Bernstein: NFL GM Hire Is A Leap Of Faith
By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Let's see if I have this whole procedure down now, when it comes to picking a new general manager for an NFL team.
First, there's a simple check of a list of names made up almost entirely of current league executives employed at the tier just below GM. Some have interviewed for jobs in the past, others may be biding their time for a promotion within, but they all have titles like director of college scouting, director of pro personnel, assistant GM or vice president of football operations.
Then it's fashionable to find an old football face to be involved in the "search" contained to the people just reviewed. He's a septuagenarian lifer, more than happy to charge exorbitant fees in exchange for his presence and personal contact list. He puts down his seven-iron, picks up his smartphone and gets paid primarily to be legitimacy by association.
Next, the same guys are interviewed by everybody.
It's some kind of unspoken understanding that seems to identify the pool of real candidates, as all those involved in the networking seem to seek the safety of like-mindedness. It becomes a largely closed system, which makes it unique.
Other businesses can more easily cross-pollinate, with skills translating from one industry to the next. A top-level manager somewhere in the airline industry could easily be hired away to a major hotel chain, just as an advertising executive could join a client as a marketer or the head of a fast-food company could go sell software. The skills translate.
We see this with team presidents in sports, because the job is largely the same at that level. Stan Kasten has run teams in the NBA, NHL and MLB, for example, and the Chicago Blackhawks' John McDonough came from the same job with the Cubs.
And it's much easier to find coaching candidates, too, as they can be plucked from the college ranks, enticed out of Sunday television studios or identified as successful coordinators. That kind of flexibility doesn't seem to exist for NFL GM possibilities.
The other issue is the paranoid secrecy with which so many teams operate when it comes to scouting and player evaluation. All information is so closely held now, so proprietary, that it's harder to determine just how good some of these guys actually are at their current jobs, let alone project them for a top leadership position.
Even a thorough, marathon interview can only determine so much. Can this guy draft? A team can gather as much information as possible about players he recommended to his boss and see who ended up where, but even that becomes murky because no opinion on any player is a binary thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
There's nuance critical to scouting, not to mention the limitless alternate realities involved in ex post facto judgment of draft picks: The same guy chosen in the same spot could be affected by all kinds of variables that make it all but impossible to know how he could have succeeded elsewhere or differently, so who is to say what ultimately was a "good" or "bad" pick, based on all that conceivably could have happened?
Teams end up ignoring logical fallacies in this effort, making up ledgers of apparent hits and misses in the draft and then assigning mostly arbitrary amounts of responsibility to one scout or another.
And can he lead? Can he manage a busy office and a scouting department fanned out across the country? He can look great in a dark suit, sound just right when parroting football buzzwords and come with gold-star recommendations from bosses and co-workers, but it's impossible to know because he's never done it before.
NFL GMs just don't recycle like coaches. If they are good, they stay on the job; if they fail, they are almost always done. These hires are most often a step up into the unknown.
Under time pressure from the inexorable league calendar and under harsh scrutiny from fans, NFL teams just make a call. They listen to the expensive advice of the old man they brought along, pick a hand to shake and call a press conference.
Then the lights go on, the camera shutters click, and they hope like hell they got it right.
Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score's "Boers and Bernstein Show" in afternoon drive. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.
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