For the purposes of this article, I am defining an NFL general manager as THE person where all personnel below him are answerable to him. (Coaches, players, support staff). This general manager also only answers to the people above him-owner, team president, CEO, those types of positions.
There are currently only about five teams that don't have this kind of structure, let's have a look at them...
The first Team I wish to look at is the Seattle Seahawks. Mike Holmgren's regime had him as both coach and general manager. He then left to become solely a vice president with the Cleveland Browns, he has quite a bit of power there and overseas a general manager of personnel.
The Seahawks replaced Mike Holmgren's system with an almost identical one with Pete Carroll at the position of head coach and vice president in charge of personnel. Pete Carroll has some prior NFL experience, but is most known for his multiple championship contending college team-USC. It seems kind of strange to give a man so long out of the NFL a position of this type of power; it will be interesting to see how this works out for both the team and Pete Carroll.
It seems as though the owners of the Seattle Seahawks feel comfortable with this arrangement as they have been running it for more than a decade.
The Dallas Cowboys also run an unconventional front office. Jerry Jones and his son basically hold all positions of power. To be sure, there are other executives and assistant executives listed in their front office but they are more positions that are delegated to by the Jones family. I'm sure that these executives do come up with their own initiatives but probably are not allowed to implement them before getting approval from Jerry Jones or his son.
This system has been in place ever since Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys; it replaced one of the NFL's most successful front offices in history. The Cowboys have been fairly consistent in the regular seasons and have won a few championships under Jones leadership. In this case the team went from a traditional front office structure to more of a monarchy; and just like any monarchy its effectiveness is reliant upon the intelligence and performance of the monarch. Much as I hate to say this, Jerry Jones has been effective in his system. About the only slip up he seems to have made lately, was to forgo drafting or concentrating on the offensive line recently in favor of skill positions.
The Oakland Raiders have a front office remarkably similar to Dallas even though it was created back in the 70s. Through that whole time, Al Davis has unquestionably been the man in charge. He continues to hold that position even though he's well into his 80s. The reason this works for the Raiders is that Al Davis is a football person through and through-he's literally done it all. The Raiders had a very productive draft in 2010, and are starting to see results on the field.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a front office dominated by the Rooney family. They are well respected and recognized as football savvy people by their colleagues. To an outsider it is probably hard to figure out who amongst them is really in charge, probably a question for a Steelers fan. But the point again, is that this system has been in place for decades and has shown consistently good results measured by championships.
And lastly, for this conversation are the Washington Redskins. the Redskins front office situation most closely resembles Seattle's. But how they arrived at the current situation is different. The Seahawks hired Pete Carroll to coach their team and to make all the player personnel decisions. Pete Carroll replaced Mike Holmgren who also had 1the same position, plus there was a somewhat long history of this situation and a comfort level in the front office.
I think the Redskins arrived at the Shanahan regime out of absolute desperation. We have had three average and two better than average coaches in the Snyder era-Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs, and Norv Turner. In between these three coaches, we have some of the least successful coaches in the last 10 years-Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn. We as fans need to ask ourselves why we have gone through so many head coaches in this time frame. Even some of the worst teams in league have hung onto coaches longer than us.
My guess is that every one of these coaches was hired by Dan Snyder the owner, and not the general manager Vinny Cerrato.. Dan Snyder does not seem to have the patience or the football sense to build a team from the top down, yet this seems to be the way he's going at it. Dan Snyder fired a perfectly competent GM in Charlie Casserly for his handpicked minion Vinny Cerrato. What is so frustrating for Redskins fan and so inconceivable is why has Dan Snyder hung onto Vinny Cerrato for 10 years when it is so obvious that he is below average as a NFL general manager. After some semblance of order was restored by Joe Gibbs, Vinny and Danny refused to promote Gregg Williams (Joe Gibbs handpicked successor) for no apparent reason other than he wasn't going to let Vinny Cerrato have a free reign-so Vinny Cerrato had no choice but to lobby against him with Danny. The result of these shenanigans was the Zorn era; no other available coach seemed to want to coach the Redskins, if that's not writing on the wall, I don't know what is.
So after the total failure of the Jim Zorn tenure, the team once again found itself without a coach. Shanahan meanwhile,, had been fired by the Denver Broncos at a very inopportune time for him to get another job. This resulted in him having to take a year off from coaching and ponder why he might have been fired. This is a match made in heaven; a coach who refuses or is unable to spend a year looking at what possible mistakes he might have made in Denver which illustrates both his massive ego and stubbornness. The bride in this unholy matrimony is our Washington Redskins. Dan Snyder had run things so abysmally last 10 years and fired two of the three best coaches he had ; Dan felt he had to go with a household name. Another young coordinator who might take two or three years to get this mess all straightened out was going to severely affect Dan's pocketbook. The only big-name coach who was out there who was willing to take this on was Mike Shanahan;. Shanahan runs things his way, even though he had his best years working under a general manager and some of his worst when he was making personnel decisions, that stubborn, egotistical Shanahan installed the exact same system that got him fired in Denver. The reason this happened, is that the Redskins currently do not have strong leadership at the top. We don't have an owner like Al Davis or the Rooney family, there was no one to stop Shanahan from taking over.
So while I do admit that this situation can work for other teams, it will not work for the Washington Redskins because the man at the top has absolutely no football since it seems incapable of learning anything in the last 10 years.
I'm afraid that we are due for even more turnover in the very near future, Mike is almost certainly going to be forced by public opinion to demote/fire his son Kyle. The Shanahan's as a team have managed to disrespect the first quarterback that has been embraced by the Washington fans since Brad Johnson. The Redskins traded two very valued draft picks for quarterback Donovan McNabb and now seemed destined to see him leave at the end of the season. Who is going to hold Mike Shanahan accountable for this waste of resources? The all-powerful Dan Snyder? I highly doubt it. Bruce Allen the “general manager”? I think the more likely scenario is that Bruce Allen might get fired by Mike Shanahan. Will Mike Shanahan be able to look in the mirror and say I made a mistake? Honestly, what do you think. It will be interesting to see the stories that the Shanahan's concoct in the next eight or nine weeks As They Drive, Donovan McNabb out of town.
Is there talent on this team? Absolutely. i Is there leadership on this team? There is currently. Are there coaches on the team who look to maximize their players effectiveness and to not put them in situations where they can fail? The jury is still out on that I think. Is there chaos on this team? Absolutely, and it will continue until we get some strong football minds and division of power in the front office.