Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Updated: May 15, 12:06 PM ET
Five essentials to head coach-GM success
By Floyd Reese
While some franchises have tried giving the head coach control of on-the-field activities and personnel, most teams have maintained the traditional structure, with the general manager controlling personnel and off-the-field matters and the head coach watching over on-the-field matters.
Here are the essentials that keep this relationship working:
1. Specific and detailed outline of responsibilities
Big-ticket items may require lengthy discussions, but a decision-maker for areas such as the draft or a starting lineup must be ironed out. Rarely are these major decisions a source of lasting conflict.
A glance into the history of my former franchise, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, will find Bum Phillips being fired over an offensive coordinator and Ed Hughes losing his job over a trainer/equipment man dispute.
Lines must be drawn and responsibilities must be determined in all areas. Who will have the final say on anything from turf conditions or travel arrangements to team plane seating or the final roster? Who is responsible for the hiring and firing of any individual staff position? Some of these items seem irrelevant, but when a billion-dollar franchise exists for one purpose, winning football games, everything is important.
Few issues are as important and can influence this relationship more than communication. A general manager-head coach combination is doomed without outstanding one-on-one communication skills. Even though responsibilities have been determined, neither should make even a minor decision without consulting the other.
The lines of communication must be carefully laid out for everyone else in the franchise, as well. Major problems will develop if a player bypasses the head coach and goes to the general manager's office to discuss lack of playing time or an unqualified strength coach adjusts a certified trainer's rehab program.
Trust is the primary reason for the success or failure of the relationship. The major reason that it's difficult for one person to succeed as a combination head coach-general manager -- however smart and experienced he might be -- is because the day is finite. The general manager is working 16-hour days on personnel and the coach is working 16-hour days on football. A single person in charge of it all cannot keep up. Trust is the glue that adheres to coach and general manager. They must believe their counterpart is doing everything, using every weapon and utilizing all resources, to make his area the best in the NFL.
4. Relationship with the owner
Ownership is the element that ultimately determines if this relationship will survive, as the head coach and general manager generally will succeed or fail together. A failure in one area will reflect poorly on the other at some point. Friction between the general manager and the head coach will be viewed as ineffective leadership.
Both the general manager and coach should have a separate personal relationship with the owner, but when the topic comes to football, two separate voices must become one. The owner wants to see both parties on the same page, with the same objectives, having the same workload, with only one objective in mind -- a Super Bowl title.
If the objective of having a football franchise is to win championships, the best chance to do that is to have the most qualified people. Just as bringing in a great player will win games, the same holds true with coaches and general managers. Egos aside, the confidence and assurance of working with a great counterpart forces you to improve your game, because believing you can win is often as important as a great player or a great play call. It's not surprising that the Bill Polian-Tony Dungy and Scott Pioli-Bill Belichick partnerships have had outstanding success for years.
Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes to ESPN.com.