The NFL offseason is upon us and focus now shifts towards the front office executives in charge of rebuilding their rosters in hopes of dethroning the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Much has been said about the job that GM John Schneider has done in building the Seahawks into professional football’s powerhouse with his craft use of the draft and free agency.
The Future is NOW
The past two seasons have also seen rookie GM’s take their team from the ignominy of earning the first pick in the draft to immediate playoff contention. In 2012 the Indianapolis Colts tapped Ryan Grigson from the Philadelphia Eagles as their successor to longtime GM Bill Polian. This past season the Kansas City Chiefs hired Green Bay’s John Dorsey to replace ‘can’t miss candidate’ Scott Pioli. Both Grigson and Dorsey landed NFL Executive of the Year honors for the performance their efforts produced on the field. These are the stories that dreams are made of and I’m constantly being asked by aspiring front office fanatics how they too can walk in the footsteps of Schneider, Grigson, and Dorsey?
There’s an old adage that goes “Opportunity only knocks once.” Today’s NFL owner has little time for anything other than instant results. The fans and media of teams fallen on hard times demand immediate turnarounds in the fashion of Grigson or Dorsey. The days of a second run appear to be over.
A Generation of 2nd Chance Influence
Unlike GM’s of a previous generation (Ron Wolf, Bill Polian, Ernie Accorsi, Charley Casserly, Randy Mueller, Rich McKay and throw in Washington’s Bruce Allen) it’s ‘one and done’ for most GM’s that now find themselves as free agents. New, fresh, and untainted by the myriad of influences that can destroy even the best of intentions appears to be at the top of owner wish lists. Priority is a clean record and what seems to be a heavy backing from the media, agents, and or gurus of the past.
Case in point, Ron Wolf pushed his protégé Reggie McKenzie (Green Bay) hard on the Raiders. Ernie Accorsi led the search that hired his own Pro Personnel Director (NYG) Dave Gettleman in Carolina. Carl Peterson played a pivotal role in developing the list of candidates in Miami that included one-time front runner Lake Dawson (former WR for the Chiefs) and Ray Farmer (former KC Director of Pro Personnel). Farmer was just named GM of the Cleveland Browns.
Rich McKay, who has been with the Atlanta Falcons since 2003 and sits as Chairman of the NFL Competition Committee, has seen former Broncos’ GM Brian Xanders and current GM’s Les Snead (STL), David Caldwell (JAX), Phil Emery (CHI), and now Ray Farmer (CLV) rise from the Falcon ranks.
The NFL recently employed a committee of former head coaches and general managers to develop a list of candidates from which ownerships could call upon when seeking ‘the best and the brightest’. Many of the aforementioned GM’s sat on this committee and to no surprise a number of their former employees have vaulted to the top. Tom Telesco of the San Diego Chargers worked for Bill Polian in Indianapolis and shares the same agent as his son Chris. Current Jacksonville GM David Caldwell is a former scout under Polian as well.
Never Underestimate an Agent
Speaking of agent influence, never underestimate the power of Bob Lamonte (PSR). Lamonte latched on to the success of former Green Bay Packers & Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren and spun the most dominant force in coaching and front office representation the League has ever seen. In Denver alone Lamonte represents head coach John Fox, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, offensive coordinator Adam Gase, and personnel executive Tom Heckert. When Heckert faced dismissal as GM in Philadelphia, Lamonte parachuted him into Cleveland under President of Football Operations Mike Holmgren, then oversaw the promotion of his client Howie Roseman to the vacant GM position with the Eagles.
He also represents San Diego head coach Mike McCoy (former Denver OC), offensive coordinator Frank Reich and Chargers GM Tom Telesco. Lamonte reps Chiefs head coach Any Reid, who worked alongside Roseman in Philly. Vikings GM Rick Speilman is a Lamonte client, as is former Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier, who now works in Tampa Bay with new GM Jason Licht (a PSR client as well). Licht recently replaced former GM Mark Domenik (another PSR client).
Where Have They Gone?
Think about it though, these were once some of the hottest names in scouting and personnel; Phil Savage, Gene Smith, Scott McCloughan, Scott Pioli, Jeff Ireland. Then came a long line of experienced and well developed personnel men like A.J. Smith, Buddy Nix, Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell, Mike Reinfeldt, Marty Hurney, Rod Graves, Mike Tannenbaum, and Tony Softli. Many on this list have resurfaced with other clubs in different capacities, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any that are making the final cut for current positions.
To those that ask “How do I become a GM in the National Football League?”
I’m not going to say that you have to have worked under Ron Wolf, Rich McKay, or Bill Polian. I’m not going to say that you should hire Bob Lamonte as your agent. I’m not going to say you should intern for Green Bay, Seattle, Atlanta, or Tampa Bay, or even make ‘the list’ of top candidates coming out of 345 Park Avenue. And I know I can’t recommend being a former NFL player; Elway, Newsome, Thompson, Mayhew, or Farmer. However any or all of the above appear to be the fastest track to an NFL front office.
What I will say is if you ever land one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports, relish every moment of the opportunity. Take full advantage of the influence you can make on people and the organization. Understand what a privilege (and not a right) it is to work as a general manager of an NFL club. Then come to grips with the fact it’s probably the first and last chance you’ll ever get.
“Opportunity seldom knocks twice.”