Jene Bramel’s GM Decision: With the Flow or Against the Grain?

Bill Parcells had firm ideas about building a defense, but there are many ways to berate a Testaverde. Photo by Beyond the Lens.
Bill Parcells could have been characterized as a dinosaur. Find out how Jene Bramel approaches the WonderBoy vs. Dinosaur GM Conundrum. Photo by Beyond the Lens.

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.

GM Scenario No.12: With The Flow or Against The Grain?

It’s early January and you’re a week away from beginning the second year of your job as the GM of a 7-9 team. It’s a squad with talent, but injuries, suspensions, and strife between the veterans and the combative head coach derailed your season. The coach was already on thin ice because of an acrimonious relationship with the owner.

The owner is an alumnus of a prominent football program on the west coast that is winning big thanks to a coach with a high-octane system built on generating space for players with quickness, agility, and speed. The team scores at will and it has earned five BCS Bowl appearances and two national championships in seven years. Needless to say, your owner is hot and heavy for the coach, who has hinted that he’s interested in making the jump to the NFL.

The owner brought you aboard as the GM because of your work with two different teams as an assistant GM. You’re a proven communicator and developer of processes and your ability to align coaches, scouts, and front office has helped your past two teams become better at the draft, free agency, and pro scouting.

You show good judgment with when to go with the flow and when to push back. You also have found ways to marry differing viewpoints that at first appeared to clash.

Scouts around the league respect you because you were one of them—and a good one. The word among coaches is that you’ll fight hard for what you believe in, but if they can sell you on their views you’ll be a fierce advocate for them. You work hard to understand their strategy and they see you’re no “yes man.”

Despite it being the end of your first full season with the team, you agreed with the owner that the incumbent coach lost the team and had no chance of getting them back. You fired him at season’s end.

It didn’t go unnoticed to the front office and scouts that two of the undrafted free agents that were your pet projects upon joining the team became contributors with starter upside. You also gave the director of scouting and a regional scout a chance to shine with critical assessments of potential picks that went against the desires of the owner and head coach.

You convinced the owner and coach to listen to the scouting department and those players turned out to be landmines that blew up in the faces of the teams that selected them. You also made some changes to the pro scouting department’s process that helped the scouts spot and communicate vital information to the coaches that was integral to a 4-1 start before the team went off the rails.

You earned a bit of equity with these three decisions early in your tenure despite a lost season. The specific issues that killed the team included the left tackle breaking his ankle; the center suffering a high-ankle sprain; the star receiver breaking his leg; and an in-house conflict between the coach and offensive coordinator and your starting quarterback and strong safety.

The quarterback and safety lobbied the coach to get a young receiver on the field, but the staff continued to use a player it was enamored with that was prone to making mistakes. The QB, angry with the stubborn refusal to make the switch, fired the ball into the back of the underachieving receiver during a third down play where the receiver ran the wrong route while the team was losing by 28 late in the game. The coaches and quarterback got into a heated argument and the safety backed up the quarterback, resulting in dissension between the players and coaches.

With the search on for a new coach, you’re not sold on the hotshot college guy that your boss is courting. You’ve studied the coach’s system and personnel style and it is not an ideal fit for your current personnel.

Your squad has road graders along the line of scrimmage and three capable running backs—including two who could handle 300-carry workloads. The oldest back (turns 29 next October) will be a free agent after the 2014 season. He’s an all-purpose player with excellent third-down skills, but he’s among the best 10 backs in the leagues when it comes to yards after contact.

Despite the older back beating the younger runner for the starting job and performing well, the young gun has the athleticism to become a special player and multiple teams have inquired about his availability. You could probably get a second round pick. The third back is a big, one-cut runner with patience who can earn 1200 yards behind your line.

Your 31-year-old quarterback has been to three Pro Bowls, but he’s strictly a pocket passer after tearing his ACL three years ago. Force him outside the pocket and the play is successful if he can throw the ball away. Fortunately, he’s tough, understands defenses, and he still has an accurate, live arm when given time. A quarterback-needy team would snatch him up if you waived him, but he probably wouldn’t garner more than a fifth-round pick.

Based on your review of the personnel, you believe the best match for his team is a hard-nosed, run-first offense that complements your defense.  If the owner hires his favorite candidate, the new coach will want to reshape the offense and air it out, but the effort to match the personnel with the scheme will mean an overhaul on the offense and tremendous stress on the defense.

You also have concerns about this coach’s commitment for the NFL. A former star running back and NFL starter, he has never coached in the professional ranks. His leadership at the college level has been excellent, but he is not known as a grinder. You have a feeling that the talented staff working under him was the true source of success for this team and both the offensive and defensive coordinators are taking head coaching jobs.

At the same time, there is personnel in the draft that could help the offensive transition to this head coach’s scheme, which is more of a quick-strike, high-tempo style that doesn’t pound the ball as much as use the pass to set up the run. There are three athletic tackles, two mobile quarterbacks with big arms, and five big-play threats at receiver with YAC skills. It’s possible that you could land two players from this list in the opening two rounds. However, you’re effectively starting over with this offense and your defense is savvy, but collectively in win-now mode due to its lack of youthful starters and depth.

Not only will the offense change if the owner hires his college’s coach, but because your boss will want to pull out all the stops to give this hot commodity everything he wants you’ll probably lose some pull with the owner. Compounding this situation is your preferred candidate that is a perfect fit for your current personnel is a former two-time NFL Coach of The Year who is considered a dinosaur.

The highlights include a 12-6 record in the playoffs and a career .615 winning percentage, but he is 0-4 in conference championship games and his offensive mentality runs counter to what’s trendy in the NFL. He’s also set in his ways. One potential selling point is that Seattle and San Francisco are ground and pound units that have appeared in the past two Super Bowls, but your owner seems enamored with everything that’s the latest and greatest.

It’s clear that your owner trusts you, but you sense it will be a hard sell to get the owner to go against his desires. Even if you get your way you’re handing your boss your neck in a short leash. Yet you wonder if the college coach that your boss wants is making the jump to the NFL for the wrong reasons. Without the team of coaches that were a major reason for his success, you fear this could be a Steve Spurrier-Lou Holtz-Lane Kiffin dynamic in the making.

Do you try to sell your boss on the merits of your preferred candidate? If so, how do you do it and what approach will you take during the interview process to help your boss see potential concerns with his candidate?  If you lay back in the cut without voicing your concerns about the boss’ candidate then based on the personnel above what will be your plan to make this coach successful as soon as possible?

Jene Bramel’s Decision

Bill Belichick's Patriots like to use the "Hybrid" 12 personnel set and Miglio is following suit.
Is Jene Bramel referring to Bill Belichick’s all too brief tenure in New York? I don’t think so, but you never know . . .
I think Mr. Waldman has my strengths pegged. I pride myself on my willingness to consider differing viewpoints and foster a fair, open-minded atmosphere of collaboration. But I’ll stand on the table when needed.
And I hired a smart assistant general manager to help frame difficult questions. He’ll often take a contrarian point of view to make sure we’re covering the right angles as we work to answer those questions. I’m not paranoid, but we recorded our conversation for posterity (and our good friend, Mr. Waldman).
Well, maybe, I’m a little paranoid…
Assistant GM: Get much sleep last night, boss?
Jene Bramel: Yeah, I got an hour. You ready to run this down before our meeting with the owner this afternoon?
ASG:  Sure. How are we handling this meeting? You planning to make a case for your guy today?
JB: He knows how I feel about both candidates. But we haven’t interviewed either one yet. And there’s still some unknowns here. Who do you want to talk about first?
ASG: Let’s start with the dinosaur.
JB: Okay. Strengths?
ASG: Offensive system fits our current personnel. Gets his team to the playoffs. Won’t put up with the shit we had in the locker room last year.
JB: Yeah, I’m not sure about that. What if the vets don’t buy into his rules? What if they see it as treating them like kids?
ASG: I don’t think that’ll happen. The vets were pissed that the coaches weren’t holding players accountable last year, not the other way around. They get it.
JB: Let’s make sure we spend lots of time in the interview feeling out the dinosaur approach to a frustrated locker room on the verge of mutiny. I want to know specifically how he kept his last team from tanking when they started 3-5 or if it was the players that held it together.
ASG: It’s going to be a little of both, you know. That midseason schedule was cake, too.
JB: Yeah, but if he’s honest, he’ll let us know. And it’ll be good to hear whether he had a sense of when to push and when to get out of the way or if he felt like it was his system of rules that worked.
ASG: Here’s the rub on the dinosaur for me, boss? Why do you think his reputation for being no-nonsense style will work here? You’ve built your style around collaboration and open discussion. Seems like it’s a recipe for disaster if you end up not seeing eye-to-eye on something big.
JB: Yep. He’s going to have to convince me that he’ll have some flexibility in the playbook if our lead back goes down and we have to go to the young gun. And he’s going to have to be cool about how we make draft and free agent decisions. If not, this may be a non-starter even if we think he’s the best chance we have to win in this window.
ASG: Okay, so we need to come up with scenarios to present that test his willingness to compromise a bit and make sure he won’t make any locker room issues worse.
JB: Along with the other usual stuff, yeah. Okay, we have a good sense of what we get with WonderBoy?
ASG: I think so. His system has the potential to be dominant. More and more college offenses are relying on athletes over technicians. Scouts are telling us the transition to his system may not be as painful as it looks, but it still may set us back a year or more.
JB: Does he want to coach in the NFL?
ASG: No one really knows. He’ll come if the money is too good to turn down.
JB: That’s not good enough. You think he’s good enough with his coordinators?
ASG: I don’t know. It’s a system. My sense is that you get the right players and keep them healthy and he’ll be fine. I’m more worried that he won’t handle the transition from college player problems to NFL player problems well.
JB: And we won’t know the answer to either question until it’s too late.”
ASG: Nope.
JB: Well, I’m intrigued by this guy anyway. I don’t mind taking chances, our scouting department is killing it right now and the pieces may fall into place quicker than we think.
ASG: What if it doesn’t go well early? How’s the WonderBoy going to handle it if our vets test him?
JB: Let’s talk to his coordinators before the interview. Have the former players in our scouting department and in player development reach out and see if they can get a straight answer on how he handles conflict.
ASG: I gotta ask? What if we decide the WonderBoy is a strong enough candidate to recommend and he goes Petrino on us? You think we get another chance at this?
JB: Probably not. But we aren’t getting a contract extension if we stand our ground on the Dinosaur and fail either.
ASG: So what’s your approach in your meeting with the owner today?
JB: Share our concerns with both candidates. Prep him ahead of time about how we’ll approach feeling both guys out during the interview process.
ASG: Worried that you’ll be showing your hand too early?
JB: I’m not playing poker with the owner. I don’t want to have to pull him along and lay out my entire thought process later. He hired me because he wanted me to bring a culture of communication and collaboration and best process. So that’s what I’m going to do.
ASG: What if he goes against your recommendation?
JB: If we recommend the dinosaur and he still wants the WonderBoy, then we work hard to manage expectations, do whatever we can to ensure a smooth and successful transition. And try to do it as quickly as possible.
ASG: Or start working on our resumes.
JB: Maybe. We’ve been here for 12 months. Did you think we were a lock for the Hall of Fame already?
ASG: Seriously, you don’t care a little bit for self-preservation?
JB: Of course. I’m going to make my recommendations on what I think is best for the team now. If I get on the table for the dinosaur and I’m overruled, then I’m still working like hell to make this team a winner. I’m not turning in a resignation and storming out like a child.
ASG: You sure about that?
JB: That only happened once. And it was funny as hell.

2 responses to “Jene Bramel’s GM Decision: With the Flow or Against the Grain?”

  1. Great format of a response.
    It gives an interesting approach to consider around the signings of Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, and this year’s Lovie Smith.

    Speaking of dinosaurs, I always thought Marty Schottenheimer got a very raw deal, and San Diego was derailed after his firing, only recently really looking back on track. “Can’t win in the playoffs” always seemed a sloppy way to analyze; fluky things happen, there is a reason the Ravens were not favored every game on their way to the last SB win. Peyton couldn’t win in the playoffs, until he won a superbowl. You know what makes it impossible to win the Super Bowl? Not getting to the playoffs at all.

    For both writers here, what do you do if you’re rebuilding a franchise. You’ve taken over the Browns, Raiders, Bills or Jags in a down year with the cap assassinating what little talent you have. Knowing that we will be dealing with a brutal talent situation for a couple years until we can scout and develop our way out of it, do we try to get the no-nonsense dinosaur or the College System coach?

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