Lurtsema's Reaction: Personnel Structure

Is it time to "think outside the box" with the way NFL teams structure their personnel departments? Former Viking Bob Lurtsema points to the number of failed first-rounders and has a unique suggestion that might help minimize the draft mistakes. We talk personnel structure – from directors to general managers to coaches – with Lurtsema, the 12-year veteran of the NFL.

VU: Tell me how you think the whole front office structure should shake out with the personnel department?

I think with a lot of the evaluations of the players, they get so many people doing all the different stats, they record and break down film, I think they're better off taking some of that money and hiring other ex-players who have played a particular position and let them be an oversight for the people that have already had the evaluations in place. Scott Studwell can handle it. You don't need that large chain of command, but you do have to have an organized chain of command. They say you're going 24/7 with that type of job when you're evaluating college players – I agree you have to have a lot of research – but then to put the icing on the cake, I think if you can get X amount of players that have played a position, let them oversee the results that you have. That gives them – a Studwell or Frank Gilliam or Jeff Robinson or whoever else – it gives them a different perspective that can open up their vision of what they're bringing in. People who have played the position can give you a little different flavor.

Studwell is there, but what I'm saying is you don't need a Fran Foley (the former vice president of personnel who was fired a couple days after the draft). What is he bringing in? You have all your scouts that can break that stuff down, then for the million dollars you're going to spend for three years on a Foley, you can hire some ex-players for X amount of time and give them a condensed edition of what all the scouts have done and let them break it down. I just think you have people sometimes that are making decisions that have no idea whatsoever of what really goes on with a ballplayer and what they actually see. You see it constantly. If they (personnel directors around the NFL) are so good, how can they fall flat on their face one-third of the time with No. 1 draft choices? I don't believe in the system that's in place right now, but I do know that ex-players can pick up a lot from a player awfully quick.

Everybody is going say, ‘OK, Bob, just come out and say it,' so I'll say it: For defensive linemen, if they have five or six that they're really high on, show me the five or six on film and let me give my opinion and then you can throw it out the window if you want. But sometimes I catch things and already have on No. 1 draft choices that don't have natural pass-rushing instincts. If you have to teach him how to pass rush, no wonder he failed. I could have told you that going in. There alone I would have made my contribution to the Minnesota Vikings organization, and I could do it sitting on a bench with a projector.

VU: How about the general setup of different organizations? Do you believe that the head coach needs to be split apart from the personnel department or do you think one guy can oversee both – be a head coach and general manager?

I don't think a head coach could be a GM, because when you're negotiating as a general manager, you've got to tell the ballplayer how terrible he is. When you're negotiating for X amount of dollars, you have to dwell on the negative. Then after you sign him, you have to say to him, ‘You're the best things we've got.' A player is going to say, ‘Kiss my ever-loving. You screwed me when you negotiated with me.' You have to be negative because that's part of negotiation. The GM isn't going to say to the agent, ‘Your particular player that you're representing, he's the best player we've ever had. He can do it all.' You've got to come to equal ground and that means ripping, so I don't think you can wear two hats in this situation.

VU: Even with a Rob Brzezinski, who is going to be doing the negotiating? In other words, you couldn't have Brad Childress be making the coaching decisions and the personnel decisions and Brzezinski doing the negotiating?

Well, when you say general manager, a lot of the general managers get in there and they negotiate the contracts as well. They're in on the negotiation. That's what I was talking about. It used to be that way in the past, but when Mike Holmgren was in Seattle he couldn't handle both. A situation like that is a very delicate area to go for a head coach. Once a head coach rips on a player, whether it's off the record or on the record, through his agent, when they trade for him – whatever it might be – the coach is very fallible for that player. You're not just going to come up and slap the player on the back and say, ‘Hey, I'm just kidding about what I said.' It's going to come out with the total picture of the athlete, the strengths and weaknesses. Players with their egos, especially today's athlete, they're all perfect in their own eyes. For the coach to be on the other side, it's very delicate.

VU: It kind of goes back to Mike Tice. Even though Tice didn't have the personnel title, there were times that he would call out players in public, and now I'm hearing more and more in talking to players that his sort of double-talk really turned them off after a while.

There you go. That's a great comparison. That's perfect.

Bob Lurtsema was a 12-year veteran defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.

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