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Recent champs prove coach-GM familiarity not a necessity

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David Drapkin/AP
Mike McCarthy (left) and Ted Thompson are one of the best examples of a harmonious coach-GM relationship.

This item also appears in Albert Breer's Dec. 13 Transition Game notebook.

If there's one lesson to take from this week's coaching firings, it's this: The relationship between general manager and coach is vital in a successful NFL operation.

Yes, it can be a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument (of course, it's easy to get along when you're winning). But it's worth examining the most recent Super Bowl champions in studying that front office/sideline synergy -- Bill Polian and Tony Dungy in Indy, Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin in New York, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton in New Orleans, and Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy in Green Bay.

What's really interesting about the five above pairings is that, in each case, the GM wasn't necessarily so closely associated with the coach in pedigree. And in zero of these examples did the two arrive as a package deal, though McCarthy's hire was near the beginning of the Thompson Era in Green Bay.

Most important, though, is that all of the above seem to have harmonious work relationships.

That wasn't the case in Miami or in Kansas City. With the Dolphins, the minute Stephen Ross and Jeff Ireland boarded that plane in Florida to go see Jim Harbaugh, the relationship between Ireland and Tony Sparano was doomed. With the Chiefs, it's simpler -- a personality clash of two strong-willed people, Todd Haley and Scott Pioli, who had worked together under much different circumstances a decade ago, as Bill Parcells lieutenants, became unworkable.

So in each situation, for now, the GM survives and the coach goes. There are lessons here, too, for Ireland and Pioli as they move forward.

The first one, based on the evidence above, is obvious, and that's to think outside the box. Both GMs brought coaches they were familiar with, and it's fine to shake the old family tree again for candidates, but a broader search can lead to better results.

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Second, the addition of new ideas to a tried-and-true program can benefit those involved. The best example of this might stem from Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff's hiring of Mike Smith in 2008. The two came from completely different football gene pools, and the mix of philosophies has worked, and blended into a single vision for the Falcons.

And third? Kick over rocks, and don't focus on one "type" of coach -- be it a guy with head coaching experience or a young "comer" or anything else. Dungy and Coughlin were hired after being fired elsewhere. Payton was a coach with a wealth of coordinating experience in different programs. McCarthy was another offensive guru, but one that had been part of just one playoff win in 11 years as an NFL position coach or coordinator. Tomlin was 34, with just one year of coordinating experience.

In any case, both Kansas City and Miami have a head start on everyone now. My guess is Kirk Ferentz and Bill Cowher, respectively, will be the first choices in those places. But the worst thing these clubs could do now is limit themselves to a short list, or single name, this early in the process.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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