NFL Coaches W/ Personnel Control Need To Be Careful Of What They Wish For


“They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for the groceries.” Those were the famous words of the great Bill Parcells as he explained his frustration over not having roster control as the head coach of the New England Patriots.

At the time Parcells was pushing for control of personnel decisions after being disappointed that the team had drafted Terry Glenn when he wanted the team to select a defensive lineman.

However, despite Parcells’ assertions, this season we saw just the latest examples of why being a head coach with personnel control might just be too much power, or just too much responsibility for one man.

One man who may be the best, if not one of the more glaring examples of having full control blow up in his face is Chip Kelly, who was fired by the Philadelphia Eagles a season after demanding roster control. Believe whatever you want about reports that Kelly ruining the Eagles’ Christmas party led to his early dismissal, but if Philadelphia was 10-6 in 2015 the way they had been the previous two seasons, we’re pretty sure the third-year head coach would have survived another season with the team.

The mess Kelly leaves in his wake is as unbelievable as his strategy was flawed. Gone are some of the best playmakers the Eagles have had in decades like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, who Kelly traded to the Buffalo Bills for Kiko Alonso, who was coming off of an ACL injury.

Betting on Alonso coming back from an ACL was one thing, but betting on a slew of injury prone players is quite another. Forget about his system or the fact that Kelly couldn’t have cared less about time of possession, Kelly’s most fatal flaw was his propensity for betting on injury prone guys.

Before the season, the Eagles new head of personnel decided to bet on Sam Bradford, who’s known more for his injuries than anything he’s done on the field at the NFL level; DeMarco Murray, who had just finished his first and only 16-game season; and Ryan Mathews who has played in more than 10 games just twice during his five-year career, and hasn’t played a complete season yet.

After a pair of 10-win seasons, Kelly pushed his weight around and demanded complete control and threatened to leave if he didn’t get it. After a season with the control he had asked for, Jeffrey Lurie was happy to show Kelly the door.

In Tampa Bay, many were surprised that now former head coach Lovie Smith wasn’t given a third season to make things work with the Buccaneers, but it may have been some of his personnel decisions that made it difficult for the team to keep him around.

Smith shared personnel decisions with general manager Jason Licht, but had final authority on roster moves.

The Buccaneers gave the pair an open checkbook, but they were unable to transform the roster into a competitive one in the two years under their watch. While they drafted just one defensive player in two years, the offense became much stronger under their watch.

The problem was, Lovie brought in too many guys he should have known a lot about, and few of them worked out. While Chris Conte played better than expected in Tampa, the Chicago retreads like Major Wright, Tim Jennings, Henry Melton and Conte failed to make much of an impact in Tampa, as Smith’s defense struggled mightily.

While the Bucs had a pair of solid drafts during Smith’s tenure, the swings and misses in free agency stunted the growth of a team that suddenly has a solid young core. From Anthony Collins to Michael Johnson, to Alterraun Verner and Bruce Carter, the Buccaneers dropped a ton of guaranteed money into the laps of players who won’t or likely won’t be in Tampa Bay in 2016 when a new head coach takes over the reins in Tampa.

Licht remained in place while Smith was shown the door, and with the Buccaneers general manager leading the search for the next head coach, (Let’s be honest, it’s Dirk Koetter, right?) they won’t be hiring a guy and giving him final say over the roster.

“I’ve never been one – and this is my philosophy and personality as a general manager – the power thing gets a little bit overblown,” Licht said during a press conference about the team’s decision to move on from Smith. “Who has what – you work collectively. You can’t force-feed a coach a player. I do have the power of the 53 [-man roster], but that doesn’t stop us from going after a certain coach. I’m not going to cross names off because of it. My job is to bring the best football coach to this football team. What kind of power they get, what kind of tweaks we have to make, it doesn’t matter. I want the best football coach. You want a good working relationship with the coach. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are the best of friends, but you just want a good solid relationship. Whoever has the power has the power, but together you’re going to make decisions.”

It’s a difficult decision for teams to make. When an organization sees a guy they believe can turn their future around, they feel like they have to do anything to bring that guy in house. However, this isn’t a new phenomenon, and when doing everything means giving the guy control over personnel decisions, it’s rarely a good idea.

For all of the mistakes Josh McDaniels (admittedly) made in Denver, it was his drafting of Tim Tebow that will always be remembered as his biggest blunder. The former Denver Broncos head coach who’s now back with the Patriots as offensive coordinator has admitted that not allowing his general manager in Denver more of a say in roster decisions was one of his biggest mistakes.

Whether it’s too much responsibility, or too much power, time and time again the decision to give a guy full control over a football team has proven to be too much. It was too much for Kelly and Smith like it was too much for Josh McDaniels before them.

The responsibility has even been too much for some of the great coaches we’ve seen in the game. It was too much for Mike Holmgren and Pete Carroll, and it’s likely going to be too much for the next guy given all of the power by some desperate football organization.

Many NFL coaches have tried to be the personnel guy too, but the only one who has really done it successfully for a long period of time is Bill Belichick. It’s yet another reason why whether you think he cheated or not, or whether you like him or not, Belichick is one of the greatest football minds we’ve ever seen.

And having perhaps the greatest quarterback in the history of football certainly helps erase other personnel blunders.

There are seven head coaching vacancies in the NFL right now. It will be interesting to see if any of them give a coach their say on personnel decisions despite the growing evidence that it’s not a good idea. As we’ve seen in far too many instances, whether it’s too much power or too much responsibility, more times than not, giving a coach final say on the roster seems to be too much control.

About Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.