Like a lot of young people, when I was a graduate student I thought I knew a lot more than I actual did. Teaching people like me at that point can sometimes be a struggle. I’ll never forget one a senior member of our laboratory turning to me after one particularly frustrating experience and saying, “There are a thousand things you can do wrong with this. I’ve done them all. Listen to what I’m saying.”
As an older adult I’m now doing my level best to try to evaluate the job that general manager Jerry Angelo has done in the face of the successful regular season which the Bears just completed. It’s not easy. You end up walking a tight rope between the positive view point expressed by Dan Pompei and the more negative view point of Dan McNeil, both writing for the Chicago Tribune.
I still haven’t made up my mind exactly how I feel but some perspective was gained from an interview by Dave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press with former Lions GM Matt Millen. This article was recently brought to my attention in relation to Angelo by Mike Mulligan on WSCR’s Mully and Hanley Show. Mulligan made an under-appreciated point that I’d like to highlight.
Millen was an utter failure as GM. In his own words, he “stunk at it.” Most would say that makes him somewhat less than an expert at how to manage a football team. But there’s a lot to be gained by listening to someone who is an expert at how to fail at it, as well. Here’s what Millen had to say:
“It’s less about the game of football. It’s less about X’s and O’s. It’s less about personnel decisions. It’s a job about managing people. It’s about building a consensus when you pick the right head coach. You can’t go in and be this football czar and say, ‘This is how it’s going to work.’ If you pick somebody that a coach doesn’t like and doesn’t coach, that’s a bad situation.”
To his everlasting credit, this is something Angelo knows and has known for a long time. He has, in fact, been talking about consensus building since he was hired. For instance, he knows very well that Lovie Smith and the relevant position coaches have to be on board when you select a draft pick. You can’t ask them to coach someone they don’t believe in. And, of course, you have to balance that against what the scouts say and what you think personally. If there’s a disagreement, you have to do some convincing and get all parties completely on board. Indeed, occasionally Angelo undoubtedly has to select players he doesn’t think much of in the spirit of compromise. Overall its an incredibly difficult task.
Many fans (like me) have wondered just how much influence Smith has over personnel issues, particularly as it pertains to the draft. We wonder how much to “blame” him for Angelo’s failures there. And in the end, we usually come to the conclusion that Angelo makes the final decision and, therefore, he has to bear ultimate responsibility.
This is technically true. But what people don’t understand is that its not true because Angelo decided not to override Lovie Smith. As is clear from Millen’s comments, he can’t override him. Not if he wants a successful organization. The reason the draft picks are ultimately Angelo’s responsibility is because he hired Smith in the first place. That makes them inseparable partners in everything they do and, frankly, it means you can’t criticize Angelo without criticizing everyone in the organization from him on down for their role in the process.
So give Angelo credit for recognizing and doing at least a reasonable job of holding together an organization of diverse personalities and keeping them all headed more or less in the same direction. A lot of people have failed to accomplish that much. Just ask Matt Millen.