When a head coach is hired before a general manager, the head coach usually wields the most influence with the team.
Think Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. He was hired immediately after the Bucs fired Greg Schiano, and his imprint and approach will be all over the team. In the more extreme sense, think former coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland. He convinced former Browns owner Randy Lerner to hire George Kokinis as GM, then Mangini ran the team.
But with every rule there are exceptions, and thus it is with the Cleveland Browns of 2014, where neither the GM nor the coach will have the most influence with the team. That influence appears to be shared, with guidance coming from owner Jimmy Haslam.
GM Ray Farmer will be in charge of football operations, but he and coach Mike Pettine will share authority and work together in this latest incarnation of Browns' rebuilding. Farmer ultimately will be in charge of the 53-man roster and Pettine will be in charge of the roster on game days.
“(Picking players) will be a collaborative effort,” Haslam said. “I think that we’ve got a great group of scouts, and I think that Pett and his coaching staff -- we talked about this at dinner last night -- will participate, and I think that we’ll all work together to get the best players we can.”
It’s not an unusual setup. In fact, it’s very much like the setup in Pittsburgh, where GM Kevin Colbert handles personnel, Mike Tomlin handles coaching, and Art Rooney runs the team. Tomlin can go to Rooney at any point, and though Colbert has a lot of authority, it’s tough to call him Tomlin’s boss. The structure can work.
What is unusual is the timing. In most cases, the owner would want the new GM involved actively in choosing the new coach. That did not happen, through no fault of Haslam.
It seems the owner entered the coaching search without plans to make an overhaul. It actually seems that the coaching search contributed to the decision to make the overhaul.
Which means Farmer becomes GM at what could be an awkward time, but doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be if those involved don’t want it to be awkward, and don’t let it be awkward.
The job for Pettine and Farmer is to win. To set aside egos and win.
The way to win is for Pettine to let Farmer know what kind of players he wants, and for Farmer to find those players. That process has started.
“(Pettine) has already kind of set forward the players and how they kind of stack up for his scheme, the importance of one position versus another,” Farmer said. “As we work through those, I’ll get a better idea of what he needs to be successful.”
Pettine and Farmer have been impressive since being hired. Pettine is firm, straightforward and honest. Farmer has hit a lot of right notes in a couple of days since he was named GM. He’s personable, bright, answers a question, and does so without a lot of ego. He gets the idea of being on a team because he was a player, and seems to have a little something-something, a presence, that gives reason for hope. He’s also respected by many throughout the league.
None of that will draft a Pro Bowler or win a game, but it’s a good starting point.
In a recent radio interivew on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, Farmer was asked what kind of team he would build. He said tough, because that’s the kind of team Pettine wants to build.
Farmer said Tuesday that the Browns already have multiple draft boards, but they would change as he consults with coaches. He said the draft is about preparation, that by the time players are picked “the hay is in the barn.”
“It was explained to me that a general manager’s role is to ensure the success of his head coach,” Farmer said. “So I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed.”
If that sounds like it had a good dose of humility, it’s because it did.