Thursday, November 21, 2002

Football and management

So why do I and innumerable others watch professional football?

There are many fashionable explanations. Reliving youth. It's easier than going into the woods and banging a drum. It has commercials with great babes, and don't forget the cheerleaders. It's an established ritual. It's one more thing to gamble on. And so on.

But it does offer appeal north of the brain stem. For me at least, the major attraction is a chance to second-guess the players, coaches and management. In games you get to see a rapid succession of decisions and their outcomes. The rest of the time you can watch how the capital is used to get an optimum combination of competitiveness, profitability and return on investment.

Of course most of the fan's attention is focused on the players and coaches. But players can only do their assignments, and coaches can only use the players they have. Assembling the whole works is a challenge of its own which is developing into a discipline of sorts. Give the right general manager the authority and funding he needs and you can have a powerhouse.

Is managing a professional football franchise fundamentally different from running other businesses? There is a theory that a good manager can manage anything - is professional football an exception?

Consider Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins. He has spent a lot of money and intervened many times since he showed up about 3 years ago. Is the franchise better for his efforts?

It's up to him to round up the right personnel. How well has he done?

We'll leave discussion of the players to the rotisserie leaguers, I'll talk about the head coaches. Snyder has had 3. I didn't have an opinion about Norv Turner, but he had a gem last year with Marty Schottenheimer. Then he dumped Marty after one season for Steve Spurrier, a controversial coach who had never been in the pros. The results? The Redskins will do well to match last year's record, and Marty has revived the San Diego Chargers.

Snyder was going to establish a winning team to Washington. It seems safe to say that if winning is the measure of success, so far he has not been successful as a football executive.

Dare we infer anything broader about his talents as a businessman?

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