Red Pill or Blue Pill?

Tod Leiweke took part in a fantastic interview conducted by Eric Williams yesterday. Read it here. The key thing that I got out of it, and that many others are picking on, is the new organizational structure unveiled by Leiweke, wherein the President, GM, and (for lack of a better term) Contract Guy carry parallel powers rather than the strict delineation that the NFL is known for: Owner > President > GM > Coach. This new structure intrinsically feels strange. How could it ever work? Wasn’t the big problem between Holmgren and Ruskell that they never saw eye to eye? Not to mention the fact that Carroll had serious issues in New England with his GM there. It just feels wrong, so, sure enough, that is what we’ve been hearing.

It’s not wrong.

In fact, it’s a well established business model that has been working for a long time. Sure, maybe not so much in the NFL, but I like to think if you can build aircrafts with a business model, you might be able to handle the complexity of a football team.

Tod = Neo

The model that Leiweke is adopting is called “Matrix Management.” The Matrix system is an “organic” one, it was borne out of a more humanistic view of management processes rather, than a strict, mechanical, top-to-bottom approach. Organic systems are relatively flat, more peer-based, with fewer controls. This forces people to work together more, and to understand each other more. It’s a system that would never allow a Hall of Fame coach answering to a chubby newcomer. It also wouldn’t likely ever allow that Hall of Fame coach to enter the process, unless he was willing to buy into the system and trust his peers.

How does it work?

For the Seahawks, the organization will be broken down by functions. Each Function Head will be in charge of a specific part of the organizational structure. These three groups will have to work together intimately and will answer to CEO Tod Leiweke (who himself answers to Owner Paul Allen). Leiweke will remain in charge of these three people and their employment, they will all answer to him separately for their work and their teams. They will also answer to him as pairs or a group of three. Let’s break it down a bit further:

We now know that Pete Carroll will head up the coaching and be titled Vice President of Football Operations. Under him will be an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, and so on, who will head up thier respective departments. They will answer to Carroll, and they will be responsible for working together and putting a product together that works. This is how it’s always been.

The new GM will head up player personnel; drafting, free agency, contract disputes. All scouting will be under the GM. This how it’s always been. What is different is that the GM will no longer have control of the coaching staff, nor will he have the authority to hire and fire th VP of Football Administration.

John Idzik will remain on staff to manage the contracts and salary cap (which he has been extraordinary at thus far). He will have the title Vice President of Football Administration.  Under him will be a small team of statisticians / number crunchers, but nobody of crucial importance. This is how it’s always been.

So, as we can see, not a lot is changing in the individual positions. They will be in control of what they’ve been in control of, for the most part.  The structure will be overseen by CEO Tod Leiweke who will serve as an arbitrator on all serious disputes and will regularly hold meetings with each “department head.”

The key here is the interdependence between all three groups. You “separate” the GM and Coaching duties, but they rely completely on each other. They must. You separate the GM and Salary duties, but again, reliance. The coach and cap guy are reliant on eachother for figuring out priorities (with the GM) and explaining when a player must be let go, despite possible protest from the coach. These departments all rely on eachother. They have different “products,” but they are built from the same material. They all rely on each other for coordination, and without that, the whole system fails. That’s the risk.

The beauty of it, though, is that they are all responsible for their own part but also for involvement in the other two positions. The number one advantage to a matrix system is that it facilitates rapid response across all levels when needed. Here’s an example:

“Holy crap, Lofa is out for the year!”

Your star defender, the quarterback of your defense, is out for the year. This is a crisis. You have a backup, yes, and that’s great. The first step is the coach analyzing that backup. Can Hawthorne play at a high enough level? Well, that might be hard to tell. The coach must analyze whether the current backup is able to perform. If he says yes, the GM and coach must make a decision how they want to fill that roster spot: do we sign a middle linebacker off the practice squad, or do we take a free agent who has started in the league before? Jeez, I think the Free Agent would be better, but can we afford him? Quick, to the cap guy! You get the idea.

In 2008, that’s not necessarily how the process went. The GM was in charge of personnel. Nate Burleson goes down early, replace him with, shoot, how about Samie Parker? Maybe Keary Colbert? Billy McMullen, anyone? The cap guy worked under Ruskell directly, and really, so did Holmgren. The level of disharmony between the two was tangible, but it didn’t matter. We don’t all like our bosses, right? But what if Ruskell wasn’t his boss? What if they were peers? What if there had been no power struggles between them, or, if there were, they had been snuffed out by the CEO within a week or two?

We don’t know if things would be different, but its hard to argue they’d be worse.

Moving Forward

And so now we move forward, the Seahawks have hired a Head Coach / VP of Football Operations. He will sit in on all GM interviews, and he has already contacted each candidate personally. If there is a person that Carroll, Idzik and Leiweke can work alongside. That does not mean he will be a mute or a “weak GM,” it means that he will be someone who can recognize the advantages and potential pitfalls of this structure, and be a part of it. I think it can work, and I hope that it does.