Ian Kenyon on “The Interview” (RSPWP III)

Texans' Owner Bob McNair. Photo by Karen.
Texans’ Owner Bob McNair. Photo by Karen.

You’ve just had an interview for your first GM position, but you’re ambivalent about the club’s organizational leadership. Will you take the job if offered?  

What is 2014’s Writer’s Project?

This year’s RSPWP is a different take on team building. I will have 15-20 written scenarios based on true NFL stories provided to me from current and former NFL employees (scouts, players, and consultants). In each scenario, the participating writer is the general manager of an NFL team has a decision to make. Each scenario will have at least two different writers. I will post the writers’ responses and the actual outcome of the case study (if applicable).

Find out more about RSPWP3 and see other GM Scenarios.

GM Scenario No.9: The Interview

You’re the assistant general manager with a successful organization. Your boss is revered as a talent scout and negotiator. He has groomed you since you caught his attention as an area scout.

Your boss is still at the peak of his powers so there’s no shot you’ll succeed him anytime soon. However, he believes you’re ready to take the helm of a front office.  Having a heavyweight like your current boss in your corner is a great door opener.

And when a job opened outside your conference you got an interview. The team has a storied history, but has fallen on hard times. The fan base is loyal, but the roster and coaching staff is a turnstile of young talent that has cycled in and out.

The reason most suspect is the owner. He’s an elder statesman in the league with a great football mind, but he’s a control freak.

He likes to give coaches and staff first-time opportunities and it appears his motivation behind his hiring tendency is that it’s easier to maintain control over all facets of the organization with new people.

The owner did make a rare hiring decision with his last GM, bringing in an experienced administrator with multiple teams. However, the individual in this role had a much better reputation in the media for his work than he did in the league.

Around NFL circles this GM practiced the “remora” behavior in his career; attaching himself to a winner and coasting wherever he went. Eventually, there were enough teams that got wise to the fact that he was a yes-man who talked a better game than he walked. The players on this team had such little contact with the former GM that they referred to the owner as the GM and they called the guy with the actual title a “ghost.”

Although known for your diplomacy in a world filled with ego-driven, combative personalities, you’re not a softie and you’ve never adopted remora behavior during your career. Of course, you began life in the NFL with a $25K salary and doing all of the work that no one wanted to do.

This job could pay somewhere between 3-6 times the amount you’re making as an assistant GM and likely closer to the higher end of that range. It’s difficult to turn own that kind of money.

But your interview with the owner left you ambivalent about a potential offer.  The owner spent a lot of time telling you about his football philosophy and on the surface it was all helpful information:

  • The mentality he expects from a team.
  • The offensive and defensive style he’s seeking.
  • The type of players the team needs to draft.

The problem with what you heard is that while your job title might be general manager in title, you get the sense from the way this owner talked that your role would still be an assistant manager. In fact, you wonder if you’d have as much decision-making input as this team’s GM as you do as an assistant for your current team.

You asked the owner specific questions about his desired football style and players, phrasing the questions to see if the owner considered alternatives to his plans. One of your questions was about run blocking fits for running back styles and he made it clear that he had a very specific stance on the type of players he wanted and he wasn’t veering from it.

The owner also said that you would be expected to keep the current scouting staff and front office employees. When you asked if you would be allowed to make changes if certain personnel don’t work out after year one, the owner’s response was brief:

“RECOMMENDATIONS to me about changes, yes.”

When you asked the owner to discuss weak spots within the organization he told you that football isn’t all that complicated and if he were to offer you the job you’d learn from him that what works is generally simple  and that the hard part is getting people to execute. Then he changed the subject.

You’re concerned that working with this owner could give you the reputation across the NFL as a yes-man. However, what message does it send if you turn down the first opportunity to become a GM? There’s no guarantee you’ll earn this shot again—especially if owners get the idea that you didn’t even want to fight for what you believed in.

You have a call on your cell phone. It’s that team owner’s office. The admin asks if you have time to speak with him.

If he offers you the job do you take it?  Why or why not? Are you concerned about being pegged a yes man? Is there anything you’d try to negotiate with the owner after he makes his offer?

Ian Kenyon’s Decision

This is a fascinating scenario because there really is no winning. If I take the job, I’m going to make a significant amount more money than I am currently in the short-term; but it sounds like I’d be sacrificing a lot of what I‘d want to do simply to chase short-term money. If I turn down the job, I’m sacrificing that financial gain, while also squandering a dream job title with no guarantee of ever being offered it again.

I’d be pretty firm in my stance that if I’m going to take over as General Manager, that there needs to be some trust in my ability to my job. They sought me out and interviewed me for a reason (they like what I’ve done in the past), and if they want me to be the guy to turn it around, they’re going to have to put some trust in my ability to do so and let me do things independently.

That’s the negotiating angle I would come from.  Simply that I’m a successful assistant GM from a successful franchise with a recommendation from my team’s current General Manager; if I’m going to leave that franchise, it’s not for a job title, it’s going to be to help turn the team I’m taking over into a winner.

If the owner agrees to give me that flexibility and we can see eye-to-eye on personnel issues and he displays trust in my ability to handle it on my own, I would gladly take the position.

However, if the owner was firm in his stance that he wants complete control over personnel decisions and without saying the words, implies that he’s just looking for a “yes man” that he cuts a big check to, then I would politely decline the offer.

The reasoning behind declining the offer is simple. The NFL is a “What have you done for me lately?” type of league. If I take that job and I can’t do it the way I want to do it and we ultimately end up falling further into a hole due to the owner’s restrictions I’ll be out of a job in 1-2 years anyways and that huge salary bump will be extremely short-lived.

Job security is virtually non-existent for NFL front office personnel. What fun would my job be if I’m walking on egg shells with my owner, not doing things the way that I want to do them, in a position where I have no job security?

As I mentioned earlier, this is basically a massive risk chasing a quicker paycheck. If I’m a true up-and-comer and seen that way around the league I have to trust the process, trust myself, and wait for the right opportunity that will net the best results for me in the long-term.

I wouldn’t be too concerned with the message being sent about turning down the opportunity to become a GM. It sounds like this owner is pretty notorious for want to run his own ship and other owners likely know that as well. They will understand my reasoning for turning it down.

These guys know what goes on around the league and the type of personalities exists within front offices. When they’re looking for their next GM candidate, I’d expect they’d be looking ahead to their future and what’s best for their team and not worrying about my turning down one offer year(s) ago.

It sounds like I have a tremendous working relationship with my current boss and he really appreciates the work I put in and knows that I’m an asset to their organization. I might try to leverage this offer into some form of a small pay raise citing that I’m getting offers for a larger position with a 3-6x bigger pay bump, but I’m willing to turn down that offer if he can just give me a small pay raise as a gesture that he wants me to stay there.  Which I would imagine most teams would do as it’s often cheaper to give someone a small raise than it is to replace that person entirely.

I’m already part of a winning organization, I have a great working relationship with the General Manager of my team, and I really have no reason to leave my position other than simply to take that next step in my career. But there’s no reason to take that next step unless I think it can be a successful endeavor for the rest of my career.

If I’m having this many doubts about my role and job security, I think it’s in my best interest to stay where I’m at, continue building my successful franchise and trust in the process. If I don’t get offered another General Manager job for the rest of my career, it’s still not the end of the world as there is/was no guarantee that the GM position with this other team would have worked out anyways.

Matt’s Notes

I like Ian’s idealism. He wants to earn his pay by doing the job that he’s capable of doing. He also believes that others in the league will see him in a favorable light if he turns down the job from an owner notorious for controlling everything.

It doesn’t often happen that way in the NFL. Job offers to become an NFL general manager are rare. I’m told that if the league knows that you worked as a “yes man” for a micromanaging, controlling owner that you get a free pass. At the same time, turning down a chance to have the title can keep you from getting on that short list of candidates that had the title. There’s a PR element to hiring executives and hiring one that has GM experience–at least in title–is an easier sell to the public than an assistant.

When Ian says there was a reason the owner sought him for a job interview, it’s possible that the owner saw Ian’s experience as the perfect mold for a “yes man.” Ian has only been an assistant and an assistant is less likely to have as many expectations for the role as an experienced GM might. This strategy could be the exact motivation behind targeting an assistant GM working under a name-brand leader with a reputation; Ian will look good to the press, but has no track record on his own.

Of course, it only takes one team to fall in love with a candidate and if Ian sticks to his guns and remains with his current team it could attract a team that’s a perfect fit.

Ian Kenyon is the associate editor of Bleacher Report’s NFL coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @IanKenyonNFL.

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