I've spent time near the end of each of the past few seasons compiling a list of rising general-manager candidates, with the thought that names like these don't generate the buzz of those on the coaching carousel.
And as I was fleshing out names about a month ago, one general manager lamented that, because there had been recent front-office turnover, chances for the next crop of young executives could be fewer and farther between. Timing, he said, was of the utmost importance for front-office types, since those positions historically don't turn over at the rate coaching jobs do.
So much for that.
While some GMs survived their clubs' coaching changes -- namely the Kansas City Chiefs' Scott Pioli, Jacksonville Jaguars' Gene Smith, Miami Dolphins' Jeff Ireland and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mark Dominik -- other teams whacked their GMs without letting go of the coach. So a list that once consisted of just the Oakland Raiders now includes the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams.
In light of that, we figured it'd be worthwhile to re-run the "Future GM" list from December. The original story includes a lead-in explaining why the business end of things is gaining importance in the minds of owners, and why you may see more business-side folks in discussion for these jobs going forward.
Without further delay, the list:
Russ Ball, Packers VP of football administration/player finance: Known as a good people person with an ability to manage, Ball has overseen the Packers cap since 2008 and has 23 years of NFL experience with five teams. He actually got his start as a strength coach. That diversity of experience -- and his association with a championship program -- makes him an intriguing candidate.
Nick Caserio, Patriots director of player personnel: The 36-year-old has quickly become one of the most respected personnel guys on the circuit, with steely focus and drive, and worked extensively on the coaching side as well during the Patriots' championship years. As one GM said, "He gets it." That likely would be apparent in an interview setting, but it won't be easy to pry him from Bill Belichick's side.
Eric DeCosta, Ravens director of player personnel: DeCosta has been a top-of-the-list GM candidate for a half-decade now, but it'll take an enormous opportunity for the 40-year-old to uproot. His wife is from Baltimore, and he's seen colleagues go elsewhere and find browner pastures. Plus, if such an opportunity doesn't come, he's content to wait and succeed Ozzie Newsome as Baltimore GM.
Brian Gaine, Dolphins director of player personnel: Miami's instability notwithstanding, Gaine was part of constructing the Cowboys' talent-rich roster in the middle of the decade, sat next to Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland in the draft room in Miami, and has worked both small-picture (advance scouting) and big-picture (team building) parts of an operation. Gaine is well-regarded in the scouting community.
Tom Gamble, 49ers director of player personnel:This season in San Francisco has caused a lot of folks to re-evaluate how the 49ers were built. Scot McCloughan, having already been a GM, doesn't qualify for this list, but he might get another look as a GM (maybe in Oakland), and Gamble's is another name sure to come up, with his experience in pro and college scouting, contract negotiations and coaching.
Dennis Hickey, Buccaneers director of player personnel: Promoted this year after serving for six years as the team's college scouting director, Hickey played a big part in turning Tampa Bay's roster over, from an aging group under Jon Gruden to its current state as the league's youngest team. Even though the Bucs are struggling now, there's still a strong base to build around.
Will Lewis, Seahawks director of pro personnel: Lewis is another ex-Packer personnel man. He went with Ted Thompson to Seattle in 2000 and carries a pretty complete résumé. He's regarded as a solid evaluator and hard worker with leadership potential. He also brings experience as an NFL player and a coach. The Seahawks' continued improvement will only help his cause.
Reggie McKenzie, Packers director of football operations: He might be the most attractive candidate on the market, with the Packers' success and his 25 years of NFL experience. A former player, McKenzie started his run in personnel with the Packers back in 1994 and worked his way up. His ties to former Green Bay GM Ron Wolf have many believing he'll wind up getting the job in Oakland.
Pat Moriarty, Ravens VP of football administration: Another "cap guy", but one with a very interesting background. Moriarty briefly played in the NFL and was in commercial banking for more than a decade after that. He joined the Belichick Browns in 1994 and has managed the financial structure of one of the NFL's most stable rosters over the past decade, while working closely with Newsome.
Marc Ross, Giants director of college scouting: The 38-year-old has put together an impressive run of draft classes since joining the Giants in 2007, and was in the mix for the Seattle GM position when Pete Carroll was hired as coach in 2010. Ross was once the league's youngest college director, at 27 years old in Philly, and has a Princeton degree, which is sure to please the business side of an organization.
Les Snead, Falcons director of player personnel: Snead has been with the Falcons for 14 years (and in the NFL for 17), so he's seen plenty -- from the team's Cinderella Super Bowl run in 1998 to the highs and lows with Michael Vick. And his most recent experience at GM Thomas Dimitroff's side only bolsters his reputation as a well-rounded candidate capable of leading at the highest level.
Ruston Webster, Titans VP of player personnel: Quietly, Tennessee has built a solid roster, seems to have found the right mix at quarterback and has ridded itself of troubled players without a big talent dropoff. Seattle's interim GM before John Schneider was hired, Webster was part of that the past two years, and part of Tampa Bay's late-1990s/early-2000s rebuilding, and has a wealth of pro and college scouting experience.
Doug Whaley, Bills assistant general manager: Whaley is considered the future in Buffalo, working now at the side of Buddy Nix. The roster has improved greatly of late, despite the team's recent swoon, due to Nix and Whaley's ability to turn over every rock to find talent. Just as important, Whaley was raised in the Steeler system, so he has strong knowledge of what a championship team looks like.