How much authority did Rick Spielman get?

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
11:12
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We've had two front office moves in the NFC North literally in a matter of minutes Tuesday. The Chicago Bears relieved general manager Jerry Angelo of his duties, throwing the entire franchise into uncertainty, and then the Minnesota Vikings named Rick Spielman their general manager.

I've already offered my first-blush thoughts on the Angelo move. The significance of the Vikings' announcement on Spielman rests in the details. Namely: Does Spielman truly have ultimate authority over all football-related aspects in the organization? Or is this just bureaucratic window dressing?

Spielman has spent nearly five years as the Vikings' vice president of player personnel, part of a three-man leadership committee we've sometimes referred to as the "Triangle of Authority." Spielman ran the personnel department and had final say over the draft. The coach -- Brad Childress and later Leslie Frazier -- presided over on-field operations. Rob Brzezinski, the longtime vice president of football operations, negotiated contracts and managed the salary cap.

All three corners of the Triangle reported directly to owner Zygi Wilf, meaning big-picture and long-term decisions were required to be made as a group. The checks-and-balance theory sounds good in principle but doesn't always work in practice. In football franchises stocked with Type A personalities, it helps to know who is in charge. During Wilf's ownership tenure, that basic question has always been unanswerable.

The title change implies that Spielman is now in charge, and the Vikings issued a press release that seems to confirm it. Wilf is quoted as saying the move "establishes the leadership structure that will lead to the long term success of the Vikings." If so, that means Frazier now works for Spielman. You can call an executive a general manager if you want, but if he doesn't have the power to hire and fire the coach, then it's window dressing. So if Spielman has that power, the Vikings would operate under a single voice and navigate a streamlined vision for the first time since Jim Finks left his job as general manager in 1974.

Reasonable people can debate whether or not the committee leadership style is truly at fault for two consecutive losing seasons in Minnesota. A traditional general manager is not an upgrade unless he is a good general manager, as the Detroit Lions found out after a decade under Matt Millen. Reasonable people can also debate whether Spielman's performance merits a promotion, given the obvious roster holes that exist on this team.

We'll address those issues in the coming days and months. But at the very least, a traditional power structure would give the Vikings a clearer sense of public accountability for wins and losses. It would eliminate the need to massage internal debate to accommodate personal viewpoints and presumably allow the franchise to move more decisively to address its shortcomings. It will also put Spielman in the potentially awkward position of employing a coach he didn't hire. Stay tuned on that one.

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