The Vikings completed the eighth and final first round interview for their vacant general manager’s position on Thursday when Browns vice president of player personnel Glenn Cook spoke to the seven-person internal committee that has been assembled by owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.
That process — which began Sunday when Titans director of player personnel Monti Ossenfort was interviewed — was conducted by a group that includes the Wilfs, as well as chief operating officer Andrew Miller; executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski; co-directors of player personnel Ryan Monnens and Jamaal Stephenson. You can also include Anne Doepner, the Vikings’ director of inclusion and employee investment, on that list, according to SKOR North and KSTP-TV’s Darren (Doogie) Wolfson.
This means several different voices will be weighing in on a key decision, and they also are likely to have a large say in the hiring of the next coach. This is no mistake. Mark Wilf, in announcing last week that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer had been fired, stressed the importance of inclusion within a franchise that probably fell short of that with Spielman as GM and Zimmer as coach.
But this is professional sports, where decisions have to be made and relying on a committee approach can get in the way as much as it can help. After Tom Thibodeau’s boisterous tenure as the Wolves’ president of basketball operations and coach came to an end, owner Glen Taylor decided not to use a search firm to narrow down the next list of candidates and instead put together an in-house committee.
Across town, the Wild stayed in-house to find a general manager to replace Chuck Fletcher after he was fired in April 2018. The Wolves and Wild are better off than they were on the day they fired Thibodeau and Fletcher, but there were some major bumps in the road for each franchise to get where they are now. The Vikings could learn valuable lessons from both teams, if they want to avoid similar pitfalls.
How so? Glad you asked.
DON’T GET FOOLED
The NFL is as much about fooling potential employers as anything. At least at first. Prospects are rehearsed in nearly every way to try to nail their Combine interviews and team executives often think they are smart enough to see through this. They aren’t. The same thing can happen in GM and coaching interviews, especially with the first round being done by video conference. The Vikings Seven is expected to narrow down the list of GM candidates to two or three and interview them in person this weekend.
That should help but it certainly isn’t foolproof.
Taylor and Wild owner Craig Leipold have firsthand knowledge of this. Gersson Rosas, hired as the Wolves’ president of basketball operations in May 2019, was fired last September because he turned out to be nothing like the guy the Wolves thought they were getting. A consensual intimate relationship with a member of the organization seemed to accelerate the decision to move on from Rosas, but a toxic culture that had grown during Rosas’ tenure also was a big issue.
Fenton was fired in July 2019 after only 14 months on the job because he also was nothing like what Leipold expected. Neither Rosas or Fenton made terrible personnel decisions, but they also clearly fooled their future employers in the interview process.
The lesson: Dig far deeper than a conversation or two, no matter how positive the first, or second, impression might have been.
Off the first point, professional sports teams employee security staffs for all types of reasons and this is one of them. There are plenty of questions asked about a future GM’s past during the course of an interview but assuming anyone is going to come clean is dangerous.
This is one case where digging into a person’s past is absolutely necessary. Remember, the Wilfs went down the same path as the Wolves and Wild during their first year as owners when they hired Fran Foley as personnel director but ended up firing him after only four months on the job. Foley, like Fenton and Rosas, ended up being abrasive and the final straw might have been the fact his resume proved to have inaccuracies.
If you are hiring for the two positions the Vikings are, you want to know what time GM candidates eat their toast each morning. No stone can be left unturned. It’s not unusual for former law enforcement officials, including one-time FBI agents, to work for NFL teams so digging into someone’s background isn’t new for them. It is necessary if you are looking to hire people who will be the face of your franchise and making crucial decisions. Ultimately, a GM and coach are more important than almost anyone who will play for your team.
INCLUSIVE BUT DECISIVE
The best example of this in the Twin Cities right now is Wild GM Bill Guerin, who replaced Fenton. Guerin has two former GMs on his staff in Randy Sexteon and Ray Shero, so he clearly isn’t afraid to be challenged but there is no question who is making the decisions at Xcel Energy Center. Guerin also interviewed for the job before Fenton got it and you have to wonder if it was Fenton who told Leipold what he wanted to hear? Guerin almost certainly did not. He won two Stanley Cups as a player and two more as an executive with the Pittsburgh Penguins and he knows what winning looks like.
He also knows that sugarcoating things to his bosses is a losing play. Leipold was friends with Ryan Suter, but Guerin bought out both Suter and Zach Parise last July because he knew the team needed to turn over the locker room and that both were declining players. Did Leipold like that? Probably not. But you know what he likes less? Losing.
If the Vikings new GM thinks Kirk Cousins or Harrison Smith should go, he or she should tell this group that and, if they don’t like it, then they don’t want to hear the truth. The bottom line is someone has to make final decisions and do it with complete confidence. That shouldn’t be the owners or anyone from the business side.
Guerin is a no BS guy and will tell people the truth, but he also seems to know how to treat them. That doesn’t sound tough, but in sports you would be amazed how many top executives lack people skills.