Who's <i>really</i> in charge? AFC West has undergone great change

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 West breakdown below. Click here for other divisions.


Owner:Pat Bowlen, 30th year
General Manager: N/A
Head Coach:John Fox, 3rd year
Other front-office notables:Joe Ellis, President; John Elway, Executive Vice President of Football Operations; Matt Russell, Director of Player Personnel; Tom Heckert, Director of Pro Personnel; Mike Sullivan, Director of Football Administration.

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Who's really in charge? The team underwent a full-scale restructuring two years ago that put Joe Ellis in charge of the club on a day-to-day basis and positioned John Elway to lead the football operation. Pat Bowlen passed many of his own responsibilities to Ellis, while Elway was given full control of gridiron duties -- final say on all personnel matters, as well as the 53-man roster, and the task of hiring Josh McDaniels' replacement at head coach.

Elway knew he had catching up to do -- to get to know how football operations work -- and now it seems like he's in full command, with a gradual house-cleaning nearly complete. The Broncos icon listens a lot, but has surrounded himself with his own people. Matt Russell has ascended to the top of the scouting department; one source called him Elway's "first lieutenant." He oversees the college side, while Tom Heckert, a former GM of the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, just replaced McDaniels hire Keith Kidd on the pro side. Mike Sullivan, a former agent, was brought in as the team's lead negotiator. Russell, Heckert and Sullivan report to Elway, as does John Fox. The coach might not have as strong a voice in personnel as he did with the Carolina Panthers, but he is involved and is part of all the team's draft meetings.

Overall, Bowlen's idea two years ago was to get the organization back on the right track by shaking up what was a coach-driven model under Mike Shanahan and McDaniels. Two division titles since indicate the plan has worked.

An outside perspective from an AFC general manager: "They've made a lot of changes this year, a lot of changes. Obviously Elway leans on Matt Russell a lot, though I'd guess John's pretty good by now, too. Russell's more college than pro, and it was a good move to get Tommy Heckert to handle the pro side. Matt's draft-driven. ... Two years ago, they let go of Mike Bluem (now with the Indianapolis Colts), they changed the pro director, some scouts moved on. They're changing their structure. Elway's making it his. ... Matt's a really good college evaluator. He has a great eye for it. Some are natural, kinda like (Colts GM Ryan) Grigson, and that's what you always hear about Matt -- that the evaluating part comes easy for him. He's more an on-the-road guy than an office guy. ... In Carolina, Fox worked a lot in personnel. He had a pretty large say, so I'd bet he has a good say in Denver on personnel."


Owner: Hunt family
Chairman/CEO: Clark Hunt, 8th year
General Manager: John Dorsey, 1st year
Head Coach:Andy Reid, 1st year
Other front-office notables: Mark Donovan, President; Trip MacCracken, Director of Football Administration; Chris Ballard, Director of Player Personnel; Marvin Allen, Director of College Scouting; Will Lewis, Director of Pro Scouting.

Who's really in charge? Clark Hunt changed a decades-old way of doing business last winter. For years, the coach had reported to the GM, and the GM reported to the chairman. Amid a disastrous 2-14 campaign, Hunt restructured that, making it so both the coach and GM would report to him -- a move that likely opened the door to land a leader of Andy Reid's stature. Reid's hiring wound up leading the Chiefs to John Dorsey, as the two men already had a tight relationship that spawned in their days together with the Green Bay Packers. Even after Reid left Green Bay for Philly, weekly conversations continued between the two. And Reid has always valued Dorsey as a confidant to bounce things off of.

Reid doesn't have the decision-making power he possessed in Philly, where it was just about absolute, and that's in part his own desire to divide the power. Dorsey has final say over all personnel decision and the final 53-man roster, which reflects traces of the Ron Wolf model Dorsey and Reid came up in. Dorsey imported Chris Ballard from Chicago, Marvin Allen from Atlanta and Will Lewis from Seattle to lead his scouting department.

Reid also had a pre-standing relationship with Mark Donovan, who's charged with running the business side, as the men worked together in Philly. Both Donovan and Dorsey have heard -- loud and clear -- Hunt's desire to move the club forward from where it'd been stuck.

An outside perspective from an NFC executive: "It was clear that Clark, his preference is for one person to have perceived authority. Andy's a good figure for that, he's had that power for a long time, and he had great success over the long arc with it. But he was also a guy who could help pick a well-respected GM. John Dorsey could've gotten a number of the jobs out there. And the amazing thing now is they have that bona fide GM, and this is not a coach who needs it. He gets a partner he's wanted to work with for a long time, and it's a pair that Clark likes and should have some success. The AFC West is going to be wide open long term. Denver built it for the short term, for better or worse. The Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs -- they're all competing for 2015 and '16, the post-Peyton years, and that gives Andy and Dorsey a window. The team was more talented than it played last year, and obviously went through some issues. ... John will do the legwork, and the one area that will be interesting is how he can advance (the) pro personnel (department), because he's worked so extensively on the college side. I expect that pairing (between Reid and Dorsey), because those two are so close, it's one of those things where you can write it down, a long-term coach who hires a respected friend, it should work. If it doesn't, that would challenge a lot of well-formed opinions about succeeding in this league."


Owner: Mark Davis, 3rd year
General Manager: Reggie McKenzie, 2nd year
Head Coach:Dennis Allen, 2nd year
Other front-office notables: Joey Clinkscales, Director of Player Personnel; Shaun Herock, Director of College Scouting.

Who's really in charge? After his father's death, Davis blew up the old model and brought in Ken Herock and Ron Wolf to advise him on reworking the entire franchise. Reggie McKenzie quickly was identified as the man to lead the modernization of the team. And Davis granted McKenzie absolute control over the entire football operation, final say on the 53-man roster, the privilege to hire the head coach and his staff, and the power to make all decisions big and small. McKenzie's ability to handle all of this remains to be seen.

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McKenzie hired Dennis Allen to lead the on-field group. In Year 1, Allen had to fight through growing pains with a team in a transitional phase, thanks to significant salary-cap issues. And McKenzie's scouting staff, also, was almost entirely brought in from the outside. Joey Clinkscales was hired from the New York Jets and has served as McKenzie's closest confidant, working on both the college and pro sides. Ken Herock's son, Shaun, who works out of Atlanta, came with McKenzie from Green Bay to head up the college side.

The easiest way to explain Davis' role in all of this is to say it's a work in progress. He's rarely in the office, but wants to be involved and has interjected himself at times. But with McKenzie carrying so much contractual say, Davis has let the GM do his job while keeping in constant contact with him.

An outside perspective from an NFC executive: "The Raiders are a blank canvas for Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie. Dennis Allen, whether he has success or not, was an up-and-comer who a lot of people had on their list. With the Raiders job, he may have walked into a situation that was too great for him to solve. (With) Reggie, the Green Bay model is one that takes time to work. You need to draft and develop, and when you don't have the picks, it's tough to do that. Again, the one thing they need is time. When you're among the worst teams in the league, time is always more limited. And when the team across the Bay is going to Super Bowls and building a new stadium, the window is shorter. They have stadium issues, revenue issues. If they can stabilize, maybe Reggie and Dennis get to see this out long term. But they're both meat-and-potatoes football guys that lack marketing sizzle, and because of the circumstances, that may do them in."


Owner:Alex Spanos, 30th year
General Manager:Tom Telesco, 1st year
Head Coach:Mike McCoy, 1st year
Other front-office notables:Dean Spanos, President/Chairman; A.G. Spanos, Chief Executive Officer; John Spanos, Executive Vice President of Football Operations; Ed McGuire, Executive Vice President of Football Administration; JoJo Wooden, Director of Player Personnel.

Who's really in charge? Dean Spanos has run the club in recent years. This year, he made a major move in beginning to hand off some control to his sons: A.G. will oversee the business side; John, the old college director, will now oversee football operations. This was an organization that needed change. The writing was on the wall: A major shakeup was necessary. The Broncos went on to relieve general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner of their duties. A few weeks later, Tom Telesco came over from Indianapolis and Mike McCoy from Denver to fill the GM and coach roles, respectively.

Inside football ops, the structure hasn't changed all that drastically. The GM, in this case Telesco, still has final say on all personnel matters, as well as the final call on the 53-man roster. But the Chargers knew that, from a communication standpoint, they needed improvement. This is why Bolts brass felt it was important to find like-minded guys for the GM and head-coach spots, which San Diego feels like it has in Telesco and McCoy. Telesco also has made his own tweaks, bringing in someone he knew from the pro-scouting trial: JoJo Wooden, who left the Jets to become Telesco's right-hand man.

Both Telesco and McCoy report to Dean Spanos, who will still come in and handle big decisions, big contracts and be privy to happenings surrounding major events like the draft.

An outside perspective from an NFC personnel executive: "I'd expect the principles to be the same there with Tom. He's been with the best, so you'll see the same model and principles. Tommy's a solid, solid guy. But he's quiet and unassuming, and the one thing about that job is that you've gotta be able to seize control. So it's to be determined how he'll lead. If you have a bad week, a bad game, a bad season, can you rally the troops? He's been a great behind-the-scenes worker. Is he ready? Yes. But being able to manage people, that's where we'll see what happens. ... Right now, that's not a good football team, so I bet they blow it up, and figure it out from there."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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