Q: With Scott Pioli being the hands-down best available candidate out there for a general manager job, why are the Browns dragging their feet and letting this capable Belichick clone walk away from this opportunity?
LA: Scott Pioli has certainly amassed a solid reputation around the league as a capable and potentially tremendous front office executive. The one thing many around around the league note when discussing this candidate is his reliance on having the situation 'perfect' for him, or he'll return to New England. This is not the first time he has danced with a partner or two and walked away.
While Pioli does work for former Browns and current New England head coach Bill Belichick, it should be noted that Belichick provides Pioli plenty of freedom to function and make decisions -- though Belichick does possess the authority to overrule anything Pioli has to offer.
The issue between the Browns and Pioli comes down to philosophy; not overall philosophy, mind you, but the opinion of what is essential to elevate the Browns to a respectable and competitive standard.
Team owner Randy Lerner seeks persons with the ability to manage, communicate and have the ability to evaluate and disperse their professional wisdom onto the football operation. The head coach and general manager of this team must communicate and understand what each is looking for from and for the team.
Numerous executives within the league expressed to Lerner that a head coach can be more valuable to the organization than, say, a general manager in title -- so long as the supporting cast within the front office is a solid, close-working unit with capable members with strong, specific skill sets.
This is the area where the concerns of Lerner were compounded during discussions with Pioli. Whether Pioli was turned off to Lerner's approach of interviewing head coaching candidates to the extent it is an issue between the two men is unknown. However, it's likely a sticking point in discussions, mainly due to Pioli's insistence of near-absolute power and wanting to name his own head coach -- which should be expected if given the keys to the organization.
These coaching interviews, along with the man Lerner strongly prefers to coach his team -- Eric Mangini -- are certainly an issue due to incidents in the past regarding Pioli's New England Patriots and Mangini's New York Jets.
Lerner seeks a strong relationship between the men he will have head up the football side of the operations, and the deck is stacked against Pioli being a part of this organization as long as Lerner remains steadfast in his desire to use a strength-in-numbers approach, as well as his drive to add Mangini to the Browns' mix.
Q: Randy Lerner has used different approaches to head up his organization, and all have failed. A common denominator has been the lack of an experienced general manager or team president in place to oversee the operation. With capable men such as Scott Pioli, Floyd Reese, Tom Heckert and Mike Shanahan available, why is Lerner insistent on adding a man to the general manager position, if the reports are correct, that has limited experience in running football operations?
LA: This is the question some in the league, along with the fans and media, have asked themselves as Randy Lerner has not been made available to answer. When experienced front office, general manager-types are available, I believe you owe it to yourself to speak to as many of these type of persons you can. That is simply doing your due diligence.
Many people outside of the game think of Lerner as a man without any football senses and question his approach in filling the vital roles of head coach and general manager in one off-season. Lerner has spent a significant amount of time picking the brains of numerous team owners and front office executive-types, trying to balance out his thought process while also gaining sufficient insight to make a calculated decision about the future of this organization.
When Lerner terminated Phil Savage, he had no problem sifting through the differing opinion and verbage he was subjected to. While on the hook for millions of dollars to Savage, Lerner's move to fire the man he hired to lead the organization was decisive. On the other hand, the move to remove Crennel was somewhat troublesome for Lerner as Crennel was not provided the support system Lerner had expressly believed would be the case with Savage -- especially throughout the 2008 season.
Lerner has the stones to make the uncommon or unfavorable move, which may be the reasoning behind the interest in Mangini and now apparently George Kokinis.
Personnel men such as Floyd Reese and Tom Heckert are quality individuals and have been successful within the front office with their current and former teams for a significant period of time. Rather than take advantage of the experience of these men, Lerner's commitment to continuity, communication and a strong personal bond between his head coach and general manager candidate outweighs the more practical approach.
While I can understand the philosophical angle being played by Lerner if Mangini and Kokinis are hired, I question the lack of experience as a true general manager Kokinis is reportedly in line to receive. When talking to league personnel, as well as a source within the Ravens organization, I am told Kokinis' strengths are his professionalism, his ability to manage, working within a structure and communicate. Over the years, Kokinis has won the ear of Baltimore general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome due to his ability to exceed expectations in nearly every facet of the organization, and especially in his current role as the Ravens' director of pro personnel.
Basically, I'm leary of this potential move as I believe this organization has gone down this path before and has not been successful. A Kokinis-Mangini teaming may be a different dynamic, but the jury is out and the situation is worrisome if Mangini has already garnered that strong of impression on Lerner to persuade this potential hire.
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