The buck stops where? Power structures in the NFL
In college football, the flow chart is usually pretty simple. The head coach handles his staff, manages his roster and the off-the-field support staff and serves as the face of the program, while everything ultimately runs through the athletic director.
In the NFL, it's almost never that simple.
In theory, the head coach handles the coaching staff and the game day roster, the general manager handles the player personnel staff and manages the 53-man roster, and everyone reports to the president/CEO and/or owner. In most cases, the flow chart generally works that way. Some structures are more rigid than others - with some teams, the head coach and general manager work together in a partnership, and with others the two have a more traditional boss/employee relationship.
While titles and flow charts can sometimes create sticky or confusing situations, those on the inside always know where the buck stops. NFL.com insider Albert Breer detailed the power structures within each NFL franchise's front office and we decided to track who has the final final say on the 53-man roster in all 32 organizations. There are a lot of ways to measure power inside NFL organizations, but being the final word on whether a player stays or goes is the measturing stick we'll use.
For the most part, the vast majority of the league handles things in the most traditional sense. Twenty-two of the 32 NFL teams use their general manager to manage the 53-man roster, while the head coach decides who dresses up on game day.
Five teams let their head coaches run the show. So, if you're keeping track at home, Bill Belichick, Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll, Jeff Fisher and Mike Tomlin are the most powerful coaches in the NFL, though the Rams and Seahawks have a more nuanced situation than the Patriots and Redskins - where the head coach runs the show during the season and the GM is in charge during the offseason. The Steelers, with the Rooney family serving as the true backbone of the organization, also fall closer to their NFC West counterparts.
Interestingly enough, the "strong coach" model is one that has lost a large amount of steam in recent years. The Eagles (Andy Reid), Vikings (Brad Childress), Cardinals (Ken Whisenhunt), Buccaneers (Jon Gruden), Dolpins (every coach up to Nick Saban) and Titans (Jeff Fisher) have all moved away from letting their respective head coaches handle personnel matters in recent coaching hirings.
This leaves only two organizations, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Dallas Cowboys, where the team owner also calls the shots on the team roster. "I don't know if anyone really knows (the organizational structure) -- I really don't, because that family keeps it close to the vest," one AFC general mangager said of the Bengals.
"I would say, speaking organizationally about the Cowboys, you shouldn't make any mistake about this: They are committed to winning. Now, the way they go about it, if you're thinking from a traditional sense, is a little different, because the guy making the decisions owns the organization, and he's not just making football decisions, but all the decisions," noted an anonymous AFC executive.
In a related story, the Cowboys and Bengals have combined to win one playoff game since 1997.
The NFL's "model franchize" trophy belongs to the Green Bay Packers who (what a coincidence!) have no owner at all.
"It's all football, all the time there," said an NFC general manager. "The majority of the revenue goes right back into the team. There isn't an owner saying, 'OK, this year, if we make $7 million, I make $4 million, and $3 million goes back into it.' It all goes right back into the organization, into improving the team, into hiring coaches, or, on the business side, investing in the building itself."