After taking the uncharacteristic step of firing Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese this past week, New York Giants co-owner John Mara said the team ideally will follow the traditional process for replacing them: First, hire a new GM. Then, give the GM a say in hiring a new head coach.
Titles and organizational structure vary, but by my best count, there were 31 such "blowups" atop NFL football operations since the hiring cycle after the 2007 season -- three per year, turning over nearly the equivalent of the entire league in a decade. Seventeen of them followed the GM-then-coach order for filling those jobs.
So how many of those blowups actually worked? What lessons can be drawn from them? And who could the Giants, or any other team that cleans house, tap to make the most important relationship in football work and achieve the sustained success all owners say they want?
Perhaps it's not surprising, since many blowups coincide with a roster rebuild and some of the same organizations keep starting over -- the Cleveland Browns incredibly made the list four times in 10 years -- but just eight of the 31 coach-GM duos hired (25.8 percent) combined to produce a winning record over their time together. Even many of the successful duos were short-lived.
Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson went 49-31 with the Indianapolis Colts ... and Grigson was fired after five tumultuous seasons. John Fox and John Elway (Denver Broncos) and Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke (San Francisco) each produced a Super Bowl team ... and lasted four years together. Same with Andy Reid and John Dorsey -- hired Thursday night as the Browns' latest GM -- with the Kansas City Chiefs before Dorsey's surprise firing this summer.
If having a prior personal and/or working relationship were the key, George Kokinis wouldn't have been fired eight games (!!) into his tenure as Eric Mangini's GM with the Browns in 2009. Before Sean McDermott brought along Brandon Beane to Buffalo this past offseason, the last duo to arrive directly from the same team in one offseason was Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano coming from Dallas to Miami (where they worked under former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells) in 2008. The longest-tenured active duo on the winning record list are the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll and John Schneider, who have been to two Super Bowls together, won one ... and didn't know each other before the interview process.
Schneider and Carroll have spoken about the keys to their sustained success: no egos, trust, a clear plan for how the GM and coach are going to interact. Regardless of who's hired first, every NFL executive and coach I've ever spoken to about that relationship has said the most critical element is philosophical alignment, as the demise of even some successful duos have shown.
Connecting dots based on work history can be overly simplistic. But there's something to be said for guys who have some common threads in their background, so they know what they're getting into and have similar values about what it takes to win. With the caveats that last year's GM hiring cycle was wildly unpredictable -- the 49ers hiring John Lynch with no scouting experience, the Bills, Panthers and Chiefs firing GMs after the draft -- and every team has its own criteria, here are some potential fits that came up in discussions this week with NFL executives:
Patriots OC Josh McDaniels and Patriots exec Nick Caserio: This one has been on everyone's radar. McDaniels will be the hottest coaching name in this cycle, and while it's not necessarily a package deal with Caserio, it's well-known they'd like to work together. The 49ers pursued them last year before both dropped out.
Panthers DC Steve Wilks and former Panthers GM Dave Gettleman: Wilks impressed in his interview last year with the Rams and has only enhanced his profile since replacing McDermott. Several wired-in people have told me Gettleman is the front-runner for his old team, the Giants, who are consulting his old boss, Ernie Accorsi -- just as Carolina did when it hired Gettleman.
Vikings OC Pat Shurmur and Vikings assistant GM George Paton: Another obvious connection. Shurmur has a lot of supporters within the league after a lockout and franchise sale derailed his first head-coaching shot in Cleveland. Paton gets interview requests every year, and Minnesota's success could mean that time is now.
Stanford coach David Shaw and Cowboys executive Will McClay: It'd take a blue-blood program like the Giants to make Shaw -- a former NFL assistant -- even think about leaving his alma mater. McClay has turned down interviews in the past, but my understanding is he'd listen to the right one now. One of McClay's mentors is former Stanford coach Ty Willingham.
Chiefs OC Matt Nagy and Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf: Nagy was on our up-and-coming coaches list in October and figures to get interviews despite the Chiefs' recent struggles. He has trained under Andy Reid, who trained under Mike Holmgren, the head coach of the Packers under Wolf's hall of fame father, Ron.
Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo and Seahawks co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner: Another member of the up-and-coming coaches list, DeFilippo comes from an Eagles team that in many ways resembles the Seattle teams that went to two Super Bowls -- built around defense and the run game while a young QB develops. Worth noting: last time Accorsi helped a team find a GM, the Lions put in a request for Kirchner before hiring Bob Quinn.
Texans DC Mike Vrabel and Falcons assistant GM Scott Pioli: Yet another one of our up-and-comers, Vrabel has a lot of fans in front offices around the league. But it's hard to match someone from the Patriots tree with an outsider. Pioli, a longtime Bill Belichick personnel man, joined the Falcons after his stint as Chiefs GM and has run their (strong) drafts since 2015.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien and Bills vice president of player personnel Brian Gaine: If O'Brien exits Houston, as many expect, he figures to be a hot name immediately. Gaine has a similar pedigree, coming from the Parcells/Belichick tree, and grew tight with O'Brien in Houston. For O'Brien, getting on the same page with his GM figures to be a high priority.
Patriots DC Matt Patricia and Eagles player personnel executive Trey Brown: Another New England connection. Patricia has interviewed for jobs; it's unclear how eager he is to leave. He's said to be close with Brown, a former Patriots scout who's very young (age 32) and only recently added pro-scouting duties, but showed well in a GM interview with Buffalo last year.
Eagles OC Frank Reich and Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas: QB development is at a premium, so Reich (like DeFilippo) figures to get a look after Carson Wentz's breakout season. Douglas joined the Eagles after the Wentz draft and is just getting experience on the executive side, but he's known as a strong evaluator.
The Five W's for Week 14
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WHO thought the Patriots would have the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense since Week 5 after they got shredded in a 2-2 start? We poked fun at the annual hysteria in this space back in Week 3, given the Patriots' track record of improvements from the season's first month on. As cornerback Malcolm Butler told me this week: "We always start slow. It takes a while for us to gel together, and once we do, this is the outcome that we get. It just take time and communication and getting to know each other and believing in each other." The Pats defense gave up 32 points, 456.8 yards, 324 passing yards and a 116.5 passer rating on average during those first four games. In eight games since (all wins), those numbers have dropped to 11.9, 335.1, 220.4 and 75.4. They're still middle of the pack or worse in numerous defensive categories, but they're forcing turnovers, holding tough in the red zone and doing enough to support a high-powered offense entering Monday's visit to Miami.
WHAT is the point of the Browns keeping coach Hue Jackson for 2018 instead of blowing it up (again)? For starters, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam seems to genuinely believe in Jackson, to the point he all but absolved Jackson of the team's 1-27 record at Friday's media conference introducing Dorsey. For any coach, it was going to be tough sledding these first two years amidst a total teardown on the personnel side. Also consider this: As more than one GM has confided over the years, keeping the existing coach is like having a free pass on accountability in Year 1 while evaluating the entire operation. There was a similar dynamic at play last year when Chris Ballard took over as Colts GM and kept Chuck Pagano. Either Jackson shows he can win with an upgraded roster, or Dorsey moves on (as Ballard seems all but certain to do after this season) without sticking those losses to the coach of the future. Consider it a jump start on the new era Sunday against the Packers, with whom Dorsey played and came up as a scout.
WHEN will teams start expressing interest in Ben McAdoo for a coaching spot? (submitted by @imAbsolutelyaV) My understanding is nothing's in the works yet, but it's only a matter of time. Whatever the narrative became as things unraveled in New York, McAdoo earned a lot of respect in his days as a Packers assistant, including a stint as Aaron Rodgers' QB coach, and helped Eli Manning rebound for two of his best seasons in 2014 and '15 as a first-time coordinator. Privately, McAdoo has expressed optimism this season will be the best thing that has happened to him and he'll be better from it. He's only 40 years old. He'll be back on someone's staff in 2018 if he wants to be.
WHERE does Case Keenum rank among NFL MVP candidates? That Keenum's even on the fringe of this conversation is pretty remarkable for a player who entered the season as a backup on a one-year, $2 million deal (and still hasn't actually been named the starter for the season). But it's hard to ignore him, with the Vikings on an eight-game winning streak and Keenum's numbers over the past four -- since Teddy Bridgewater's activation -- nearly identical to Tom Brady's. "You look at a guy that's deserving of that (MVP talk) -- he's been huge for us," Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph told me of Keenum this week. "From an outsider's perspective, you look at this team and -- deservedly so -- we're overshadowed by a great defense. But people don't realize our offense is top five in most categories. We're OK with that. We have a great defense. But when we play together, that's how you get to 10-2." The longer Keenum stays hot, the more money he makes himself in the offseason. He'll soon be cashing in on the modest incentives in his deal -- $150,000 for playing 75 percent of the snaps, and another $100,000 for 85 percent. Another test looms this week against the Panthers' fearsome front seven.
WHY won't the Chiefs see if rookie QB Patrick Mahomes can give them a spark amidst the stunning slide to 6-6? The numbers speak for themselves on Alex Smith, who statistically remains one of the NFL's most efficient passers after his bounce-back effort last week against the Jets -- his fifth game this season with a passer rating of 125-plus. The deep-passing numbers remain striking for a QB long labeled a game manager, too. According to NFL Research, Smith's 53 pass attempts traveling at least 20 yards in the air are a career high (data going back to 2006) and rank seventh in the NFL. On those throws, Smith leads the league in completions (26), touchdowns (11) and passer rating (126.8) among qualifying passers, with only one interception. So, the idea Mahomes' Howitzer arm is the missing piece doesn't hold up, even without considering the likely growing pains he'd go through on a team that still is tied for the AFC West lead. Can Smith play better? Everyone on the team can. But as Andy Reid has said over and over, the Chiefs' struggles aren't "an Alex Smith thing." Sunday's showdown with the Raiders in Kansas City feels like a pivot point, for better or worse.