NFC North: Floyd Reese

Daily mailbag: Front-office structures

September, 25, 2008
Posted by's Kevin Seifert

I thought we went pretty hard at the Matt Millen story on Wednesday, but I've gotten more than a few mailbag notes asking for more. Frank of Los Angeles noted that I said "absolutely nothing" in Wednesday's coverage and suggested I put a little more meat on the bone.

I can't tell you whom Detroit's next football boss will be, primarily because the Lions themselves don't know. But one thing we can do is flesh out the structural possibilities we broached Wednesday. After all, the first thing the Lions must do is determine whether they want to hire another all-powerful leader, whether they want to shift into a more traditional general manager/coach relationship or even whether a committee system will work.

Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each approach, and then I'll offer my opinion on each.

All-powerful team president/CEO

Definition: One person heads the entire franchise, including the usually-separate football and business sides.

Pros: No one has any doubt who is in charge, who the boss is and to whom they're accountable. It allows for a single vision to permeate the entire organization, even the business side. Because one person does all the hiring, or at least signs off on it, there is a decent chance of collecting a group of people who all fit and work well together.

Cons: Putting so much responsibility on one person, with no checks and balances, is inherently risky. Football teams have such a unique mix of operations that finding one person with enough expertise to manage all areas is difficult. There aren't many personnel experts with strong finance backgrounds, and not many salary cap analysts know the game well enough to make draft decisions. And sometimes you can understand finance and talent evaluation but be a terrible manager of people.

NFL examples: There aren't many. Kansas City's Carl Peterson is one. Perhaps the most successful is Indianapolis president Bill Polian.

My take: This approach sounds great in theory, and I'm a big fan of vertical leadership. But in reality, the pool of candidates for an all-powerful team president is minuscule. I can think of only one qualified candidate: New England's Scott Pioli.

General manager/coach

Definition: The general manager runs the football operations, hires the coach and supervises the scouting staff.

Pros: The coach works for someone who shares a professional background in strategy and personnel. The general manager can be a confidant and a credible sounding board. Likewise, the general manager with a football background can knowledgeably evaluate the coach and his team and provide accurate feedback to his boss, the owner. In this model, all of the people involved in football decisions are football people. And there are no football people trying to run the business side of the organization.

Cons: Sometimes this structure limits the pool of coaching candidates. Not all coaches, especially those with experience, want to work for a general manager. They prefer to deal directly with the owner. A common complaint in these arrangements arises when a coach doesn't like the players he's given. On the reverse side, a general manager might not appreciate the way a coach develops the players he drafts.

NFL examples: Green Bay has a model with general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy. Similar arrangements also exist with the New York Jets, Baltimore, San Diego and Chicago.

My take: This approach is the most traditional but also the most proven. It makes sense to have everyone on the football side of the organization working for one person who shares a football background and has strong management skills. There are usually a number of qualified people to pick from. Former Tennessee general manager Floyd Reese is available, and there is an annual group of young up-and-comers who could be interviewed. The Lions have one in-house: recently promoted general manager Martin Mayhew.

Coach/general manager

Definition: The coach doubles as the top football executive, hires the general manager and has authority over him.

Pros: Because the coach has ultimate authority, he can acquire exactly the type of players he wants on his team. He can provide scouts their marching orders during the college season, make the final decision on free agents and even decide the makeup of the video and equipment staffs if he wants. In this arrangement, the coach has no limitations except for what he places on himself, theoretically giving him every opportunity he needs to win.

Cons: Some coaches aren't good administrators, tending to hire friends and yes-men in important positions. Few of them have the right mindset for making good draft decisions, taking a short-term or risky approach when a steady hand is needed. They rarely have enough time to fulfill all of their organizational duties while still coaching the team.

NFL examples: Denver's Mike Shanahan and Philadelphia's Andy Reid. New England's Bill Belichick fills this role the best.

My take: This hybrid role is a dying breed. It's too difficult of a job and there are too many instances of coaches who got in over their heads. Interestingly, though, some exciting coaching candidates would probably command this type of power in order to work in Detroit. Former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher is among them.


Definition: The coach, personnel director and salary cap analyst all have equal authority and made organizational decisions jointly.

Pros: Everyone focuses on their areas of expertise. It's a natural system of checks and balances, guarding against people reaching out of their professional comfort zone. Promotes teamwork and healthy discussion.

Cons: Requires multiple high achievers to work together and share, a combination that doesn't always go together. Lends itself to backstabbing and infighting as everyone jostles for position. Needs a strong owner to ensure that everyone plays nice.

NFL examples: Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions (for now).

My take: If you have the right people, including the right kind of owner, this approach can work well. But it's like a complicated offensive game plan: It must be executed flawlessly to succeed. It's rare for high-ranking sports officials to subordinate their egos indefinitely. Everyone has their own ideas.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

We all like to look ahead in the sports media business -- mostly because by the time news actually happens, the issues leading up to it have been well-covered.

That's especially true for the saga of Matt Millen in Detroit. His failures as the Lions' president/general manager have been widely documented. The reasons are clear: He hired the wrong coaches, drafted poorly and missed on most of his free-agent signings. That pretty much sums it up, right?

Most of the Detroit-area coverage took a similar approach, exploring various versions of "What's next?" There was a monstrous volume of it Thursday morning but we tried to cull a representative sample for you.

In a guest column, recently retired Detroit News beat writer Mike O'Hara suggests ex-Tennessee general manager Floyd Reese for the job. But O'Hara's gut tells him that in the end, the Lions will make their temporary solution a permanent one: A committee system with Tom Lewand handling the business side and Martin Mayhew running the personnel department. That's sure to inspire Lions fans.

Coach Rod Marinelli has a 13-game audition for whomever the Lions hire, writes Tom Kowalski of And it's not a given that his performance will matter. Kowalski: "There are some who believe that Marinelli is a lame duck regardless and a new general manager will want to start fresh with his own head coach."

And Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom practically begs the Lions to hire a proven executive rather than think outside the box again as they did with Millen. (Does this mean you're anti-Mike Holmgren, Mitch?)

Here's how Albom put it:

"Whoever it is, please, dear Lord, do not make it a former big-name coach who wants to get his feet wet running a team. This job cannot be a proving ground. It cannot be a place where you make your first mistakes. Unless the Fords hire someone with a track record of excellence, in more than one franchise, they surely will screw up the decision. As it is, they won't make it until the end of the year, rendering this season nothing more than Sunday after Sunday of exhibition football."

There are three other teams in the NFC North, of course, and here's what's going on in their worlds:

  • Chicago defensive end Adewale Ogunleye made a startling admission Wednesday: The Bears defense has lost focus in the second half of its past two games, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Ogunleye: "We're probably not being as aggressive as we should. We come out the gates in these games and we punch people in the mouth and all that good stuff, and then it seems like we're thinking about off days, you know. Maybe that's the case."
  • Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune asked rookie offensive lineman Chris Williams when he will be fully cleared for practice. (Williams returned to the field for individual work Wednesday about two months after back surgery). Williams' response: "Soon as they turn me loose. It will be soon. Get your popcorn."
  • After going two years without an incident, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen is no longer part of the NFL's substance-abuse program, reports Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. This is standard league procedure and means Allen would no longer be automatically in line for a year's suspension if he violates the program in the future.
  • You need a calculator to figure out the combined years of experience for the two quarterbacks that will start Sunday's game between the Vikings and Tennessee. Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports it's a total of 29 for the Vikings' Gus Frerotte and the Titans' Kerry Collins.
  • Green Bay listed all four members of its starting secondary as well as reserve safety Aaron Rouse on Wednesday's injury report. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette sorts through the wreckage and suggests that Rouse, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins seem likely to play Sunday at Tampa Bay. Tramon Williams will start at the other cornerback spot.
  • Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal profiles Williams, who joined the Packers' practice squad in 2006 and made the team with a strong training camp in 2007.




Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22