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Outside the Lines:
Total Control


Here's the transcript from Show 80 of weekly Outside The Lines - Total Control

SUN., OCT. 7, 2001
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reported by: Kelly Neal (ESPN).
Guests: Keith Byars, 13-year NFL veteran running back ; Rich McKay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager; Tom Donahoe, Buffalo Bills general manager.

Announcer - October 7, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - NFL head coaches in charge of their teams.

Unidentified Male - They can call us all control freaks, but you have to be that way.

Ley - More coaches now seek total authority, as perfected by Bill Walsh during the 49ers dynasty.

Ron Wolf, former Packers general manager - You give me complete control, and I'll get you the big game. But it hasn't worked.

Ley - It has for Mike Shanahan in Denver, but not for Mike Holmgren in Seattle, and not yet for Marty Schottenheimer.

Ernie Accorsi, Giants general manager - I don't think to be solely the general manager, they just want the power.

Ley - The game's legends enjoyed that power, Lombardi, Halas, Paul Brown. Now it is given to young coaches early in their careers.

Andy Reid, Eagles head coach and Executive VP of Football Operations - If you don't win, then you're not a head coach for very long. When you have the opportunity to deal your own cards, I think that helps.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines - total control in the NFL.

Ley - If sports has a parallel universe in terms of pure entertainment value and the millions of dollars at stake and ego, it certainly is Hollywood. As "The Wall Street Journal" reported just the other day, the current trend in movie releases calls for bankable stars to plaster their names throughout the credits of the movie's release. Ben Stiller not only stars in a movie that was released last weekend, his name appears in the credits six separate times.

Calling the shots for an NFL team does not require an official title, but about half the coaches in the league actually have that vaunted total control over their team's football operations. But only about half of them actually carry business cards that prove it. The pressure to win in the National Football League has always been crushing, but you add now the quick fix of free agency, eight-figure coaching contracts and, yes, ego, and that's the environment in which proven, and in some cases unproven coaches are being handed the keys -- all of the keys -- to NFL teams. Here's Kelly Neal.

Kelly Neal, ESPN correspondent - Total control is nothing new in the NFL. What's new is who's getting it. Butch Davis may not have the title of GM, but in his first year as an NFL head coach, he has the power in Cleveland. Remarkably, Mike Sherman has risen from offensive line coach at Texas A&M to the Packers head coach and VP of football operations in just six years. The 43-year-old Andy Reid has the same authority with the Eagles.

Reid - In a business that has a tendency to be a finger-pointing business, that you look in the mirror, there's only one guy to blame, and that's yourself when it's all said and done; there are no excuses, and I like it that way.

Neal - Traditionally, a head coach works with the players brought in by the general manager. NFC champion Giants head coach Jim Fassel has input on all decisions. But general manager Ernie Accorsi continues to make the final call on personnel.

Jim Fassel, Giants head coach - I did not ask for one increased title, one added responsibility, nothing when I signed a new contract because I was happy with my situation.

Accorsi - The key, in my opinion, is communication, constant communication and trust. If you somehow can put your ego in a drawer and check it and not use it, if you have any kind of common goals, you're going to be successful.

Wolf - You have to have an exceptional coach, you have to have someone in the personnel department that understands personnel. And most importantly, someone that understands how to use the money, a salary cap expert. And no one person can do that. If somebody wants to have control, they can have control, but still that individual that's in control has to rely a lot on these other two people to make that harmonious.

Neal - Ron Wolf, the former Packers GM spent 35 years in the NFL. He says the timetable for success changed dramatically in 1997, when both expansion teams, the Jaguars and the Panthers, reached the conference championship games in just their second season. Owners grew even more impatient with losing, and were looking for new ways to quick success.

Wolf - Everything got speeded up. And what has happened is, that's become a bargaining chip; and that chip is, you give me complete control and I'll give you the big game, but it hasn't worked.

Neal - Wolf retired in February, recommending that Sherman, with only one year's head coaching experience, assume Wolf's role as well. The Packers are off to a 3-0 start.

Mike Sherman, Packers head coach and general manager - I have a book full of disgruntled Wolfisms; the ideas and thoughts that I've dragged out of him and that will benefit me throughout the course of time.

Wolf - He was ready for that because he knew through the process there that the people that he hired would give him exactly what he needed and how he needed it. That's so important.

Neal - It was just three years ago that Mike Holmgren left Green Bay after amassing an 85-43 record and a championship with Wolf as GM. Since taking total control of the Seahawks, Holmgren's record is just 15-21, including a 1-2 start this year.

But Wolf thinks he'll turn it around.

Wolf - Mike can do that, there's no question in my mind that he will be successful in Seattle. It's just going to take a while.

Neal - But Accorsi says giving a head coach total control can cripple a franchise, should that coach leave and take his staff, thus forcing the club to build from scratch.

Accorsi - Lately, the organization kind of leaves, too. Where, when you have a structured organization, and you happen to lose the coach, as long as you hire the right coach to replace him, you should be able to continue some continuity and success.

Neal - When Dolphins head coach and GM Jimmy Johnson retired almost two years ago, it could have disrupted the organization for years. But because his successor had been his assistant head coach the previous season, Dave Wannstedt simply stepped into Johnson's role. And the structure remains relatively intact.

Now 2-1 with the Dolphins, Wannstedt was criticized. During his six years of total control in Chicago, only five of his draft picks are current Bears starters. He said he learned from that experience, and in Miami has been allowed to hire almost twice the scouting staff he had with the Bears.

What is the difference in your judgment now, versus back then?

Wannstedt - I don't think there's any secret or any scientific formula to it. You take the information, you get as much as you can on a player. And then you have to trust the people that are out there doing the scouting.

Neal - While multiple titles can mean more money, and potentially better job security, they also mean more work. Being a GM today means dealing with complex issues, such as the salary cap. And some believe being head coach at the same time makes it harder, even when you delegate some responsibility.

Accorsi - Ultimately, those people can't make the decisions. That person, whoever he is, the coach and general manager will have to make the decision. And to make the decision he has to have -- be informed. To be informed, he's going to have to spend time on it.

Neal - Do you ever feel like, I'm not giving my coaching enough time because I'm doing some GM work, and I'm shortchanging the other?

Wannstedt - Oh, that can happen. At certain times of the year, that does happen.

Neal - Is there, potentially, a conflict of interest for a coach being a GM as well?

Wannstedt - Yes, there is. From the standpoint of winning right now. I mean, there is, that's a fact.

Neal - Have you wrestled with it yourself?

Wannstedt - Oh, sure, there's no question. Because there's a real obligation to the organization. But at the same time you know that if you don't win, that they're going to fire you. So it's not easy.

Accorsi - I just think it's better for the franchise if you have someone who might have a little bit of a shorter term view and someone else who's a check and balance, who might have a long-range view.

Sherman - If you want those All-Stars, you better find two people that can put their ego in the back seat and say, we want to work together.

Wannstedt - You're going to be responsible for whether you make your decision or not, so being in a position where you can say yes, this is the guy I want, it does help.

Ley - Well, which system is more successful? Well, for the last three years, there were 15 playoff appearances by head coaches with total control, 21 by head coaches who worked under a general manager.

And in a few minutes I will be speaking with a 13-year NFL veteran who played for the same coach, Bill Parcells, under different situations.

But joining us now, the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rich McKay. He is in his sixth year with the Bucs, and in that time he hired head coach Tony Dungy. The Bucs are emerging as annual playoff contenders. Rich McKay is in Tampa this morning.

Tom Donahoe is in his first season as president and general manager of the Buffalo Bills. And during his 14 years in Pittsburgh, he rose to Director of Football Operations as the Steelers won the 1995 AFC championship. He joins us this morning from Buffalo.

Good morning gentlemen. I've got a couple of GMs here this morning, so I don't expect ringing endorsements for total control for coaches.

But Rich, what about the conflict of interest - GMs are paid to look down the line, coaches are looking towards next Sunday -- can it work?

Rich McKay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager - Well, it can work for a head coach. I just think that some of the phrases that Ernie used were very appropriate. You've got to have a check and balance. Somebody has to ultimately be there, if the coach is going to have total control, and insure that decisions are made. Not just to beat the Bears next week but to deal with the issues of the salary cap and the future. And that's where the total control issue, in my mind, becomes a problem.

Ley - Tom.

Tom Donahoe, Buffalo Bills president and general manager - I agree with Rich's point. I think what has happened in this league is that coaches want to preach teamwork on the field, but sometimes when it comes to the organization, they don't believe in the same structure of teamwork. I still look at it as it's two full time jobs. And for one individual to do two full time jobs, something is going to suffer.

Ley - Sounds like you're bringing in the ego word, Tom.

Donahoe - I think that's part of it, I think it comes down to ego. I think it comes down to power. I think it comes down to money. And I still feel that the best situation is when there is a structure, there is a system of checks and balances within your organization. And you have people working together for the same goal.

Ley - Rich, take me through your relationship with Tony Dungy, a guy you hired, a guy that if push would come to shove, and it doesn't appear that it would from the outside, that you would have the final say. But how does that work with you and Tony?

McKay - Well it worked very well, and one of the reasons is, Tony has absolutely no desire to have my job or my responsibilities. Because Tony understands what's involved in this game and how much time it takes just to coach a football team. The way it works with us is pretty simple. I try to make no personnel decisions that are not we decisions. We try to sit down with the coaching staff at draft time or free agency and say; this is our plan, what do you think? Take their input and make a decision that we can make for the best interest of the team.

And any salary cap decisions, I try to sit down with Tony, we go through them. In the end, we try to say Tony, you coach the football team. It's your football team to coach. I'll manage the salary cap, and I'll handle the personnel end.

Ley - Well Tom, obviously you don't believe in total control for a coach. What went through your mind, a couple of years ago in 1999, Mike Ditka with the Saints traded away the entire draft board for the Saints and put the dreadlocks on and came in and announced that we had drafted Ricky Williams. Was that the best advertisement, in your mind, for not doing something like that?

Donahoe - It certainly was a good argument against it. And I think New Orleans felt the effects of that for a couple of seasons. And to me that's where the idea of the checks and balances come in. That was a short-term decision. Mike was obviously trying to hit a home run. And it didn't work.

And even after Mike left, I think there were ramifications to what he did. The draft is the lifeblood of your team, and of your organization. And just to give away draft picks, it's not good for the long-range future of your team.

Ley - Yet at the same time, do either of you guys fear that if you got into a situation where you had to hire a coach, and you were without a coach, that your owner might put you in the position of negotiating away some of your own power?

McKay - Sure that can happen. And the bottom line is, if it's actually in the best interest of the franchise, then lets do it. But I think one of the phrases that was used by Ernie and or Ron, in your opening piece, was continuity of structure. If you are going to do that, I still want to make sure that our structure, the way we make our decisions, stays in place. Because if we do that, we will have continued success. If we completely change, then the fear is when we change and when we get all the power one way, if we don't have immediate success, I think we'll have problems.

Ley - Let's step aside for just a second. When we continue, we will be joined by Keith Byars who played under Buddy Ryan in the city of Philadelphia with the Eagles. And then later in his career, he spent several seasons after his time with the Eagles with Bill Parcells, first in New England, with the Patriots where Parcells did not have total control. And then, of course with the Jets, where famously he did.

Bill Parcells - A friend of mine told me something. Now, I'm going to quote, and I'm not trying to be cute here, OK. I'm just going to say - They want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries, OK.

Ley - Perhaps the definitive soundbite on the topic of total control, famously uttered by Bill Parcells. We welcome now to our panel, Keith Byars. He spent 13 seasons in the NFL, playing for Bill Parcells in New England and the Super Bowl. And also for Bill Parcells with the New York Jets, and the club made it to the AFC Championship game. Mr. Byars joins us from Boca Raton, Florida, and will be joining us as well as Rich McKay and Tom Donahoe.

Well you're a Parcells guy, Keith. That famous phrase, you wanted a certain group of players around him. What was the difference in playing for him when he was not in total control in New England, as of course we all found out. And then again with the Jets?

Keith Byars, played for Bill Parcells with Patriots ('96) and Jets ('98) - Well, I think it comes back to some of the things we've been talking about, some of these checks and balances. And it really comes back towards the NFL draft. When Parcells made that quote, it attributed really to the Jerry Graham's situation.

Parcells wanted to pick a defensive player, and upper management wanted an offensive player. And it ended up being Terry Glenn, and Terry Glenn, in bearing some of the brunt of that all his whole rookie season because he was kind of like feeling that he was alienated -- he wasn't the coach's pick. And he was more or less management's pick. And that was a sticky situation for him most of his rookie season.

And so I know from the player's standpoint, when you're viewed as not necessarily the coach's pick, you always feel he's constantly picking on you. Whereas you're a management draft pick. And that can be somewhat uncomfortable.

But when I was there, I used to try -- I was trying to make Terry feel -- because I know where Parcells was coming from -- I would say, well you have to understand Bill. He likes to be into total control. But then when I went to the New York Jets, when Bill had the final say, it was a totally much more relaxed situation. Every player in that locker room, they knew they were in that locker room because the head coach had them there, not because someone else in upper management made the final say on whether or not they would be sitting in that locker room.

Ley - Tom, it sounds like the Jets were a happier locker room because you had a coach in total control there.

Donahoe - Well that can happen. And I think Keith makes a good point. I will say this, and this is just my personal philosophy. All the years that I've been involved in personnel, I have never shoved a player down a head coach's throat. I don't think you can do that. I think you have to work together. I think you have to communicate, you have to know what type of players your coaches want, and make decisions based on that.

Ley - Rich I saw you grin a little bit, when you heard the infamous grocery bite. What's your reaction to that.

McKay - Well, the grocery bite makes sense to me, except for the fact that again, you need continuity. You can't have a situation where all of a sudden groceries are purchased, and the chef is leaving the kitchen. Because at that point, somebody else is going to have to come in. And when they come in, there is going to be changes and you're going to suffer. Again, Bob, my difference today, versus 20 years ago is, the decisions made on the personnel side have long-term effects because of the salary cap. Accordingly, changes are a problem.

And to me that's where the issue comes in. Keith's point though, he makes a very good point about the locker room. And I always feel like it is important that our players know, ultimately Tony is in charge of that locker room. But I wouldn't want them to think that Tony was the one that decided to give player 'A' a contract and not give player 'B' a contract. Because in my mind, that creates problems for the coach. Whereas I don't mind being the bad guy.

Ley - Well Keith, what about your negotiations first, when Parcells was not across the table from you in New England, and then down in New York when he was?

Byars - Well, actually when I came to New York, we had the contract worked out in one afternoon. It was pretty much, this is what we can pay you, and my agent didn't really get involved with him, because it was pretty much a cut-and-dried type contract. We didn't have to have all these conversations over weeks of time. You know, we were very comfortable with each other. Being a veteran, I knew what I wanted as far as incentive packages, so it was pretty plain and done. He just pretty much told the capologists, go make these numbers fit. And it felt a lot more comfortable knowing that you can just get done that quickly.

But it still comes back down to having open communication with, you know, the head coach and management. Because if you don't have that communication, things will break down. And you know change is going to come, especially with free agency, you're not going to be in that job for five to 10 years guaranteed. You may last that long, but it is not guaranteed. It's really a year to year audition, not only for the players, but for the coaches as well. And so that's why ego will get involved, and they want to have as much control as they can.

Ley - Well Tom in Denver, Mike Shanahan has total control. In fact, he and Mike Holmgren, it might be said, have the most total control if you can use that phrase. Because he really has persuasion over the cap as well. And he's got two Super Bowl rings.

Donahoe - Well, you have to give him credit for that. I mean, there's no argument against that. But you can find just as many arguments and situations where it hasn't worked.

I think some of it, Bob, comes down to the philosophy of your team, the philosophy of your owner. We have been able to see that both types of structures can work. If it's going to be a head coach with the power and the authority, he better have some good people around him that he is willing to listen to. If he surrounds himself with yes men, it can't work. And I still go back, I feel that it is two full-time jobs. And the best structure is the way we're trying to operate here in Buffalo.

Ley - What about the situation you left behind in Pittsburgh? Bill Cowher still just officially the coach, but as I mentioned at the top of the show, half the coaches in the league who are perceived as really controlling football operations don't officially have that title. Is there a problem? Should you really stamp it? Because so many coaches out there essentially have persuasion over this, but it doesn't look like it on paper?

Donahoe - Well, titles can mean anything you want them to mean. And a lot of times the titles are meaningless. But the bottom line has to be, is everybody committed to the same thing? Are they willing to work together to make sound decisions, the best decisions for the football team?

The cap has impacted all of our lives for better or worse. And I think one thing that your general manager can see is the long-term cap effect of some deals where maybe the coach can't see those ramifications.

Ley - Rich, we heard earlier in our report that what happened with the expansion teams in '97 with Carolina and Jacksonville, second season right to the championship game changed things. Did you see that, do you see more anxious owners around the league?

McKay - Well, we certainly felt it in Tampa. Here's a franchise that had floundered for a number of years, and then all of a sudden here comes two expansion teams in, and within two years they are playing for championships. So we felt it.

I think I felt it in the room, the ownership room too, at the owners meetings. Because I think there was that discussion of why not us. The other thing you've got to remember Bob, is stadiums. Stadiums have totally changed today. They are now producing massive amounts of revenue, but the margins are also very big. In other words the difference between having a full house and a half house. Accordingly the pressures to win are pretty tremendous.

So it is not just Carolina and Jacksonville that brought those pressures. To me it's also the modern-day stadium, which is producing a lot of revenue and therefore it's pressurizing things to win now.

Ley - It all comes down to the bottom line, as it always does. Gentlemen, thank you all very much. Thank you.

Keith Byars and Tom Donahoe and Rich McKay.

Next up, Bonds for the record; a look at your thoughts on last Sunday's show Outside The Lines.

Unidentified Announcer - There's a high fly ball to right center field! Way back! And it is gone! Number 71!

Ley - Well, Barry Bonds has the record and then some. Last Sunday's look at Bonds spurred these e-mails to our inbox.

From Baltimore - "While we continue to valorize a player like Roger Clemens for his warriors' demeanor, when an African American ball player does not play to the crowd, he is tagged as arrogant, sullen or unqualified for our praise. Barry Bonds has not failed a popularity contest, he's just the recipient of the same old quiet stereotypes that too many sportswriters perpetuate."

From Virginia Beach - "What specifically has Barry Bonds done other than not kiss up to the media? Has he done drugs? Has he broken any laws? All he's done is play the game completely on offense and defense better than anyone else for over a decade."

Our complete library of streaming video and transcripts online at And your e-mail is always read, and excerpted each week. And our e-mail address -

Ley - And tonight after "NFL Primetime," that's at 7:30 Eastern, Carolina visiting the San Francisco 49ers, a homecoming for George Seifert. The action at 8:30 Eastern here on ESPN.

And in 30 minutes, I'll be rejoining Robin Roberts for another edition of "SportsCenter." We've got the brand new top 25 on the wake of Texas and Oklahoma. Another look back last night at the festivities surrounding Cal Ripken's final game, and the (unintelligible) central.

Now John Saunders in for Dick Schaap at the ESPN Zone in Times Square. It's time for "The Sports Reporters."

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 Outside The Lines
ESPN's Bob Ley examines the labors that go hand-in-hand with having 'Total Control' in the NFL.

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