The most important hire in the NFL isn’t a head coach
Players win games in the National Football League, coaches lose them. That’s an axiom that’s been around for a long, long time but one that I generally agree with.
Even if Albert Einstein coached the game of football and crafted the most effective, diabolical, genetically superior scheme the world has ever known that made the theory of relativity look pedestrian, he would still need players to execute said scheme correctly. If players don’t execute what coaches know and believe, it remains a theory.
Players win games. Show me a coach that consistently wins football games that has inferior players? It doesn’t happen. Players are the commodity in the National Football League, the currency of the industry. They come in all shapes and sizes with personalities that vary and souls that are difficult to measure, weigh or appraise.
It takes a keen eye and years of experience watching film and reading people to be a good personnel man; it takes conviction, belief and a sturdy, confident hand to survive in the cold, dark realm of wins and losses.
Scouts, front office personnel men and general managers earn their reputations and their salaries based on what they said or are saying about players when they came out of college or are making the adjustment to the pro game. As you’re watching Colin Kaepernick take snaps and make plays, Russell Wilson get outside the pocket and throw strikes, Aaron Hernandez catch passes and dismantle coverage and Arian Foster shred defensive fronts, keep in mind these players were never considered great prospects by NFL scouts, personnel men or general managers. Need I mention Tom Brady?
But somebody within the organization — somebody with authority — got on the table and said, “Oh Captain! My Captain!” for each one of these players and so many like them. Whether this person was the general manager or not is of little consequence because it is the GM’s duty to make the final decision — despite who it is on the table.
San Francisco’s GM, Trent Baalke, took Kaepernick in the second round when many scouts believed he would make a nice receiver in the league; Seattle’s John Schneider showed fortitude by drafting a QB that wasn’t even 5’11”; Bill Belichick saw something in Aaron Hernandez, an undersized tweener without a position, that made him believe he had a chance to be special; And Houston’s Rick Smith assembled a talent-laden team in near obscurity — signing undrafted free-agent players like Arian Foster.
And this is why, nine out of ten times, the most important hire an NFL owner will make is the general manager. More times than not, in a gross simplification of the truth, the GM of a football team assembles the talent that will be coached by the staff. Although we all know this process is critical to the success of a franchise (“Players win games, coaches lose them.”), many general managers labor in the shadows of NFL offices. Most fans can tell you the names of every head coach in the league; yet these same fans would struggle to name even a quarter of the general managers in the league.
Even most owners don’t seem to place the appropriate price tag on the value of the GM position. Coaches are often paid more than the general manager in most franchises and the GM typically gets two or three coaching hires before the owner starts questioning his ability. Only when teams start winning Super Bowls, plural, does the general manager seem to get his due.
The Cardinals are searching for their next head coach and the state is abuzz with the drama in Tempe but the most important hire has already occurred: Michael Bidwill hired Steve Keim as the Cardinals general manager.
Keim has much to learn about the administration and nuance of the position, but his ability to recognize personnel has earned a reputation in NFL circles. That reputation has allowed him to interview for GM positions with five other teams over the last two years. Although Keim is only 40, and his age was a concern for many owners, it was only a matter of time before he became the GM of another NFL franchise.
When was the last time the Arizona Cardinals had a front office member coveted and respected enough by other teams he would be considered for their GM position? Bob Ferguson?
So as the rest of the world falls all over itself or gouges their eyes out over who the next head coach for the Arizona Cardinals will be, remember: players win games in the National Football League, coaches lose them.
Give me a great GM any day over a great head coach.