Analysis  

 

Who's really in charge? Transitions continue in AFC South

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 South breakdown below. Click here for other divisions.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Owner: Bob McNair, 12th year
General Manager: Rick Smith, 8th year
Head Coach: Gary Kubiak, 8th year
Other front-office notables: Cal McNair, Chief Operating Officer; Mike Maccagnan, Director of College Scouting; Brian Gardner, Director of Pro Personnel; Chris Olsen, Vice President of Football Administration.

Who's really in charge? In just 12 years, Bob McNair has become one of the more respected owners in the league. A big reason why is the way he's established continuity within the organization, which certainly exists on the football side. The relationship between Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak goes back to the years they spent together on Mike Shanahan's Denver Broncos, so each has a firm understanding of the other; the coach trusts that the GM knows what kinds of players he wants and will go out and get them.

That said, Smith has full control over all football decisions and final say on the 53-man roster. Both Brian Gardner and Mike Maccagnan go back years with Smith and help make the Texans' operation hum. The biggest change over the past seven years, really, was probably the hiring of Wade Phillips, which prompted the GM to spend extensive time with the defensive coordinator during the 2011 offseason to learn the new system. Smith's draft room is a relatively large and inclusive one; coaches and scouts are invited in and take part in the discussion when the club is on the clock.

McNair himself has outside businesses to worry about, but when he's in town, he is generally in the office. He entrusted his son, Cal, with the day-to-day operation of the team by naming him COO last year. Cal has been charged with overseeing the football side.

An outside perspective from an NFC personnel executive: "Smith seems like a really, really solid guy, and he's got that demeanor you look for in great GMs: He's a calm, intelligent communicator, and with the roster, he's a bottom-line evaluator. And it's clear how far they've come; there's far more talent there now than before (Smith and Kubiak) got there. I think because lots of guys came from the same place, there's a clear vision in what they look for. ... I've heard that (McNair) is absolutely fantastic. I know he's only been in the league a few years, but you can see it. He comes across almost like an old-school owner, style-wise, with old-school values."

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Owner: Jim Irsay, 17th year
General Manager: Ryan Grigson, 2nd year
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano, 2nd year
Other front-office notables: Jimmy Raye, Vice President of Football Operations; Mike Bluem, Director of Football Administration; T.J. McCreight, Director of College Scouting.

Who's really in charge? While last year's turnover was jarring -- after 14 seasons with Bill Polian -- Jim Irsay's model didn't change much. In Indianapolis, the general manager is in charge. And Ryan Grigson's work in Year 1, during which he wielded decision-making authority over all personnel matters and the 53-man roster, was certainly promising. As Polian did, Grigson has worked to create an inclusive environment in which all coaches and scouts have a voice. In fact, in each of the past two drafts, Grigson has reversed course on players based on feedback he's received from Chuck Pagano and the coaching staff.

As for his own staff, Grigson has built a group of dyed-in-the-wool scouts. Grigson leans on both T.J. McCreight and Jimmy Raye, who was a finalist for the San Diego Chargers' GM job in January and left the Bolts organization after he didn't get it. Mike Bluem handles the contracts. In the end, the system calls for the GM to gather information from all the people around him, then meet with the head coach to discuss what the final call will be.

Irsay is a former GM himself. Having worked in several different areas of the organization, he has proven to be a valuable resource for guys like Grigson, Pagano and -- under last year's unique circumstances -- former offensive coordinator/interim coach Bruce Arians. Irsay doesn't force himself on the process, but he is in the office and available for the people who run it. He takes part in all of the major decisions.

An outside perspective from an NFC personnel executive: "They got the key piece, and that's the guy that touches it every snap (quarterback Andrew Luck). They'll keep getting better because of it. Ryan's tireless, fearless; he turns over every rock, and he's always looking to get better. They're heading in the right direction. They have the guy (at QB), and it helps to get a little lucky. It happened for them -- the right place, right time. If you never get that position taken care of, like they have, it's not that you can't take it to the next level, but it's a lot tougher. And on top of that, Ryan's gonna bust his ass. He's wired right. ... I've always liked Chuck. You never hear anything but positive things about him. He's got a good feel, he's a good guy, a good worker, and he grew up around it."

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Owner: Shahid Khan, 3rd year
General Manager: David Caldwell, 1st year
Head Coach: Gus Bradley, 1st year
Other front-office notables: Tony Khan, Senior Vice President of Football Technology & Analytics; Andy Dengler, Assistant Director of Player Personnel; Chris Polian, Director of Pro Personnel; Kyle O'Brien, Director of College Scouting; Paul Roell, Assistant Director of College Scouting.

Who's really in charge? This is Year 1 of the re-imagination of the franchise, and David Caldwell is firmly in command of all football matters, with final say on personnel decisions and the 53-man roster. The hiring of Gus Bradley, a man with whom Caldwell didn't have a background, was by design; the idea being that what's more difficult in the short term -- guys learning each other's tendencies -- will make everyone better in the long term.

Bradley's staff spent time providing Caldwell and his group with parameters and criteria for each position, and that included not just details about the desired skill set, but also intangible qualities for potential Jaguars. The partnership mirrors what Caldwell was a part of with the Atlanta Falcons over the past five years; he's leaning on the Jags coaches now just as Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff did early on with the Falcons. The goal is to find marriages of need and consensus, and Jacksonville had that with draft picks like Luke Joeckel (No. 2 overall) and John Cyprien (No. 33) in April.

Shahid Khan was attracted to Caldwell's experience with the forward-thinking Falcons, and there's a desire to create a similar environment in Jacksonville, with Khan's son Tony heading up an analytics staff that played a significant role in the team's work on the draft.

An outside perspective from an NFC personnel executive: "Caldwell is damn good. He learned from the best, in Polian and Dimitroff, and he's become a great blend of who he's been around. You can see it with the draft class, and the college free agents they signed, in how they'll build it -- going young, hitting third-tier free agency. He knows what he wants. He's been with a Hall of Fame executive, so he's seen the model. He's tireless and sound, and leaves no stone unturned. ... It's a perfect match, I really believe that. The way he'll do it, that's how you go about it, and he's in the right market for that approach. It's where they are as a team; it matches up with his core beliefs, going back to who he's been around. I know that program, and it's as good as it gets. ... And with Gus, I really like the guy, his passion, his energy. They're on the same page. They get along and respect each other in the process. It's a good marriage, the whole thing."

TENNESSEE TITANS

Owner: Bud Adams, 54th year
General Manager: Ruston Webster, 2nd year
Head Coach: Mike Munchak, 3rd year
Other front-office notables: Don MacLachlan, Executive Vice President of Administration and Facilities; Lake Dawson, Vice President of Player Personnel; Vin Marino, Vice President of Football Administration; Blake Beddingfield, Director of College Scouting.

Who's really in charge? Jeff Fisher had accumulated near-absolute power over football matters toward the end of his reign in Tennessee, so the transition in the time since his ouster has been significant. Ruston Webster, who was promoted to the general manager position last offseason, holds final say over personnel decisions and the final 53-man roster. That said, by all accounts, he and Mike Munchak work in harmony, with assistants on both sides of the aisle having input in the team's decision-making process.

The structure is modeled after the one Webster worked in during his years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when then-GM Rich McKay and coach Tony Dungy completely re-imagined the franchise. As for the staff, Lake Dawson, who has long been considered a future GM, works on both the college and pro sides. Blake Beddingfield runs the show in college scouting, an area which Webster has emphasized. And with football people leading the personnel department, Vin Marino's responsibilities as contract negotiator have become immense.

Both Webster and Munchak report to Bud Adams, who lives in Houston and, outside of game days, rarely comes to Nashville. Still, Adams remains involved in the more significant decisions, communicates regularly with his football people and has been very demanding at times. One such example was the team's pursuit of Peyton Manning in 2012, during which some in the building felt as if their jobs were riding on the club's ability to land the former University of Tennessee All-American.

An outside perspective from an NFC executive: "I think Tennessee, with Ruston and Mike, they have a good group, a couple well-respected, well-thought-of guys. And I think if they're given a chance over the long term, they could have success. The problem is, it always seems like every year is a proving year for the coach and GM there, and that's a tough way to operate. ... That's fair when you have an older owner like they do, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who says something negative about Ruston and Mike. I think, in another scenario, they'd have a great chance to succeed as a team, but it's hard when you're under the microscope that way."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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