Analysis  

 

Who's really in charge? AFC North hierarchies run the gamut

When it comes to building an NFL roster, hierarchies vary from team to team. Some organizations are driven by general managers, others by owners, a few by head coaches -- and of course, many franchises divvy up checks and balances. Albert Breer takes an in-depth look at all 32 power structures in this eight-part, division-by-division series, which aims to answer one simple question for each NFL team: Who's really in charge? Read the AFC North breakdown below. Click here for other divisions.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Owner: Steve Bisciotti, 10th year
General Manager: Ozzie Newsome, 12th year
Head Coach: John Harbaugh, 6th year
Other front-office notables: Dick Cass, President; Eric DeCosta, Assistant General Manager; Pat Moriarty, Senior Vice President of Football Administration; Vince Newsome, Director of Pro Personnel; Joe Hortiz, Director of College Scouting; George Kokinis, Senior Personnel Assistant.

Who's really in charge? Ozzie Newsome has headed up personnel for 18 years, the last 12 as GM, and he retains final say over all personnel matters, including the 53-man roster. But this behemoth is built on the strength of more than just one guy. Pat Moriarty, Eric DeCosta, Vince Newsome and George Kokinis were all part of the original Ravens staff with Ozzie in 1996, and Joe Hortiz came aboard in 1998. In few other places does that kind of continuity exist, and the benefit is a tried-and-true system that is inclusive across the board.

DeCosta, who is part of a succession plan that eventually will have him take over for Ozzie, has been entrusted to run the draft, and the way it's done provides a good window into the operation. The assistant GM assigns the top 50 prospects on each side of the ball to each coordinator and puts position coaches on planes to privately work out these players. At the end of the process, DeCosta asks position coaches and coordinators to rank their top guys. John Harbaugh will cast a wider net, getting a feel for the class as a whole rather than spending time writing reports, and he has significant influence with Newsome and DeCosta.

The process is narrower when it comes to free agents, but it does include different levels of coaches and scouts, as well.

At the top level of the club, Steve Bisciotti is a valued sounding board who's known for asking good questions and sorting out issues, even if he's not a daily presence at the office, with Dick Cass running the day-to-day business. But the real secret for Baltimore could lie in the organization's depth. Scouts like Joe Douglas, Andy Weidl and Milt Hendrickson are leaned on, which makes sense as part of Ozzie's football-centric model.

An outside perspective from an NFC personnel director: "What Baltimore does, they play a certain way, and they find pieces that fit the way they play. They don't re-sign guys above the value they've assigned them, and they find players who fit roles, even if some of those guys have issues. They feel like they can work those out because they have a strong locker room. Ozzie knows what he wants in a player, and he goes and gets it. They miss like everyone else, but they have a plan and they're good at executing it. ... Everyone there is so clearly on the same page, and that's key. They work well together, they're consistent in what they're looking for and they haven't changed much. They just find people that fit, and when guys move on, they find other people to fit in."

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Owner: Mike Brown, 23rd year
General Manager: Brown
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis, 11th year
Other front-office notables: Pete Brown, Senior Vice President of Player Personnel; Katie Blackburn, Executive Vice President; Paul Brown, Vice President of Player Personnel; Troy Blackburn, Vice President; Duke Tobin, Director of Player Personnel.

Harrison: AFC summer subplots
Summer is upon us, but there's still plenty to ponder. Elliot Harrison provides a burning question for each AFC team. More ...

Who's really in charge? The Bengals have been ridiculed over the years for the size of their scouting staff. But of late, it's been harder to question a system that has successfully formed a young nucleus of enticing talents, headlined by Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins.

One thing's clear: It's a family business. Of the names listed above, only Marvin Lewis and Duke Tobin aren't relatives of owner/GM Mike Brown, who retains full command of the personnel side and final say on the 53-man roster. The Browns and Blackburns watch tape, evaluate talent and make football decisions, with Katie Blackburn also taking the lead on contract negotiations.

That said, those inside the organization stress that Brown goes out of his way to say how much he owes his scouts, and he works to make sure they have a voice. The coaches have a strong say, too. Giovani Bernard, for example, was a player who didn't fit Brown's mold for a tailback, yet the owner decided to listen to Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson in taking the North Carolina star.

Both Lewis and Tobin, in particular, have become influential forces within the organization, having earned the right, in Brown's eyes, to help lead the franchise. It's of the older school, but winning does matter here, where the family business is football and nothing else.

An outside perspective from an AFC general manager: "I don't know if anyone really knows (the organizational structure) -- I really don't, because that family keeps it close to the vest. Duke does a lot of work, but I don't know about his authority, and I'm not sure how they cover the country. With pro scouting, it's been different, it hasn't been consistent with their advance scouting year to year. It's kind of like Oakland used to be. ... I've talked with Mike Brown a couple times, and I always respected that they're old school. And the way they wanna get it done, they've had some results there of late. They do it their own way. I think they've had some good drafts, and obviously their reputation is to take some chances, take higher-risk guys. ... As far as their scouts, they don't have a lot of guys on the road, but the guys that are out there for them, I can tell you, they're working hard at it. Their guys work. It's a true family-run team, a family business. And that makes sense, because they all grew up in it."

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Owner: Jimmy Haslam, 2nd year
General Manager: Michael Lombardi, 1st year
Head Coach: Rob Chudzinski, 1st year
Other front-office notables: Joe Banner, Chief Executive Officer; Ray Farmer, Assistant General Manager; Jon Sandusky, Director of Player Personnel.

Who's really in charge? Joe Banner worked in a power structure in Philadelphia for nearly two decades in which a four-man team ran the show. He has recreated this, to a degree, in Cleveland, with Michael Lombardi, Ray Farmer and Rob Chudzinski joining him to make up the group. There is one main difference between the two models: In Philly, Andy Reid had final say on all personnel matters and the 53-man roster; in Cleveland, Banner has it. And Banner's involvement on the football side is underscored by the hiring of president Alec Scheiner last December, which took the business side off of Banner's plate.

Both Lombardi and Chudzinski report to Banner, who reports to Jimmy Haslam. Lombardi is serving as the de facto personnel director, leading that end of the operation. One reason he got the GM title a couple months after his hiring is that it allowed the club to poach Farmer from the Kansas City Chiefs by naming him assistant GM. Farmer is an important piece of the puzzle, charged with leading the college scouting department. Chudzinski, meanwhile, carries significant sway on the final 53.

Haslam isn't in the office day to day -- with other business (and, at this point, legal entanglements) to handle -- but he's grown a reputation inside the building as a thoughtful, thorough listener who's proven a good resource for his decision makers.

An outside perspective from an AFC personnel executive: "I think it'll be similar to Philly. Joe Banner ultimately has strong final influence over all the football decisions they're making, and he'll have a strong presence from the head coach to the final player-selection process. That part I do know. And they have a GM, but that GM really may be more personnel director, to a degree. It's different than St. Louis, where the head coach is head of football, and the GM is second in command, but you can draw parallels in how it's set up."

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Owner: Rooney family, 81st year
Chairman: Dan Rooney, 26th year
General Manager: Kevin Colbert, 3rd year
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin, 7th year
Other front-office notables: Art Rooney II, President; Omar Khan, Director of Football & Business Administration; Ron Hughes, Senior Assistant of College Scouting.

Kinkhabwala: Pairing up in Pittsburgh
After a rocky first season together, Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley are starting to gel, Aditi Kinkhabwala reports. More ...

Who's really in charge? The Steelers' structure hasn't changed much over the years, with Kevin Colbert having run the personnel department since 2000 (and becoming the team's first ever GM in 2011), and Mike Tomlin being just the third coach the team has had since the Vietnam War ended. While those guys are trusted, believe this: The Rooneys still run the show.

Art II has taken the reins from his father, Dan, who once overruled others in the organization with his insistence that the club draft Ben Roethlisberger. That one, of course, worked out well. Art II, like previous members of his family, is in on all the football meetings and holds final say in them. The club does leave picking the final 53 at the end of camp to Tomlin, with Colbert and Omar Khan -- who manages the cap and contracts, and has been a GM candidate in a few places over the years -- also having a say.

Ron Hughes, who had been a big behind-the-scenes weapon for the Steelers over the years, is still present in the process. But, at least in an official sense, he has retired from his full-time job in the building. He's always been part of the larger structure, with a foundation grounded in the Rooneys' ability to build consensus within their group of evaluators and coaches.

An outside perspective from an NFC personnel executive: "No one has a more sterling reputation as an evaluator in the league than Kevin does. Omar is terrific, too. And you see some guys that have come out of there -- I'm not surprised at all that someone like (current Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley) got his opportunity. ... The way they're set up is similar to the Giants. Both teams had stretches of success, both had dark periods in the 1960s (Steelers) and '70s (Giants). And the family structure is obviously a benefit. It's not a coincidence those groups don't have pandering from coaches and players. ... They conduct themselves a certain way. And it's easy when you're following the lead of an owner who does it that way."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15