The 2018 season seems to be spiraling out of control for the Bengals. Fans want heads to roll, and with good cause. Marvin Lewis is one person fans want run out of town, but it is unclear if that will happen or not.
Fans are even more vociferous about wanting Mike Brown out of town, but Paul Brown’s son if unlikely to sell his father’s legacy. That doesn’t mean the Bengals have to keep him in control of football operations.
The Bengals don’t have a general manager because Brown along with director of player personnel Duke Tobin fill that role. If Brown was willing to give up control to a talented executive it would be the best for the franchise.
The Bengals have a great advantage in hiring a general manager. Most teams wait until after the draft to move on from a general manager as to not cause chaos leading up to the draft. Since the Bengals don’t have a general manager, they could hire one at any time and as long as Tobin was retained, it would be a smooth transition.
Jim Collins wrote a great book on business called Good to Great, which examined how companies become great. One of the major findings was that charismatic outsiders are not always the best leaders to take company to the next level. Sometimes, a homegrown hero is waiting in the wings for an opportunity, and Tobin could be that hero.
Tobin is well respected in the league. If Brown would just get out of his way, he could take this team to the next level. This may be the most likely situation, as Brown knows and is comfortable with Tobin, but fans would be skeptical and no one could blame them.
Outside of Tobin, who are other potential candidates worth mentioning?
Unlike in business, outsiders can thrive more in sports. Ireland is a candidate who has some general manager experience. He was the Miami Dolphins GM from 2008-2013 which followed a seven-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys as the vice president of college and pro scouting. Given that Jerry Jones serves as his own general manager, this is as far as close to the position as Ireland could get in Dallas. He is currently the assistant general manager with the New Orleans Saints and has been part of that team’s recent aggressive push for a championship. They have drafted well in recent years and added talent through trades and free agency, even adding Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall midseason.
The Vikings are another team who have been aggressive in improving their team. Vice president of player personnel and assistant general manger George Paton has been a part of building the team for over a decade. From trading for Sam Bradford to prevent a lost season to signing free agent Kirk Cousins to a massive contract, the Vikings aren’t afraid to make big moves. If the Brown family was willing to concede power to someone like that, it could mean big changed in Cincinnati.
Of course when looking to make any hire in the NFL it doesn’t hurt to look at those who have worked with and learned from Bill Belichick and there are a handful of interesting candidates with ties to him. Caserio has been the Patriots’ director of player personnel since 2008. He came up through the Patriots ranks and served many roles from them including director of pro personnel, area scout, and even wide receivers coach dating back to 2001. Caserio has seen how the Patriots get the most out of their personnel and use the draft, free agency, and trades to stay at the top of the league year in and year out.
With Belichick running the show, director of player personnel is the farthest Caserio could rise without leaving New England. The opportunity to become a general manager is what pushed Pioli out of New England. Pioli was with Belichick in Cleveland and followed the franchise and Ozzie Newsome to Baltimore. He also worked under Bill Parcells with the New York Jets before coming to New England and helping to build their dynasty. Three years as the general manager with the Kansas City Chiefs were less fruitful and now he is the assistant general manager with the Atlanta Falcons. Pioli has learned from the best in the business; and although his first go as a general manager was unsuccessful, he is worthy of a second chance.
There are a number of people currently outside of the NFL who would be interesting candidates. One is fittingly the host of the GM Street podcast on The Ringer, Michael Lombardi. Lomardi started his career working for Bill Walsh in San Francisco. He was with Belichick in Cleveland and later served as executive personnel director for Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders. He served a very short stint as general manager in Cleveland before joining the Patriots with the very open-ended title of assistant to the coaching staff. Lombardi has worked for some great football minds and has a lot of knowledge of team building. In this way, he would be a tremendous asset to any coaching (be it Lewis or the next brilliant offensive mind). There is no telling if Lombardi is looking to get back into the NFL game or not but it is certainly worth looking into.
The other is ESPN’s Louis Riddick. While John Lynch and Matt Millen have moved from player to broadcaster and then into the front office, Riddick is different. He has experience in pro personnel with both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Riddick has drawn interest for general manager positions in the past and was linked to Josh McDaniels as a potential package deal. Riddick is extremely intelligent and his knowledge of pro scouting something that would be highly valuable to the Bengals.
The Brown family is not going anywhere. Hoping that they will sell the team will get fans no where, but the idea that they could give up power to a general manager is much more plausible.