NFL Draft Preparation – 5 Points for GM’s & Head Coaches

I recently received a great question via Twitter asking how to handle the Head Coach – General Manager dynamic in the War Room during the annual NFL Draft.  It’s important to note that inherently built into this relationship is a dichotomy of thought from a short versus long term perspective.

As I’ve mentioned before, coaching is responsible for the here and now.  The focus is immediately on the present; preparation, execution, results.  Therefore decisions are somewhat emotional and can be based on the circumstances of the moment.  The General Manager should also be concerned with current performance, but I feel has a responsibility to oversee the long term health of the club; financially and talent based.  Frequently the pressure to fill a particular need by the coach can come in direct conflict with the plan for building the roster over the long haul.

These 5 points will help a General Manager and Head Coach navigate the waves of emotion that can drown a Club’s draft preparations.

  1. Communication – Most fans might be shocked at how little this sometimes goes on within the walls of their favorite team’s facility.  It’s imperative that the GM understand the types of players necessary to implement the offensive and defensive schemes of his coaching staff.  A Front Office Exec’s thoughts on a defensive corner might not necessarily be the same vision of the DB’s coach.  This process should start with a thorough evaluation of the Club’s own roster from both the coaching and scouting staffs’ viewpoint.  Everyone should be on the same page as to what the current roster looks like, its needs for improvement, and the types of players that can strengthen each unit.  The GM and Head Coach should lead this process together.
  2. Parameters – Both sides should agree to the “floors and ceilings” when it comes to evaluating the various critical factors and position specifics regarding football talent.  Character concerns, medical issues, mental capacities, and physical capabilities should all be discussed and parameters should be set.  Coaching and Personnel should formulate these off the initial roster evaluation discussed in point #1.   Be realistic to the limitations of the player pool, but don’t be afraid to draw your “red lines”.  The GM and Head Coach should be on the same page.
  3. Flexibility – Everyone should understand where they’re willing to bend.  It would be great to find 7 complete players with each of a Club’s selections, but reality will punch a number of holes into many of your picks.  The GM and Head Coach must agree upon where the Club is willing to make exceptions to the established parameters.  The availability of talent in the later rounds is a result of many players lacking in certain areas of required ability.  That’s not to say they don’t have the potential to grow beyond their current skill set.  Both the GM and Head Coach must communicate which of the parameters they’re willing to bend on and which just cannot be excused.  There should be a firm, thoroughly thought out, and well communicated plan for the Club to deal with these deficiencies before taking on the risk; character, medical, mental or physical.
  4. Needs vs Talent – This is a bit of tight rope walk with the GM and the Head Coach.  The short term thinker centers on the needs of the Club.  The long term strategist looks to build with continued strength, regardless of position.  Many argue that the Club should stick with its draft board.  Selecting the best player available adds top talent to the roster year after year.  But how many first or second round Tight Ends does an organization really need?  The Head Coach and the GM should be cognizant of the current financial and talent makeup of their Club, and agree to implement flexibility to their draft plan when circumstances warrant.
  5. Take part in the process – Neither the GM nor the Head Coach should be allowed in the War Room if they’re not willing to take part in the overall process.  Today’s teams tend to show a greater willingness by all the parties involved to collaborate in the evaluation of college talent.  It’s refreshing to see GM’s and coaches sitting in the stands at the Senior Bowl or the Combine exchanging ideas, opinions, and concerns about the players on display.  And yes, I’ve seen a process where that wasn’t always the case.  If either side wants a say in the decision making, then they should be willing to do the work to get there.

Teams whose leadership incorporate these five principles will find that the actual NFL Draft is the easiest part of process and will build a roster with talent to win both now and in the future.

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