Saturday, November 1, 2008

The relationship between coach and GM

In his book "Building a Champion" (with Glenn Dickey), the late Bill Walsh had some strong opinions about the relationship between GMs and coaches:

"The advantage of having a coach and a general manager is obvious: You have two people with clearly defined responsibilities who can concentrate on their individual areas of expertise. There's certainly enough work for two men.

In some cases, that division of labor has worked very well. The disadvantage is that often the general manager and coach aren't compatible, a real problem because the two have to work together in difficult circumstances, through long periods of stress and sometimes frustration.

The most important aspect of building and sustaining a sports franchise is the acquisition and development of talent. In this critical area, the two men can evaluate players' abilities and potential differently.

If the two differ, there can be delays, confusion, stalemate, and even chaos. The general manager may acquire players he feels are important to the team's future, but they are not developed as he anticipated because the coach doesn't want them, or doesn't have the same opinion of their value. These situations are fairly common...

Each man's priorities can be diametrically opposed because of their roles and basic responsibilities. The general manager's first consideration is the economic bottom line: How much will it cost? He thinks of the team's long-term future, perhaps five years down the road.

For him, winning in the current season may be secondary.

The coach, for his own security, must emphasize winning immediately. Then, he thinks of the short-term future, which is the next season. Financial ramifications are his last concern.

Often, too, you have an owner who dabbles in the team, demanding to be involved in some decisions but not in others.

In recent years, the role of the personnel director has changed dramatically. Historically, he had been the chief scout and, with his small staff, would go about quietly evaluating college players and makes his recommendations during the annual draft.

Today, it has become a subindustry. With this newfound authority and visibility, the personnel director begins to play a major role, not only in evaluating future choices, but in deciding whether or not those choices are being properly utilized or developed by the coaches.

With daily access to the owner and general manager, he can remind them that his selections were great and blame the coaching for any disappointments. If one of his selections is not playing well, he convinces the owner and general manager that (1) the coach isn't utilizing the player properly; (2) the style of play doesn't make use of the player's talents; (3) the coaching staff simply isn't improving the player; and finally (4) team morale is so poor, no player could do well.

The tail is wagging the dog because the scouting staff should be serving the needs of the coach, rather than the reverse.

The prospect of all four working together compatibly and effectively can be further compromised if any one of them craves public attention and needs to either take credit for the team's success or shift the blame if the team is losing.

When the general manager or personnel director becomes the team's primary spokesman on football matters, it's an ominous sign for the coach.

When the team is out of contention, the general manager will say he's given the coach everything he needs to win, from talented players to superior facilities and proper accomodations on the road.

The owner complains that the stadium isn't full; for the money he's spending, he should be getting better results. He's embarrassed and humiliated because his friends seem to know more about the game than his coach does. He can't show his face in public.

Meanwhile, the coach is sequestered in his office, working into the early-morning hours, looking at game tapes, examining scouting reports thoroughly, worrying about injuries, putting together the game plan.

He's totally unaware that his fate is being decided by the owner, general manager, and personnel director.

This scenario repeats itself every three or four years with many NFL franchises. The media has a field day with it. Everybody is excited about the new coach and celebrates, then the process begins again.

Teams that have sustained success have had either the same head coach and general manager for years, or a coach who has been the titular head of the organization and responsible for personnel moves and, in some cases, virtually all of the organizational decisions.

When a mistake has been made, or a miscalculation has occurred, or a decision doesn't bring the proper results, ego prevents people from admitting error. One of the major factors in successful leadership is the willingness to concede a miscalculation or mistake and change course immediately."