or else”.  NFL coaches live week to week, charged with the current game on the schedule.

General Managers must focus on the present status of the organization, but also the long term health of the club.  What might appear to be the right thing at the moment may very well be the wrong thing for the future.  It’s a very fine line.

Ask yourself, “What do you want?”

TGC McKenzie AllenAs an NFL owner, you have to ask yourself, “Which comes first, the General Manager or the Head Coach?”  Short term winning or long term consistency?  Certainly both positions are charged with the same, or a similar mission – WIN football games.

It’s the very egos which make these men so confident and competitive under intense pressure that frequently gets in the way of attempting to accomplish a shared goal in a unified manner.  And so we go through “Black Mondays” with coaches fired after a single season and GM’s jettisoned for poor team performance.

Pay attention

TGC Change of CommandI’m going to give NFL owners some advice – Study the United States Military; commanders come and go, leadership turns over at various intervals, personnel and skill levels are constantly changing.  And yet MISSION accomplishment continues on.  Why?  Because MISSION comes first over individuals and personalities.  Teamwork is essential, failure is not an option.  You’re going to get your share of offbeat characters and inner-office politics just like any other industry, but MISSION ultimately trumps all.  Successful military leaders know this, NFL owners not so much.

Find head coach and general manager candidates that are skilled in the requirements of their responsibility of winning football games, but pick the one that’s most willing to check his ego at the front door of the facility and work with/for EVERYONE in pursuit of success.

You’ll win more games now and over the long haul by doing so.  Trust me.

Note – Here’s links to other posts on the same subject; New Coach or GM? Leadership over playbooks and pedigree and NFL team searching for a head coach? – “Don’t buy the binder!”

Like me on Facebook , follow me on Twitter @Ted_Sundquist, and order my new book Taking Your Team To The Top at Amazon.com



  1. […] Ted Sundquist: Which comes first, the GM or the head coach? […]

  2. […] Ted Sundquist: Which comes first, the GM or the head coach? […]

  3. […] Ted Sundquist: Which comes first, the GM or the head coach? […]

  4. […] Ted Sundquist: Which comes first, the GM or the head coach? […]

  5. […] Ted Sundquist: Which comes first, the GM or the head coach? […]

  6. […] Ted Sundquist: Which comes first, the GM or the head coach? […]

  7. […] Ted Sundquist: Which comes first, the GM or the head coach? […]