Most key jobs in the NFL are driven by relationships. Who you know, who you’ve worked with, who you’re trusted by, and/or who you’re related to. But the process has become even more detached from merit when it comes to General Manger positions.
As one league source explained it, it’s becoming more and more like politics, with the necessary connections extending beyond the normal network of colleagues and friends and extending to the cabal of former General Managers (Ron Wolf, Ernie Accorsi, Charley Casserly) who routinely serve as consultants to owners. Throw in search firms like Korn Ferry (and their primary NFL headhunter, Jed Hughes), and a person hoping to be a G.M. has to be working several different angles and relationships in order to get serious consideration.
Further complicating matters is the existence of a formal Career Development Advisory Panel, with members who also serve as consultants to individual teams who are looking for General Managers.
“There are major issues with the process right now,” the source said. “When was the last time there was a legitimate G.M. search where the best candidate was actually hired without interference or back-door politicking?”
The back-door politicking recently reached new heights in Green Bay, where Jed Hughes served as a consultant to the Packers’ search for a G.M. and is running the Texans’ search for a G.M. Coincidentally, Packers CEO Mark Murphy (whose daughter works for the Korn Ferry firm) somehow knew on Saturday night that he’d better move quickly to promote Brian Gutekunst to G.M. before the Texans officially interviewed him. Did Murphy know, via Hughes, how serious the Texans were about trying to hire Gutekunst?
It’s a fair question, and it brings to light the conflicts of interest and nepotism/cronyism that currently pollutes the process.
“It used to be the best guy or best interview got the job,” the source said. Now, the strategy has become striking the right relationship with the right person who has the ear of owners who, frankly, have no idea what to do so they essentially delegate/abdicate the responsibility of finding a General Manager to someone who necessarily will push family and friends and will not give a second glance to potentially qualified candidates whom the consultants don’t know and/or don’t like.
This isn’t anything the league should address. But it’s something that the smart teams will figure out how to avoid when searching for the best candidates. And if enough of the best candidates are found through a legitimate process aimed at getting the best candidates for the job, other owners will realize that the current crop of consultants and search firms are going to nudge the franchise toward a narrow subset of candidates who ultimately may not be the best ones for the vacant jobs.