Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

HarrisChr11.jpg

» Film Room: Chris Harris

Is Harris one of the league's top cover corners, or a product of the system in which he plays? Cian Fahey says the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

02 Jan 2009

Walkthrough: I am GM

by Mike Tanier

The Walkthrough team got a crystal ball for Christmas. Some painful assembly, a few D-batteries, three calls to tech support, and the thing works like a charm. Here's a brief look at what to expect in the coming weeks.

Saturday, January 3 at 4:30 p.m.: The playoffs begin.

Saturday, January 3 at 4:35 p.m.: The Cardinals are eliminated.

Monday, January 5: Mike Tannenbaum admits that talks with Bill Cowher broke down because Tannenbaum will only share personnel decisions with a head coach more experienced than Cowher.

Tuesday, January 6: Brett Favre calls a press conference to announce that he will call a press conference in two weeks to announce when he will call the press conference regarding his potential retirement. This news dominates the news wires for three days.

Wednesday, January 7: Mike Martz replaces Turk Schonert as the Bills offensive coordinator. Martz assumes that the Bills are now a CFL team, so he devises a series of plays for second-and-long between the 50-yard lines. Trent Edwards' insurance premiums triple.

Friday, January 9: Steve Spagnuolo's cell phone cracks under the pressure and crawls into a closet to sulk.

Monday, January 12: Mike Tannenbaum admits that talks with Mike Shanahan broke down because Tannenbaum will only share personnel decisions with a head coach more experienced than Shanahan.

Tuesday, January 13: With the Eagles eliminated from the playoffs, Donovan McNabb makes an inflammatory statement. "It may be time for me to move on. The media here in Philly doesn't like me much." The local talk shows spends two weeks deconstructing the statement. "Why does this mealy-mouthed, hyper-sensitive, overrated choke artist think we don't like him?" they ask, without irony, ad nauseum.

Wednesday, January 14: Chad Pennington earns a Lifetime Comeback Player Achievement of the Year award.

Thursday, January 15: Jim Fassel buys three billboards in the greater Oakland area to announce his interest in the Raiders head coaching job. Al Davis interviews Jim Harbaugh.

Friday, January 16: Mike Tannenbaum admits that talks with Marty Schottenheimer broke down because Tannenbaum will only share personnel decisions with a head coach more experienced than Schottenheimer.

Monday, January 19: The NFL announces locations for future Pro Bowls: 2010, Miami; 2011, Keokuk; 2012, the Favre ranch so Brett won't have to travel to the game he still gets voted into despite double arm amputations.

Tuesday, January 20: Mike Singletary hires a parrot as the Niners offensive coordinator. The parrot interviewed for the Raiders job, but it could only say "run off tackle, run off tackle," not "throw deep, throw deep."

Wednesday, January 21: Mike Tannenbaum exhumes Vince Lombardi and argues with him about who should have final say in personnel matters.

Friday, January 22: Jim Fassel arrives at Raiders headquarters in a parrot suit.

A GM's Life

Scott Pioli and Marty Schottenheimer are flying around the country, entertaining offers to resurrect down-and-out franchises. Bill Cowher met with the Jets but didn't like what he heard; soon, Mike Shanahan will hear the same pitch. Names like Eric DeCosta and Chris Polian keep popping up on the news wires as the Chiefs and Browns search for new top executives. Some of the names are familiar, some new. We learn the names, review the resumes, then scratch our heads about the men who will soon be among the most powerful people in the football universe.

The casual fan has no idea what an NFL general manager does. Listen to talk radio and you'll get the impression that the GM spends his days with his feet on his desk, chomping a cigar butt and barking out orders like Mister Spacely or J. Jonah Jameson. "Get the Patriots on the phone and offer a No. 1 pick for Matt Cassel! Offer our prima donna receiver eight mil, and tell him to like it or lump it! Tell the head coach he's fired, and get me Jim Schwartz on line two!"

Of course, it's not really like that. But even veteran sportswriters have only a cloudy idea of what the GM does. When the season ends (as it just did for 20 teams), we lump credit or blame on the GM for personnel decisions, then offer the kind of quick "smash or trash" appraisal best reserved for new songs on a Top 40 station. Jeff Ireland: Smash! Phil Savage: Trash! Ted Thompson switched categories in the course of one season. These executives don't go from smart to stupid in a few months, so there's obviously more to a GM's job than drafting the best players or making the right trades.

Aaron Schatz and I visited NFL Films a few weeks ago. We enjoyed our annual film session with Ron Jaworski and Greg Cosell, but there was a third wise man in our midst this time. Charley Casserly was general manager of the Redskins from 1989-99 and the Texans from 2002-06. He now works for NFL Network, and he broke down film with Jaws and Cosell during our visit. Over lunch, Jaws and Cosell asked Casserly a few questions about the nuts and bolts of general management. Soon, we were treated to a symposium by Casserly on the life of an NFL executive: the schedule, the procedures, and all the things that happen far below the surface of the "Jets sign Favre" headlines.

Casserly wasn't speaking on the record, and I wasn't taking notes (I was eating panini) so I won't use any names or specifics. Even in general terms, the typical regular season week in the life of a general manager sounds fascinating and exhausting:

Monday: Players get injured on Sunday, and the general manager must work on Monday to restock the roster. Often, this process starts on Sunday, just minutes after a player is injured. It's not unusual for a team to sign a street free agent before the final gun on Sunday, assuming that the free agent is on the team's "ready list." More often, though, the coach and GM must discuss needs and available replacements, then the GM and his staff must contact free agents or schedule tryouts.

Once the GM and head coach meet to discuss roster shuffling, it's time for film sessions. Different teams handle Monday film study in different ways, but the GM is usually present for some of the sessions. Many GMs sit in on coaches' sessions, then watch game film independently and conduct their own player evaluations.

The GM and team owner also usually meet on Monday to discuss the current state of the franchise. With 31 other teams also making roster moves, the GM must work quickly to bring in available talent and to stay abreast of league news, making Monday the busiest office day of the week.

Tuesday: Most teams schedule workouts and tryouts on Tuesday. General managers often attend the tryouts, though some teams leave that responsibility to the pro scouts, head coach or even the coordinators. If the coaches are watching tryouts, they aren't reviewing tape or coaching, so the division of duties and responsibilities is tricky.

Teams hold workouts even if they aren't making any personnel changes that week. Each team must have a "ready" list of free agents who can be called upon to step right onto the roster to cover an injury. Regular workouts help the GM stay informed about who is available and in football shape. Players are often signed on the spot after Tuesday workouts, though most of these bottom-of-the-roster acquisitions bring little media fanfare.

Wednesday: Most general managers like to travel and scout college players in the middle of the week. Once the roster has been filled out and last Sunday's game has been dissected, there's little for a GM to do but watch his own team practice. Casserly said that constant communication with the head coach during the week can get redundant; he has his own job to do and needs the freedom to do it. Some general managers stay with the team and handle college scouting via tape and phone calls, but most hit the road for a day or two.

By traveling to colleges and monitoring practices, a GM can see how a prospect handles coaching and prepares for games. The GM can also talk to coaches, strength coordinators, and other assistants to learn more about the prospect. It's the kind of inside information you cannot get on the phone: Thirty minutes on the practice field can yield several candid discussions that would take hours to organize by voicemail.

Thursday: If the GM is still on the road, communication and delegation of responsibility is crucial. He must have a staff in place that can handle minor issues and inform him of major ones. The team's scouting directors -- college and pro -- must be able to do their jobs efficiently without constant oversight. In short, everybody has to be following the same game plan.

Scouting is a complex procedure that involves a great deal of logistical planning. Scouts must be assigned to schools and regions, and their visits must be scheduled so that they don't step on each other's toes and their meetings to major schools/prospects are properly spaced. Casserly liked his scouts to use one-page scouting reports that were typically due on a weekly basis. Each scouting report ranks the prospect on five key traits, selected by the coaching staff for each position. Different coaches have different desired traits -- one staff might emphasize wide receiver blocking, another might single out a tackle's quickness on the second level -- so it's important that scouts know what the coaches want. It's also important for coaches to understand what's available: the defensive line coach may only want 280-plus-pound linemen with 4.6 speed, so the scouting department may have to offer the reality check that no such player will ever be available in the second round.

Usually, the director of college scouting and his staff handles the day-to-day scheduling and report processing for scouts. The GM must make sure that the process is running smoothly, and that there is no disconnect between the scouting department and the coaching staff. He often handles all of this management while on the road, which is why delegation and communication are so important. If different departments are pursuing different goals, the team won't be able to fill future needs, and the stage is set for a draft day disaster.

Friday: The GM rejoins the team, whether at headquarters or on the road. It's time for the coach and GM to review the week's events. Is such 'n' such healthy enough for Sunday? Did the guy we signed on Tuesday have a good practice week? The GM usually meets with the coordinators informally on Friday to discuss the general game plan. Once he's met with the staff, the GM can get caught up with the scouting directors and handle other business.

Saturday: Casserly stressed time management as a crucial part of a general manager's job. There's nothing worse for a GM than to spend a day in a hotel room when he should be in his office or at a college campus. Depending on the location, a good GM can attend two or three major college football games on Saturday and still be back with his team by Sunday. Sometimes, that means catching a Friday afternoon flight, but most NFL cities are within driving distance of several major colleges. From Washington, D.C., for example, Casserly was able to drive to University of Maryland or University of Virginia with little difficulty, and both Virginia Tech and the Meadowlands, among other venues, were within striking distance. In December, the GM can travel to bowl games or use Saturdays for additional film work.

Sunday: Game day. The process starts all over again: The team wins or loses, players get hurt, and the roster needs restocking.

While listening to Casserly, several big ideas struck me.

1) An NFL general manager is just like a high-level executive in any business. He's a chief of staff who must spend a huge portion of his time doing non-glamorous tasks like supervising his subordinates and processing data. First-round picks and major trades are just the tiny tip of a vast procedural iceberg.

2) It's easy for a team to lose its way. When a coaching staff and front office have been in place for a few years, everybody knows everybody else's needs and responsibilities. When a team keeps changing coaches or shuffling executives, it can lead to miscommunication and breakdowns. The Dolphins spent most of this decade trying to merge last year's front office to next year's coaching staff. The results: squandered draft picks, quarterback-of-the-month free agent signings, and other evidence that the scouts didn't know what the coaches wanted, or vice versa. Bill Parcells brought in Jeff Ireland and a new top-down management system, and the improvement was so sudden that it was nearly historic.

At the same time, it's possible that a well-oiled front office can atrophy, with everyone so entrenched in their roles that they cannot change. That may be what happened in Denver: The Broncos have changed some pieces in the front office over the years, but Mike Shanahan called nearly all of the shots, and his system reached the point of diminishing returns about three years ago. The Eagles may have reached that point: The scouts and Tom Heckert know what Andy Reid wants, Reid knows what his execs can give him, and everyone has forgotten how to question or adjust the system. It's easy to see how a team like the Colts becomes more Colts-like every year under Bill Polian and Tony Dungy, with scouts churning out lists of affordable linebackers and coaches filling their Santa lists with top-shelf receivers and linemen who can pass protect on the fly. The Broncos, Eagles and Colts have been successful, and the alternative is far worse, but all teams need a shake-up once in a while.

3) This NFL stuff really is complicated. Aaron and I asked very few questions during Casserly's informal lecture. Jaws and Cosell asked the questions, and it was exciting to be part of a collegial environment where everyone wanted to learn more about football. But if Jaws and Cosell needed more information on the day-to-day life of a general manager, then it's clear that most of us are completely clueless. The television commentators know nothing. The talk radio hosts know nothing (surprise). I just told you everything I know, and it is all second-hand from Casserly; if I spoke to Polian or Ozzie Newsome, I would probably get a whole different story.

The minutiae of the NFL can be awe-inspiring. The general manager, flying to college campuses to talk to strength coaches about a player's work ethic. The scouts, carefully grading cornerbacks on their footwork and hip placement. The coordinators, watching one play 50 times in search of breakdowns and improvements. The team signs Matt Ryan and we cheer, or they sign Ryan Leaf and we scoff and accuse everyone of incompetence. But there's so much going on in those offices and film rooms that even the most respected experts need to educate one another.

So when a Schottenheimer or Pioli is hired, we may think immediately about his track record, his boom-and-bust personnel moves, and other products of that exec's last stop. We really should be thinking about the process: The new hire's skills as a communicator, delegator, and time manager. We have no way of measuring these attributes, of course, but these invisible skills will determine what makes or breaks teams like the Browns and Chiefs.

Eagles at Vikings

The Eagles don't play against opponents. They play against themselves. When the Eagles are playing well, particularly on offense, the opponent is almost irrelevant. When the are playing poorly, its usually because of their own dumb mistakes -- short yardage futility, an unwillingness to even pretend to run the ball -- not because the opponent played exceptionally or used some clever scheme to stop them.

I used to think that this was just an Eagles fan's perspective. But after watching the Eagles beat the Giants, get swept by the Redskins, tie the Bengals, and perform other feats of bipolarity this season, I'm convinced that it makes more sense to analyze Eagles Success vs. Eagles Mistakes than to really look at matchups.

The Vikings enter the playoffs with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback and an offense built around I-formation running with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. The Eagles defense, which is as consistent as the offense is frustrating, will have no trouble limiting the Vikings to 17 points or less. It's up to the Eagles offense to play the way it did in the last five weeks (minus the Redskins game). With Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter, and Kevin Curtis all healthy, the Eagles have the weapons to drop 31 points on Sunday. The meeting between Brad Childress and former mentor Andy Reid should be a mismatch, unless the erratic Donovan McNabb shows up, or DeSean Jackson drops three passes, or the third-and-1 hitch pass to a tight end returns to the playbook.

The Eagles are good enough to beat any team in the NFL. They are also bad enough to lose to (or at least tie) anyone. I believe the good Eagles will show up on Sunday, but I won't make any promises after that.

Colts at Chargers

Don't let the Chargers' record fool you. They may be 8-8, and they may have needed a four-game winning streak to win one of the ugliest divisions in football, but they aren't bad. They're eighth in DVOA, and their offense ranks third, one spot above the Colts.

The Chargers improved late in the season, not because everyone got healthy, but because everyone just got used to limping around the field. LaDainian Tomlinson is still battling groin injuries, but he has gained more than 90 yards in three of his last four games. Antonio Gates has also been hobbled all season, but he has caught 14 passes in the final three games. Chris Chambers missed a few midseason games and was ineffective in others, but his return has beefed up the passing game. Defensively, the Chargers are still nothing special, but they can win a shootout against anybody.

The Chargers' 23-20 loss to Indy in November wasn't a shootout, but it was a tight game decided by a 51-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. Expect more offense on Saturday, but the results should be the same: a tight game and a Colts win. Take the Colts, and if the over-under stays near 51, take the over.

Self Promotion

We linked to this in the "FO Goes Mainstream" category, but if you didn't see it there, click here to check out animated versions of my play diagrams in the New York Times. I worked up diagrams and explanations for every playoff team, so you'll get to see the Giants, Titans, Panthers, and Steelers plays next week.

You may remember that Bill Barnwell and I made a bet about Reggie Bush early in the season. Not to go into particulars, but Bill won, which means I have to host a Pro Bowl live blog. What? You say you have no interest in a Pro Bowl live blog? Well, what about a Season's End Extravaganza? Join me here at FO during the Pro Bowl, and we'll talk draft, free agency, and other topics while barely paying attention to the game.

Finally, there's now a Facebook group called Walkthrough Readers. I'll be using the group to provide updates, maybe post a few "outtakes," or even talk a little non-football. If you are on Facebook, look us up and join the party.

Support Your Rookie Quarterback

The Ravens and Falcons reached the playoffs with rookie quarterbacks and rookie coaches. Both teams have a good chance to reach the second round, so we'll talk about the rookie coaches another time. This week, we'll focus on Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan.

You know the basics: Both have played well, neither "looks like a rookie" when playing at his best. They both helped turn around last-place teams in good divisions, shattering the theory that a team with a rookie quarterback must plunge immediately into a rebuilding phase. While Flacco and Ryan have earned their share of adulation, offensive coordinators Cam Cameron (Ravens) and Mike Mularkey (Falcons) deserve much of the credit for their success. Some coaches throw inexperienced quarterbacks into the fray, demand that they learn the whole offense immediately, then search for alternate plans as soon as the rookie is overwhelmed (for evidence, see most of the Brian Billick era in Baltimore). Cameron and Mularkey, in conjunction with their head coaches, made the adjustments necessary for a team to be successful with a young quarterback.

Here's a simple blueprint for offensive success despite inexperience at quarterback:

1) Run the football. It seems simple enough, but some teams forget that the newbie probably isn't ready to pass 45 times per game. The Ravens and Falcons run on first-and-10 more than two-thirds of the time and on second-and-long about half the time. Neither is afraid to run or throw a short pass on third-and-long; sometimes it's better to give the defense a chance to go to work than to put too much pressure on the rookie.

2) Increase your protection: Rookie quarterbacks, even great ones, aren't going to read a defense and expertly find the fifth option on a pass. Given the choice between more reads and more blockers, Mularkey and Cameron generally choose extra blockers. Our game charting numbers aren't complete yet, but I am sure that the Ravens and Falcons are among the league leaders in six- and seven-man protection schemes. The Ravens may be the only team in the NFL that uses eight-man protection more than once or twice per game.

Figure 1: Falcons 70 Protection

The Falcons like to use max protection schemes while rolling the pocket. Figure 1 shows a typical 70 (seven man) protection package. The offensive line rolls to the left while backs Michael Turner and Ovie Mughelli block to the right. The center can double-team the nose tackle, but he's also responsible for any defender blitzing the A-gap. As shown, one of the backs can leak into the flat if there is no threat on the right side. Ryan shuffles right in this protection scheme, and his reads (there may only be two) are both on the right side.

The Falcons used a variation on this protection scheme in Week 17 against the Rams. Figure 2 shows both backs blocking to the right while most of the offensive line rolls left. Left guard Justin Blaylock, who is uncovered on the offensive line, pulls to the right to add additional protection on that side. Typically, Blaylock would be responsible for any wide blitzers, while Mughelli (as shown) or Turner reads the interior gaps for blitzers. Turner, slipping into the flat, provides a safety valve for Ryan.

Figure 2: Falcons Protection with Pulling Guard

Rolling the pocket and using additional blockers limits the offense, but when a rookie is calling the signals, it's better to be limited and well-executed than complicated and confusing.

3) Run some low-risk junk: The Wildcat is often thought of as the Dolphins' property, and they use it more than any other team. But the Ravens and Falcons also used direct snap plays for the same reasons the Dolphins used it: They needed a low-risk wrinkle to diversify their offense. The occasional direct snap to Jerious Norwood gave defenses one more worry while taking some heat off Ryan. The Ravens used Flacco-Troy Smith trick plays to give Smith some snaps (shutting up a few high-profile defenders was an added bonus) while taking advantage of the athleticism of both quarterbacks.

When they aren't using two quarterbacks or snapping directly to a running back, the Ravens and Falcons can be found tinkering with unbalanced lines (a Ravens staple) or a full house backfield. It's important to note these are not risky strategies. When we think of trick plays, we usually think of reverses, halfback passes, and fake punts: Plays that could easily result in a turnover or ten-yard loss. A direct snap is no more risky than an off-tackle run, but it can force the defense to prepare for a different package or adjust quickly to a new formation. The more time the defense spends worrying about the Wildcat or imbalanced line, the less time it can spend devising blitzes or disguising coverages.

4) Limit the decisions. The Falcons started last week's victory over the Rams with a handoff from a full-house backfield. Then, they ran a play-action screen from the shotgun. They followed that with a smoke screen to Roddy White. Then came a quick out to Michael Jenkins and an incomplete pass on a rollout/waggle. The drive ended with a field goal, but the sequence was fascinating because Ryan got the ball into the hands of his best playmakers -- Norwood, White, Jenkins -- without having to throw more than 10 yards downfield or make any complex reads.

The Ravens do things differently. Flacco usually uncorks four or five deep bombs per game. He also completes several comeback and out routes to Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton. It's not a high-percentage system, but Cameron's outs-and-bombs formula does make maximum use of Flacco's arm strength, and it limits the number of reads the rookie has to make.

Mix easy-to-read passes with a good running game, extra protection, and a dash of trickery, and you have an offense that a (good) rookie can ride all the way to the playoffs. It's that simple. The Steelers used the same formula when Ben Roethlisberger was a novice -- remember all of the crazy Hines Ward/Antwaan Randle El plays they used to run? -- and some team will use the same approach to protect Sam Bradford or Matt Stafford next year. If it doesn't take them to the playoffs, it should at least prevent them from boring their fans or giving the youngster shellshock.

Nutshells

Falcons at Cardinals: Will Leitch calls the Cardinals a "buzzsaw," and for a few weeks in midseason that designation wasn't drenched in irony. That changed by mid-November. In their losses to the Eagles, Vikings, and Patriots, the Cardinals looked like one of those Fisher Price buzzsaws that couldn't cut through a wet paper towel. Most experts are approaching this year's playoffs with an "anyone could win" attitude, but the Cardinals aren't classified as "anyone." They showed some offensive life against the Seahawks last week, but there's a big difference between scoring 34 points against a last-legs team and stepping up in the playoffs. The Falcons will win, with John Abraham picking up at least two sacks and Michael Turner deflating the football in the second half. Sorry, Leitch and Cardinals fans everywhere: This lame little playoff run is all you are going to get.

Ravens at Dolphins: It's a battle of surprise teams, a duel between two of the league's most prolific offensive junkmeisters. It's a potential revenge game for Cam Cameron, the failed Dolphins coach who found success as the Ravens offensive coordinator. It's a battle between a cannon-armed rookie and a heady veteran whose arm isn't quite as limp as we thought it was last year. It's the Dolphins' first playoff game since losing to the Ravens 20-3 in 2001, which was about an epoch ago (Jay Fiedler led the Dolphins in passing and rushing that day; Elvis Grbac and Terry Allen formed the Ravens' backfield tandem).

This is a game filled with storylines, but it will ultimately be decided by defense. The Ravens have a great defense, good enough to stop the Wildcat (as pointed out by Doug Farrar) and keep Chad Pennington from picking his way down the field. The Dolphins defense is above average, but they can be run against, and the Ravens will pound away with their three-headed backfield. Like Vegas, I am going four-for-four on road teams, taking the Ravens in a low-scoring game.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 02 Jan 2009

27 comments, Last at 05 Jan 2009, 12:11pm by deep64blue

Comments

1
by Unverified Telamon (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 11:52am

So did only 6 teams make the playoffs this year? Last I checked, only 20 teams seasons had ended.
Also, first.

4
by livingonapear :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 12:50pm

You do know that only 8 teams are playing this weekend. Right? 4 games are being played this weekend, so Mike is covering 4 games.

5
by noahpoah :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 1:35pm

Tanier wrote "When the season ends (as it just did for 26 teams)", which has no reasonable construal, as far as I can tell. One could say that the (regular) season ended for all 32 teams, or that the (regular plus post) season ended for 20, but the fact that only eight of twelve playoff teams play this weekend and that Tanier is covering only four games in this column doesn't make it true that the season just ended for 26 teams.

/pedantry

17
by fyo :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 5:03pm

Maybe you should RTFA before making snide comments to others.

Tanier wrote the following:

"When the season ends (as it just did for 26 teams) [...]"

(my emphasis)

2
by Joe Pisarcik Magnate (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 11:56am

I really enjoyed that segment on Casserly. Thanks. What was his background before he was a GM?

9
by dgc (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 2:18pm

IIRC he's pretty much had every front office job in the Redskins' organization. Started as an intern in the George Allen days.

20
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 8:34pm

Agreed, very insightfull. Makes you see what might have been wrong in Denver: A very busy HC, and a system set in its ways. Sometimes change for the sake of change is actually good...

It's kind of a double post but appreciation can come to plenty, can it?

3
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 12:16pm

Good column. Laughed at the first part, enjoyed the revelation of what GMs do, reading about Matt Ryan reminded me "Thank God that no-one argues over the merits of Michael Vick as a NFL QB anymore" ...

6
by Tim Kirk (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 1:36pm

Very interesting. Reading the GM section made me wonder about the problems GM/HC combined teams might have with simply not having the ability to send a GM out scouting midweek at the same time as the HC is home coaching... Whilst that might not always make so much difference with the obvious top picks, I could see it making a huge difference in the pointers towards possible bargains later and people you should be considering as a second-third round sleeper. That sort of thing, talking around the major player in question and finding out more about others ("If you like what he does as a blocking WR, you should consider this other guy too..." kind of thing).

It does seem that one of the things the really good GMs get noticed for is regularly making small trade downs (more often than the trade-ups, though they make them too) and knowing the value of the players they have available for their later first day and second picks. Makes sense to me that a GM with more freedom to personally take part in the scouting and evaluation process would be better equipped to look at a wider spread of mid-range talent than one who has to coach as well and has limited chance to see in person.

7
by superbears (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 1:52pm

Mike, that New York times article was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. I hope it becomes a tradition, the flash player was very informative.

21
by Roadcone (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 10:20pm

The animated play diagrams are great! How much work does it take to make these?

The stat lines at the bottom of each matchup are really nice too. I'm a graphical person and like nifty graphs.

Tim

8
by Eddie (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 1:58pm

So when Millen spent much of his time in Pennsylvania, I take it a lot of this process was broken down.

10
by JohnnySocko (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 2:56pm

Kudos on the segment about the GM. Very interesting read. I especially like the comments about how little most people understand about the job. It can not be over-stated how little the "talking heads" really know what they are talking about. I think this explains why a lot of GM's bristle at the media in general. I listen to Bill Polian's weekly radio show and he incessantly refers to the "pundits" (one of his favorite terms) as having no knowledge or understanding of how an NFL team operates. At first, I took offense to this attitude and considered it a sign of Polian's ego. However, with time I have begun to see why he has such contempt for the "noise" (another one of his favorite terms) from the media that surrounds the Colts and every other NFL team.

11
by hubcap (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 3:04pm

So when Millen spent much of his time in Pennsylvania, I take it a lot of this process was broken down.
===
Definitely.

To switch sports, here in DC Michael Jordan didn't even live in Washington when he was the GM of the Wizards. His press buddy Michael Wilbon used to defend him saying you could do the job on the phone and (naturally) people who criticized MJ were idiots. All I know is, 29/30 NBA GMs thought it was a good idea to live in the same city as their team. I assume the same is true for the NFL. The office doesn't run right when the boss is never around.

12
by black president (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 3:18pm

brilliant stuff mike, you're a must read for me every week and this is why.

btw, i think cosell is something of an eagles fan. did you guys talk about the birds?

13
by 3.141592653 not... :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 3:21pm

Anecdote about scouting from the other side of the counter:

I work at a hotel in the town of a Big East school. We get scouts calling all the time for rooms during football week-ends. The hotel is about 3/4 of a mile from the stadium, we have people who have paid an exorbitant amount of money to stay every football week-end for the past ten years, and the scout calls three days ahead of time and asks for a room, and we say; 'Sorry, sir, we are sold out,' and the inevitable reply 'but I work for the (insert team name here).' I doubt I would like the life a scout very much, but hell, we are suppose to pay for someone else to stay at a different hotel, so this scout can get a room at our hotel, and he will ask for a discount because he works for (insert team name).ยก

If the Ravens do not slaughter Miami they should be ashamed of themselves and turn in their football credentials.

14
by bubqr :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 3:27pm

Great read, as always.

On the facebook group, why is it a restricted one ? Which criterias are you going to use in order to filter members ? I'm worried. Like, really worried.

15
by dsouten :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 3:45pm

The Redskins' Vinny Cerrato hosts a live radio show on Monday, which is apparently supposed to be his "busiest office day of the week."

19
by Johnny Socko (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 6:27pm

I see your point. However, I'll add that Bill Polian also does a weekly radio show every Monday, and this doesnt seem to have negatively impacted the Colts.

23
by dsouten :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 2:22pm

Interesting. Now Jim Zorn also has something called "his own radio show" which is really just him calling into a regular talk show for 15 minutes each week. Cerrato is actually in-studio taking calls from 10-noon on Mondays and Fridays. Is Polian's setup closer to Zorn's or Cerrato's? I'm curious how unique Vinny's situation is because some in the local media have absolutely excoriated him for this.

24
by Johnny Socko (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 3:15pm

Polian's show is every Monday from 6 to 7 pm. It is essentially a call-in show, with the callers being heavily screened before they are put on the air. The show is hosted by Bob Lamey, the Colts play-by-play guy. So in terms of Polian's time, the show requires no prep work and/or travel. Nevertheless, it is interesting that he is willing to sacrifice an hour on the busiest days of the week for a GM.

As far as excitement, the show is 45 to 50 minutes of vanilla "coach speak". However, there are usually a few fascinating moments when Bill provides some interesting perspective into the life of a GM.

25
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 4:25pm

Monday might be the busiest GM day, but I guess Polian's work should be completed by 6pm. Especially for the Colts who's games are usually over by 4pm on Sunday.

16
by I am excellent at making love (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 4:13pm

I believe that during the discussion of the Reggie Bush bet that there was some mention of being required to drink a six-pack of Sierra Nevada while live-blogging the Pro Bowl--I think that added component will only enhance my viewing experience.

And some others.

18
by Blotzphoto :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 5:51pm

Your words on GM'ing may explain a lot about why the Bengals, one of the teams out there with no GM, continue to struggle. Sounds like a lot more work than the skinflint Cincinnati front office is willing to put out there, although we have improved a lot on our midseason pickups (Dhani Jones, Crocker, Benson). Here's hoping the rumors of actually hiring a GM are true.

22
by Bobman :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 2:38am

MT, fun read about a GM's life. Always thought HC/GM combined was nuts and this seems to support it. Better communication, but "fewer eyes" reviewing stuff (less varied input) and just not enough time in a week.

I also retract my nomination of Mike Tanier as the coolest math teacher in the US and change the nomination to the Greatest Journalist Ever.

No, that's a bit much. Make that The Greatest Sports Journalist Ever.

Okay, off the hyperbole wagon, make that The Greatest Living Sports Journalist in the US.

Okay, he's alive, a sports journalist and I can read him weekly for free during the football season? And NEVERE a dull column. It'll have to do.

26
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 4:13am

Mike, I don't think you could've been more wrong about Saturday. 34 points in regulation in San Diego and Arizona rolled.

27
by deep64blue :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:11pm

I guess all GMs have different syles and ways of working depending on how their organisations are set up but I'm not convinced the GM should be on the road - that's what Scouts and Directors should be doing. The GM is the Exec who needs to be on top of everything, hard to do that away from the office.