The League

David Aldridge
Sports Reporter

David Aldridge

A nationally recognized sports journalist.

Front office first


Johnny Carson, explaining what makes a successful talk show, famously said, "it's all about the guy behind the desk." In another vein, a successful football team is all about the guy behind the desk -- the general manager.

This is not a chicken or the egg, mutually exclusive question. Of course you need a good coach if you want to win in the NFL. But you can't win over the long haul -- history is rather conclusive about this -- without great players. And history is also rather definitive that coaches, left to their own devices, aren't the best judges of talent.

Great sports organizations are all about creative tension. The coach, rightly, is thinking about this week's or tonight's game; the GM, also correctly, thinks about the long view, about how to seamlessly replace aging stars, how to pay for it all. Working together, they keep a team moving in the same direction.

If you asked most people who the greatest NFL coach of all time was, I think most people would say Vince Lombardi -- the man whose name is on the championship trophy that is given to the winner of the Super Bowl. But Lombardi didn't come to Green Bay in 1959 with an empty cupboard and "coach up" a bunch of bums. The unsung hero of the Packer dynasty was a guy named Jack Vainisi, the team's player personnel director during the 1950s.

It was Vainisi that pushed for, and drafted, Bart Starr, and Paul Hornung, and Forrest Gregg, and Jim Ringo, and Ray Nitschke -- all of whom were already on the team when Lombardi arrived from New York. No, Green Bay would not have won five titles without Lombardi's merciless, fanatical pursuit of excellence. But the Packers wouldn't have won without those Hall of Fame players, either.

Was Bill Walsh the architect of the 49ers' reign in the 1980s? No doubt. But it was the team's director of college scouting, Tony Razzano, that pushed - hard -- for drafting Joe Montana in 1979, and laid the groundwork for taking many of the players that became champions. And anyone who's paid attention locally knows that Joe Gibbs, who could take whatever he was given and make it work, nonethless was given a lot to work with by Bobby Beathard and Charley Casserly.

There are exceptions, to be sure, like Chuck Noll and Jimmy Johnson, who did a lot of the grunt work in picking their star players themselves (though Johnson still had help from exceptional personnel guys like Larry Lacewell). But the overwhelming body of evidence suggests that before any great coach can be great, he must let someone else, as Bill Parcells ultimately found out, pick the groceries.

By David Aldridge  |  November 9, 2009; 1:38 PM ET  | Category:  Coaching , David Aldridge , Green Bay Packers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Great point David, I agree but can anyone actually help the Browns? That's the real question and survey says NO!

Posted by: carsoo | November 9, 2009 5:36 PM

I agree with your story and so do almost all of the fans. But I think Snyder won't learn this for a few more years if ever.

Posted by: sruppert | November 10, 2009 7:00 AM

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