When Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman sat down with the local media prior to the Combine, he was asked about the state of the Triangle of Authority.
A straight answer might not have been expected, but it was a question worth asking. If you remember, Spielman came in after Brad Childress. Childress went through a draft with Fran Foley in 2006, so when Spielman arrived it was months after Childress was given the sheriff’s badge and sidearm and had already conducted a draft with “his guys.”
The Vikings have consistently referred to their management style for the draft and free agency as the Triangle of Authority – a business term that, if illustrated, looks like a Ponzi scheme and, for the most part, is inaccurate in its definition. The triangle is said to be composed of three equal points – Spielman, Childress and V.P. of football operations Rob Brzezinski. While Brzezinski does play an important role, it is primarily in structuring player contracts and handling other behind-the-scenes matters. Spielman and Childress would identify free agents and Brzezinski would hammer out the details. But, when it comes to the draft, his role is more to man the phones and entertain trade offers. Given that Spielman did point out the Vikings want their third-round pick back somehow, that could mean working the phones will be a busy job duty – which likely would involve trading back in the first round by five or more spots to get a third-rounder in return. But, when it comes to making the call to New York to lock down a draft pick, it’s Spielman’s job to assign talent grades to players and let the coach pick which need is more a priority when the pick comes in.
At least that’s how it was with Childress. At the time Spielman arrived, Chilly had already monopolized a little bit of the authority in the team hierarchy. Spielman was brought in after the draft and after free agency. His role was marginalized by timing and neither he nor Childress ever publicly banged heads when it came to making a key decision. In 2007, who could have said “no” to Adrian Peterson? The Jared Allen trade eliminated the first round in 2008 and Percy Harvin was viewed as a gift in 2009. The team traded out of the 2010 first round and didn’t make a big impact – the players garnering the most buzz late in the season were Day 3 picks Chris DeGeare and Joe Webb.
As expected, Spielman made it sound like there will be S’mores being made over an open fire with everyone singing “Kumbaya” on draft weekend. He will rate the players and, if there are equal grades, Frazier will make the call. There may much more to it than that, but, as long as they maintain the integrity of it, the Tripod of Authority remains in place – despite Childress being sent packing.
There was a time not too long ago, that, when a head coach earned his spot within the franchise, he had the chance to make all the major personnel decisions. As Bill Parcells once termed it, to succeed he “needed to be able to buy the ingredients for the dinner you’re preparing.” Parcells had that level of war room autonomy, as did coaches like Dennis Green, Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, Mike Shanahan, John Fox, Andy Reid, Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren. Those days are long since gone.
As it currently stands, there are only two head coaches that are the primary voice in their respective team war rooms – Bill Belichick in New England and Pete Carroll in Seattle. Belichick has earned that lofty (and lonely) standing for a couple of reasons – having long-term success over the last decade and having both his coaching staff and the front office pilfered more than once over that span. As a result, others have been promoted into new positions, while Belichick remains the straw the stirs the drink (and rightly so). On the other end of the spectrum is Carroll, who fled the college game before the hammer fully came down on USC and not only got out while the getting was good, but was handed a golden parachute from the Seahawks. Not only did he move into the elite NFL fraternity for the second time – at a time when college coaches have tarnished the name of their peers by having guys like Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban bail out on the NFL for huge money to go back to college coaching after extremely short stints – but he was given the chance to call his own personnel shots to build the Seahawks in his own image.
When it comes to the draft, there are few dictatorships, but there are demarcations of authority. More than half the league (17 in all) have franchises whose draft war room is dominated by a general manager in position to be the final voice in the decision-making process – Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans, New York Giants, New York Jets, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. While there is clearly input from the head coach and other staff members, the G.M.s in these scenarios are the loudest war room voice.
Nine other teams boast a G.M./head coach partnership – Atlanta, Carolina, Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. There are decisions that need to be made and both sides are essentially forced to have some give and take. These are often the types of relationships that, when things go bad, one or both of them have to go. The numbers of this group are declining, but, would likely most closely resemble the scenario under which the Vikings operate.
And then there were three. In some instances, a man is given omnipotent powers. Parcells had that level when he went to Miami and still would have if he hadn’t opted out of his contract. One team has that – woeful Cleveland, which paid the asking ransom from Mike Holmgren to have him weave his brand of magic on the flatline franchise. If it works, Holmgren gets all the credit. If it doesn’t, he joins a long list of futility at the Mistake by the Lake.
The other two have meddlesome owners who stick their snout into every aspect of the business – the Cowboys and Raiders. Once the pride of their respective conferences, both have been marginalized and reduced to a contender but never the juggernaut. The Cowboys have won just one playoff game since 1997 and have missed the playoffs more often than they’ve made it. Jerry Jones inherited a dynasty team partially built by the Vikings in the Herschel Walker trade. They were champs and Jerry was the man. Since firing Jimmy Johnson, it’s all been downhill. Jones believes he knows more about football than anyone else in the room and drafts that way.
The other is Crazy Al Davis in Oakland. What needs to be said? JaMarcus Russell? Darrius Heyward-Bey? He’s still living in the ‘70s and should be removed from office against his will if needed.
The Vikings maintain it’s business as usual with the Triangle of Authority. Whether Spielman exerts more authority as the vested member of the scouting staff will be determined in six weeks. But the Vikings, if they maintain the TOA, will be unique in a league where unique usually doesn’t add up to success. Just ask the Browns, Cowboys and Raiders.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.