During his recent interview with Charlie Rose of PBS, Jaguars owner Shahid Khan talked about his philosophy for building a successful football operation.
One of his answers caught our attention, and prompting us to pose a follow-up question of our own.
“If you look at auto parts business, you’ve got to get the right people,” Khan said. “I wouldn’t be sitting here if we didn’t have the best group of people in the auto parts business. I mean absolutely I believe it, and so what was the process I used over there? Very similar here. When the season started, things weren’t going our way, I said, ‘Well, we might have to make a change.’ There’s only two outcomes. You make a change, or you don’t make a change.
“So if you’re gonna make a change, you’ve got to get ready. You can’t wait until the season is over. That’s too late. And you can talk to some people, other you can’t. So I started off talking to the wise old man of the NFL, who had gone through a turnaround, a number of them.”
The answer caught my attention, because there had been no reports or announcements of Khan working with a consultant. I asked the Jaguars if the “wise old man of the NFL” to whom Khan was referring could be identified.
There actually were three, all former NFL General Managers: Ernie Accorsi, Bill Polian, and Ron Wolf.
Consulting can be a fairly lucrative post-retirement proposition for guys no longer employed by a team. Indeed, Accorsi consulted with the Panthers last year after G.M. Marty Hurney was fired, and Wolf consulted with the Chargers following the postseason house-cleaning in San Diego. The year before that, Wolf consulted with the Raiders.
For Polian, providing consulting services can be a little trickier. As a member of the media (he’s employed by ESPN and SiriuxXM NFL Radio), he should avoid financial relationships that could undermine his objectivity. If he’s getting paid by one of the teams to help that team improve its situation, he could (in theory) be tempted to avoid criticizing the team with which he’s consulting during — and possibly after — the assignment ends. At a minimum, some would say the relationship should be disclosed to the audience. (That said, it’s unknown at this point whether any of the three former G.M.’s were compensated by the Jaguars, or whether they decided to simply give away some of the nuggets of wisdom that comes from years of experience in the NFL.)
A more subtle reality of the NFL’s hiring process flows from the manner in which Khan planned his next move. He explained that, when the season ended, he knew he was going to make a change — and that he knew who he would target.
“[W]e made the change the earliest we could, I immediately get on the phone and get permission to interview the people,” Khan said. “And the guy, our General Manager David Caldwell, from everything we knew he was the best guy for us. Great football mind, great experience in judging talent, understands value, is a good guy. Somebody I can relate to and have good chemistry with.”
Caldwell, by all appearances, is the right guy for the job (except in the eyes of John Morgan and the Tebowmaniacs). But the way the process unfolded points to the lingering disconnect between the Rooney Rule and the league’s actual minority hiring practices. (And we make this point fully aware of the fact that Khan is a member of a minority class.)
By targeting a candidate before any candidates currently employed by other teams can be interviewed, the interview process becomes an exercise in confirmation, not elimination. With the help of Accorsi, Wolf, and Polian, Khan settled on Caldwell. No other candidate — regardless of race or any other characteristic — was getting the job unless Caldwell showed up at the interview dressed like Princess Leia.
It’s not a knock on Khan or the Jaguars. It’s an observation that the Rooney Rule kicks in when it’s too late to make a difference. Owners usually decide who they want before the jobs become vacant. Thus, the goal should be not to force minority interviews that become in most cases a waste of everyone’s time but to find a way to get minority candidates on the radar screen of owners at a time when they’re making tentative decisions about who they want to hire.
And if NFL owners are going to use former NFL General Managers like Accorsi, Polian, and Wolf as consultants, those are the guys the league office should aggressively be encouraging to present to their temporary clients a diverse selection of options, far beyond their friends or former colleagues who may eventually hire a friend, a former colleague, or a relative.