The trend in recent years within NFL front offices towards younger (cheaper) general managers, executives and coaches is not surprising. The cost of doing business is going up, the economy is weak, and while gross revenues for the league are robust, like all businesses, teams have found ways to streamline their operations.
It’s hardly endemic to football – I can remember a time or two when my ability to come younger and cheaper certainly helped – but that movement should not preclude quality scouts and execs from landing on their feet as well. The Bears surprising dismissal of personnel man Bobby DePaul this week wasn’t a cost cutting move – rumors continue to swirl that former Seattle GM Tim Ruskell will land in DePaul’s old position – but it is another example of an established, accomplished football man suddenly looking for work.
As much as we talk about the competition for jobs among coaches and players, it extends to the scouting directors and area scouts as well as all corridors of football operations. There are but 32 places of employment at the top rung of this business, and it has not become unusual to see former GMs out of the game entirely for a year or longer. Player contracts aren’t guaranteed, but on the personnel side it’s a constant fight as well, with two- and three-year deals the norm while teams trying to keep overhead low in these uncertain times.
Just a few years ago, DePaul’s work was hailed as the Bears reached the Super Bowl and the Redskins came close to landing him to be the top executive in that organization but he ended up staying in Chicago under GM Jerry Angelo. He was the point-man in the Jay Cutler trade and the quarterback’s new contract just a few months ago (a deal that, if Cutler produces to the degree he’s expected, should be very favorable to the team).
Then, in a relative instant, nine years in Halas Hall is over. For a team that underachieved – grossly, some would say – change is always expected. But often other heads roll before that of the general manager himself, and in this case, despite Lovie Smith‘s personally operated defense failing miserably, and despite the Bears’ repeated failures in the draft (an area not overseen by pro personnel), someone else takes the fall.
You would think that other clubs would come calling – DePaul had served well in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Washington in the past and has significant experience in coaching and personnel – but it’s never certain in any climate, much less the current one. You never know. Bill Kuharich, a longtime top scout and former player personnel head in Kansas City, could be looking at a second season out of the league, despite a strong résumé. This business can be fickle, for sure.
These positions are precious, and most personnel men – those who spend days immersed in tape, staying at the facility as long or longer than the coaches with considerably less fanfare – realize as much. While the desire for young blood is understandable, the need for seasoned, middle-aged football minds shouldn’t be sacrificed because of it.