Once upon a time, Steelers president Art Rooney was asked why, unlike other NFL franchises, his club did not employ a general manager.
Tag Archives: Joe Banner
Posted on December 27, 2011
"Because," Rooney said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I am the General Manager."
The message was clear: I am The Man. I make the decisions, and when the shit hits the fan (or, for that matter, the fans), I am the one to blame.
As the Eagles finish off the final week of one of their most disappointing seasons in recent memory, the question that fans and media need to be asking does not concern Andy Reid's merits as a head coach or Juan Castillo's merits as a defensive coordinator or Desean Jackson's merits as a wide receiver.
The question they need to be asking is this: Who, exactly, is The Man?
Not long ago, the answer was obvious. Immediately after the 2002 draft, the Eagles provided hot-shot head coach Andy Reid with a shiny new title: Executive Vice President of Football Operations. In doing so, they made clear the organizational pecking order. When it came to personnel decisions, Reid was the ultimate authority. The team brought in general manager Tom Heckert to replace Tom Modrak, but Heckert answered to Reid and not the other way around.
A decade later, Reid still holds his title, which has made him the focal point for fans and media searching for a scapegoat for a season of underachievement. But it isn't clear whether he is still the final authority on football decisions. Earlier this season, cornerback Asante Samuel referred to a "power struggle" in the front office after he lashed out at team executives. It was the first on-the-record hint that the perception of a fracturing of the unity of the Lurie-Banner-Reid oligarchy had some basis in reality.
When Heckert decided, or was forced to decide, to leave the organization and join the Cleveland Browns, the Eagles replaced him not with a veteran personnel man with ties to Reid, but with Howie Roseman, who had spent much of the previous decade as Banner's right-hand man. Reid publicly approved of the move, but there was some reason to believe that he could now be out-voted 2-to-1 on personnel decisions, with the combination of the President and GM trumping the Exec. Vice President.
The result is one of the more cloudy chains of command in the NFL. Roseman, like Banner, had no formal background in football before joining the Eagles organization in 2000. He did not play. He did not coach. He did not scout. He has a law degree. Roseman spent most of the last decade assisting Banner with various contract and salary cap issues. Reid remains the most experienced football mind in the front office. But is he the most influential? That, with apologies to Hamlet, is the question.
It is a question that must be answered before any of the others that hover around this Eagles franchise as it contemplates its third straight season of gradual decline. Nobody will deny Reid's faults as a head coach. The time management issues, the curious use of the running game, the failures against other supposedly marquee coaches, the playoff disappointments — all are valid issues to consider when looking toward 2012. But the Eagles' issues are bigger than Reid's strengths and weaknesses as a gameday tactician. And until Jeffrey Lurie confronts the errant personnel decisions that have plagued this franchise in recent years, he will be sentencing himself to years of extended mediocrity or worse.
Among the questions Lurie must confront in his year-end exit interviews:
1) Who screwed up the safety position so horribly that the defense was forced to enter the season with a crew of young defensive backs who clearly were not up for the challenge? Who oversaw the evacuation of the battle-tested players whose leadership provided the back-bone of Jim Johnson's units? Who allowed Brian Dawkins to leave? Who decided not to sign one of a number of free agent safeties this season, even bidding adieu to veteran incumbent Quintin Mikell, in favor of a group of unproven non-factors? Who decided to trade Sheldon Brown and Chris Gocong to the Browns for a whole lot of nothing? Who signed Marlin Jackson to a two-year contract?
2) Who bungled the 2010 draft? Who passed on Jason Pierre-Paul or Earl Thomas or Maurkice Pouncey or Dez Bryant in the first round? Who traded out of the second round and passed on linebackers like Sean Lee and Brandon Spikes as well as safeties like Morgan Burnett and Major Wright, four players who are starters on teams whose playoff hopes remain alive heading into the final week of the 2012 season? Who decided to draft Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the third round instead of a tight end like Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez or Tony Moeaki? Every draft is full of misses. But you need at least one hit or else you have failed miserably.
3) Who decided Ronnie Brown was a capable short-yardage back? Marion Barber and Jason Snelling were available.
4) Who decided that Vince Young would suddenly transform into a player who takes the game seriously and was worthy of a hefty deal to back-up Michael Vick? Who decided the Eagles would be in a better position to compete with a $4 million Young instead of Mike Kafka and a veteran linebacker like Manny Lawson or Rocky McIntosh?
5) Most importantly, who decided to trade one inexperienced defensive coordinator for another instead of hiring Dick Jauron, who has done some pretty impressive things with the Browns defense this year.
These are the questions that need to be answered before the Eagles worry about play-calling and time management. The fish rots from the head. If Reid is still that head, then maybe it is time for him to go. Maybe Roseman, like Juan Castillo, just needs an opportunity to run the show.
The era of the head coach as Supreme Ruler appears to be coming to a close. Reid is one of only three coaches who currently have a vice president title. The other two, Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll, aren't going to the playoffs, either. When the Falcons decided to change course, they brought in a veteran football man in Thomas Dimitroff who built them into a playoff contender. Ted Thompson has done wonders with the Packers. The Browns turned to Mike Holmgrem, the Chiefs to Scott Pioli, the Jets to Mike Tannenbaum. Look at the league's successful franchises and you'll see a veteran football man with a strong voice at the top of the flow chart. Jerry Reese, Ozzie Newsome, and, yes, Art Rooney. Even the Patriots have added former Titans GM Floyd Reese as a senior adviser.
If Lurie takes an honest accounting of his personnel department, he may decide that the Eagles have been hurt by a lack of diverse football voices. The only difference between his team and the Cowboys and 49ers and Raiders of the world is that Banner, Roseman and Reid are not related by blood. But their football world view is largely limited to what they have seen with the Eagles. All arived at the same time. Two of the three have more experience with contracts and spreadsheets than video tape and scouting reports.
Lurie needs to consider the fact that he has one of the most inexperienced front offices in the game when it comes to veteran football minds.
Earlier this season, Samuel said he felt like the folks in the front office were playing "fantasy football." If the Eagles don't take a hard look at their personnel structure, a Super Bowl title could become just that: a fantasy.