When teams change coaches, they often know who’ll be getting the job next. With the league office changing one of its highest-profile executives, the NFL doesn’t immediately know who will be taking over.
Per multiple sources, the NFL enters the process without having a predetermined replacement. Lockhart, we’re told, will have involvement in the P.R. function as the league locates his replacement, and as the league gets the next chief P.R. employee up to speed.
Lockhart’s best move during his two-year tenure came during the 2017 season, when he began conducting regular media briefings by conference call. Aimed at driving a daily narrative that otherwise is set by media that the league doesn’t own or operate, Lockhart typically started the call with a planned message (often with a guest having expertise on the topic), and he’d then open the floor to questions.
Two full weeks have passed without the scheduling of a media briefing, which in hindsight should have been regarded as a hint that something was up. That something, we now know, is a change in the position.
With senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron assuming a much lower profile than Dean Blandino, Lockhart had become the most prominent public voice of the league throughout the 2017 campaign. And the idea to provide ask-any-question access to reporters on the call was a great move, creating a sense of transparency and making it much easier and efficient for those who cover the league to do their jobs.
It’s unclear whether the media briefings will continue in the short-term, or in the long-term. Lockhart’s replacement will likely make the decision, and the next person may choose to stop doing it, if for no reason other than to break from his or her predecessor’s ways. That would be unfortunate; the next league spokesperson should keep the things that worked, and change the things that could have worked better. The media briefings definitely worked.
Something clearly didn’t work for the NFL and Lockhart, however. Even when a departure is couched as voluntary, there will be suspicion that it wasn’t. After Commissioner Roger Goodell (finally) received his contract extension, questions emerged regarding the job security of his lieutenants. For Lockhart, it’s entirely possible that the circumstances prompting the exit came to a head after he and his boss disagreed publicly on whether the Commissioner’s next contract will be his last one.
For others in the league office, departures could be looming. Although Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn’t get his way regarding his efforts to block the Goodell extension, Jones possibly will get the next best thing, in his view: An overhaul of the layers and level of executives who report to Goodell.