Bob Lamonte wants to do with Jon Gruden what he's done with Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid and Mike Sherman, and make him king.
Lamonte is not talking about his strategy, but sources say the agent is on the verge of giving the Oakland Raiders a deadline this summer to award Gruden a new contract, more money and more power -- or risk losing one of the brightest young coaches in the NFL after the 2002 season.
||I liken being a head coach in the NFL to being an Indy race driver ... if I'm driving over 200 mph, I want the potential to buy the parts of the car. If you implode at 200, you don't want someone else to say, 'Boy, we had a fuel leak.'
||— Agent Bob Lamonte
Lamonte is not a name you see in the headlines or even hear much on the airwaves. You don't even catch him on those lists of the 100 most powerful people in sports, which is exactly what he is.
Lamonte is an agent who brokered the deal that made Holmgren, along with Denver's Mike Shanahan, the most powerful coach in the NFL as executive vice president of football operations, general manager and coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
He also represents almost everyone associated with the Holmgren "tree," such as Gruden, Reid, Sherman and Detroit's Marty Mornhinweg. There is potential for a coming Lamonte tidal wave because he also represents a dozen coordinators who are among the top coaching prospects in the NFL.
What one must comprehend is Lamonte's agenda. He wants all of his clients to ultimately have Holmgren power, or at least personnel power. In fact, the incredibly rapid ascent of Reid (two years as coach) and Sherman (one year) to positions of front-office authority this offseason is startling to many executives.
"To be honest, I'm not sure I want [to represent] any coach who does not want the type of authority, or that he does not have the ability to use that power well," said Lamonte. "I like 'em to have that power and at the end of the day, I will push to have that power."
Bill Parcells once used the analogy that he wanted be able to shop for the groceries if he was expected to be the chef of the New England Patriots. Lamonte speaks of the fast racetrack that is today's world for an NFL head coach.
"Again, I liken being a head coach in the NFL to being an Indy race driver who drives a car 200 miles per hour with the potential to crash into a wall at any moment," said Lamonte. "If I'm driving over 200 miles per hour, I want the potential to buy the parts of the car. If you implode at 200, you don't want someone else to say, 'Boy, we had a fuel leak.'
"You're going to die anyway and you only die once. At the end of the day, you're going to be judged on wins and losses. Your input is critical. I can't see driving 200 miles per hour and not knowing why you crashed or being able to control the elements of your own car."
Hence the question: Is a driver also qualified to be a mechanic? Or, more to the point, is a coach qualified to run the football operation?
|The Packers finished 9-7 last season, Mike Sherman's first as head coach. Now Sherman is also Green Bay's general manager.|
It stunned the NFL inner world when Sherman was named to succeed Ron Wolf as the Packers' general manager. Sherman was an invisible entity as an assistant coach in Seattle a little more than a year ago when Wolf hired him as Green Bay's new coach to replace Ray Rhodes. Little did Wolf realize at the time that in Sherman he also was hiring his own replacement. One year after a 9-7 season, a respectable but non-playoff run, Sherman has added the title of vice president of football operations/general manager after Wolf retired.
Even more shock waves were registered two weeks ago when the Eagles fired personnel director Tom Modrak, who had helped Reid build a playoff-caliber team in Philadelphia. It's a more complex story than appears on the surface, but the bottom line is that Modrak is out and Reid is in charge of the football operation after just two years on the job.
"I understand the question you are asking: Are they ready? Can they do this?" replied Lamonte. "Well, you have to understand that Andy has done a tremendous amount of work in personnel in each of his first two years. He was heavily involved before he got this title."
The key, Lamonte argued, is whether they have the right support system. Do good personnel people and a good salary-cap manager surround the coaches? Executive VP/chief operation officer Joe Banner has done an exemplary job with the salary cap in Philadelphia. In fact, Reid said, "Banner is brilliant."
Reid tried to persuade Ravens personnel man Phil Savage away from the Super Bowl champions. Credit Ravens owner Art Modell, always generous with his wallet, for retaining Savage. Reid then hired 33-year-old Tom Heckert Jr., director of pro personnel with the Miami Dolphins.
Sherman's support system in Green Bay now includes former Bears personnel chief Mark Hatley, while retaining John Dorsey and Reggie McKenzie. Lamonte represents Hatley and Dorsey.
Thus, the agent's power base grows. Ambitious mid-level personnel men now seek Lamonte to represent them. And the more coaches Lamonte gets in the position of power, the greater opportunity that is afforded his other clients.
Mornhinweg is simply the coach in Detroit under Matt Millen. But Mornhinweg did hire Vince Tobin as his defensive coordinator, and Millen hired Bill Tobin has his personnel director. Lamonte represents both Tobins.
I would imagine that if Millen decides in two or three years that this football front-office stuff isn't for him, Mornhinweg may have the opportunity to run the show in Detroit. Bobby Ross and Wayne Fontes had that kind of authority before him.
Thus, other than the fact that Reid and Sherman are relatively inexperienced, Lamonte cannot claim to be breaking new ground with his coaches. Almost half the coaches in the NFL have control over personnel. Shanahan and Holmgren also have control over money.
Yet, even with the growing trend, it does not mean that an owner is doing himself a favor by giving his coach the power. There are pros and cons. The owner certainly can hold the coach more accountable for the team's record if the coach is picking all the players. But how many coaches are really doing well at both jobs? Shanahan is one of the few; the jury is still out on Holmgren.
The conflicts are obvious. The best example I can offer is whether a head coach with personnel power can have a long-range vision for the franchise, knowing that two years is about the only job security he can count on in today's NFL.
|Jon Gruden's agent wants him to have the personnel power some of his other clients have and may issue a deadline for a new contract.|
Could a coach in this position really use a first-round draft pick on Michael Vick, knowing he's a long-term deal with attached risks? It's a possible death sentence for the personnel man/coach, but franchises must be bold enough to take such leaps of faith.
I posed the Vick question to a relatively young coach, who admitted he would have a tough time selecting Vick.
Why would owners fall into this potential trap? Aside from being able to hold the coach to the highest degree of accountability, owners are fans, too. Some of them prefer more direct access to the coach. The so-called general manager only gets in the way. Then again, a good GM protects his coach from the owner.
Parcells represented the most intriguing coach-to-GM type. In him, you have one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. But when Parcells leaves -- and he's always going to leave -- where does that leave an organization? Usually, in disarray.
As for Lamonte, he's doing his job well. His clients get jobs and, let's face it, they get paid more money when they are promoted to a dual role of general manager and coach.
He does have some boundaries about his clientele.
"I don't represent players," said Lamonte. "I truly believe that would create a conflict."
Well, there is one player Lamonte has represented. It's Joe Nedney, the new kicker of the Tennessee Titans. That was a hometown friendship deal for the agent. There's always an exception to the rule.