As mentioned recently in connection with the ongoing employment of Rod Wood in Detroit, the best job with any NFL team is team president. It has a very high salary, and it has very low accountability.
Wood has lasted in his job for five years, none of which have been particularly successful for the Lions. In the same division, Bears president Ted Phillip has now served in that job for 21 years.
An employee of the team since 1983, the accountant by training has had his hands on the wheel of a proud and storied franchise that has been to the playoffs only five times during his tenure as team president. Three years ago, the question of Phillips’ ongoing job security was raised here. Far closer to the bone, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune recently noted that “[t]here has been an increasing tide of questions” regarding Phillips’ future.
The question is this: How accountable should Phillips be for the performance of the team? Though he’s not in football operations, he hires and fires the people in football operations.
How many General Managers and coaches should a team president get to hire before the team president becomes the person who is fired? People with those jobs do a nice job of avoiding scrutiny by arguing that they’re not part of the football side of the business. (Some also do a nice job of claiming credit when things go well.) Still, at some point (like, say, after two decades of underachievement) fair and tough questions should be asked about the person who essentially runs the team on behalf of ownership.
Although owners can’t be fired, everyone else can be. In Chicago, the question of whether Phillips should be has not yet landed in the middle of the radar screen. Whether or not that happens in the midst of a season of promise that has become a season of underperformance ultimately is up to those who hold the power to make the big decisions.