One of the most prestigious jobs in all of sports is the NFL general manager. GMs have the keys to the franchise and make all the important decisions, from hiring the head coach and drafting players to making the cuts. Every scout, personnel director and salary-cap manager works many long, hard hours in the hope of landing the coveted position of GM — a prestigious yet lonely and sometimes thankless job.
Most of the GMs I came in with started in humble roles such as making film cut-ups for directors, scheduling workouts and doing overall grunt work. Some started as regional scouts; others assisted with contract research. They worked long and hard and earned the trust of their bosses and owners to keep moving up the ladder. To get to that level, these guys must be liked, have allies and be social enough to allow others in power to get to know them.
One trend of late is for the newly hired GM to be a complement to the coach, or a president’s hire. As of today, many head coaches are gaining power equal to or even more than that of the GM. Regardless, the NFL GM is front and center in his responsibility to the bottom line — wins and losses.
Most GMs get hired by teams that are pretty bad, so the attraction of turning around a franchise is enticing. However, unless you win the Lombardi Trophy, it may not feel that you’re a success. Having the ring(s) is what separates the secure from the insecure. As a GM, you can hire a great coach, draft talented players and wins lots of playoff games, but if it doesn’t come together in the form of a Super Bowl, it’s hard to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Second, third or fourth place in the NFL just raise hopes for the following year and set expectations higher, adding even more pressure to win.
I know the majority of general managers rarely go out in public to eat or mingle with their fan base. They simply don’t want to be seen as celebratory or relaxed. Once a season is over, the focus turns to hirings and firings, free agency, the draft, then minicamp evaluations. The GM is in charge of spending the owner’s money and running his coveted franchise, so the only person they have to impress is the owner.
Most GMs become reclusive homebodies who learn not to celebrate big wins and playoff berths. After landing the job, they have to look at their front-office peers with different filters as they now are responsible for their work as well. The dynamics and demands of the job can create a thankless, lonely, emotionless man. One GM told me he might eat out about five times a year, and two of those times are at the NFL Combine. Another confided to me that he won’t be able to exhale until he has won the big one. Meanwhile, his wife has been begging him to retire without a ring. He refuses.
Next time you watch a game, take a peek at the GM box. He most likely is watching intensely, emotionlessly, with a stern poker face and is usually sitting alone.