Time to restructure Football Operations in the NFL

In my book Taking Your Team To The Top – How to build and manage great teams like the pros, I devote an entire chapter to the art of maintaining excellence in the wake of success.

“Truly great teams are always looking to improve.  When the competition succumbs to superior effort, great teams compete against themselves.  Every team member understands that “the best” can always be better and that records are made to be broken.  Teams with well-seasoned members and experienced veterans, teams with astute leadership and the proper perspective, are more able to put their success in the context of their on-going mission.  These teams appreciate the contrast of failure with success, and the fine line that can sometimes lie between the two. “

TGC NFL and MoneyHow do you explain a concept like this to the National Football League?  The NFL is outwardly one of the most successful sports industries on the planet.  Record setting numbers in a myriad of marketing categories are catapulting professional football profits to stratospheric levels.   Recent releases of executive salaries in the NFL’s front office show that owners are more than happy with the job that’s being done on their behalf.  Most might argue “If ain’t broke don’t fix it!”

But look back to Chapter 7;

“A team that never loses sight of its identity will never lose sight of its mission and will always strive to be better and go farther.  Teams that put careful thought and consideration into how they go about recruiting talent, establishing goals, developing skills, finding the right fits, providing direction, handling adversity, and dealing with success, have already set the framework of their culture into place.  It’s who you are, how you do things, and why you do it.”

It’s my opinion that the Football Operations Department of the NFL could use an overhaul.  After reviewing the programs, processes, and procedures of the department, it was clear there was good intent that was being lost in a hodge podge of politicized priorities.

I reviewed the various categories in the description of responsibilities for Football Operations and condensed them into the following diagram;

TGC Football Operations Pyramid

Four divisions that I feel best represent the integration of responsibilities within Football Operations and bring better focus of efforts on the QUALITY of the pieces that directly affect the NFL’s product.

  • The Game - the “Face of the Business” and at the top for a reason.  This is the product and what the NFL offers to its customers.
  • The Process – The Game is supported by the Process.  It’s not often seen nor fully understood by the outside (fans/media).  But I feel many are catching up! It joins and holds the outer most divisions together on all 3 sides.  Football Operations is a HOUSE OF CARDS without it.
  • Players/Coaches and Staff are the foundation and without one or the other the Game will fall.

Each division is broken down into 3 components that I see encase the responsibilities of Football Operations and guide efforts towards the division’s emphasis and goals.

The Game or “The Product” – All about maintaining standards of excellence across the board

  • TGC The ProductGame Operations
    • Game OPS – Equipment, Field Preparation, Game Presentation, Uniform Compliance
    • Research and Development/Innovation (R&D) -  Sideline of the future
    • Officials & Replay
      • Officiating – Management & support of Officiating Department & Programs, Club & Officiating Communications, Build relationships & support professional, collegiate, high school, & Youth Football Officiating programs
      • Officiating – Manage replay program, includes innovations in technology & communication
        • R&D – Use of video & instant replay, In-game communications/video use
    • Product               
      • Game Ops – Integrity of Game
      • R&D – Continue focus of the game to drive fan engagement
      • Other areas – Football is appropriately represented in all business decisions

The Process – Supports “The Game” through pragmatism and consistency of execution.

  • TGC The ProcessCompetition & Balance
    • Competition Committee – Liaison to Commissioner, non-voting member
    • Other areas – Liaison with broadcast department on competitive aspects of game scheduling
    • CBA & Rules
      • Game OPS – Playing rules
      • Football Personnel – Evaluate effects of current personnel rules such as 90-man preseason roster, cutdown dates, IR designations, PUP, etc…
      • Football Personnel – Analyze effects of current CBA & personnel rules on competitive balance and propose alternatives where appropriate.
      • Other areas – Liaison with NFLMC Player Personnel re. League rules
    • Enforcement
      • Game OPS – Player discipline
      • Football Personnel – Assist in developing & enforcing Anti-Tampering rules

The Players – The most important of the two cornerstones.  “Treating players as Assets vs Commodities”

  • TGC The PlayersDevelopment
    • Football Personnel – Assist in formulating player development programs, e.g. expanded PS, Football Academy, etc…
    • R&D – Player development efforts, development league, academics, etc…
    • Other areas – Liaison with USA Football on youth & high school player development
    • Player Personnel
      • Competition – Work with the Competition Committee for on-going assessment of the Scouting Combine and other entry level assessment programs.
      • Football Personnel – Evaluate current personnel rules, analyze effects of current personnel rules on competitive balance & propose alternative where appropriate.
      • Other areas – Liaison with NFLMC Player Personnel re. Player Personnel matters
    • Performance
      • Game Operations – Player health & safety, Player discipline
      • Other areas – Liaison with medical committee, physicians & trainers in conjunction with SVP Player Health and Safety.  Liaison with Player Safety Advisory Panel.  NFL/NCAA Trainers Liaison

  The Coaches & Staff – The second of the cornerstones.  Creators of the culture at the club level.

  • TGC Coaches and StaffDevelopment
    • Coaches and Football Personnel Development – Planning & execution of Coaches Career Development Symposium, Football Operations Personnel Seminars and other programs.  Coaching  Development Programs and Bill Walsh Internships.
    • Other areas – Coaching Assoication Liaison, Liaison with USA Football on youth and high school coaching development programs.  Liaison with coaches subcommittees, General Managers committee.
    • Diversity
      • Coaches and Football Personnel Development – Support Diversity programs for coaches and front office.
    • Performance
      • Game OPS – Integrity of the game, Playing rules, Player Discipline

I’ll delve into the details of each individual division in future posts.

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