Game of Thrones

Jack Bechta
January 24, 2013

Imagine you are sitting in a hotel room waiting to interview for your dream job. You were flown in first class, picked up in a stretch limo, and pampered in a 5 star hotel the night before. You had a 5-course meal with your potential employers at the best restaurant in what may be your new home city for years to come. You prep again for your interview after dinner and again early morning over a few cups of coffee.

Jimmy Johnson
Jimmy Johnson

Jimmy and Jerry had an at times contentious relationship.

You are ready to roll, adrenaline is pumping, and this is it, just 20 minutes away from the interview of your life. As you take the elevator downstairs to catch a limo, your phone rings but you drop the call as you ascend 22 floors from the penthouse suite. As you get out of the elevator you can hear the ping sounds of multiple texts coming in after your phone regains service. Probably family and peers wishing me good luck you think to yourself. You set down your coffee and brief case in the lobby to check your phone. Your first text reads, “sorry you didn’t get it buddy”. The next one reads; “I can’t believe they went with that guy, screw them”. Several more have the same theme. Your stomach drops, you feel heavy as lead and you fear the worst. Your phone rings, it’s your potential new boss. He says, hey I’m really sorry but the owner decided to go another direction”. “We hired somebody else!” Welcome to the NFL!

If you have ever seen the HBO series, Game of Thrones (different factions and individuals competing for power, glory and of course the throne), then you may have an understanding of how cut throat it is to climb the NFL ladder of power.

The job of GM, head coach, OC, DC, assistant coach, player personnel director, and VP of football operations are highly sought after, dream positions. There are thousands who want them and only a very few who will get them. In order to get these coveted positions, grown men will stop at nothing to get to their respective throne. As one seasoned NFC GM put it to several years ago, “if you work with coaches, always remember that most are unconscionable when it comes to getting what they want.” Another friend told me after being in the front office for just a year, “so you think your business (the agent business) is cut throat, it’s worse on our side.”

There are countless stories of friends coming up through the NFL ranks together as either coaches or front office execs or scouts who eventually turn on each other when a position of power opens up. The venomous tongues that exist in this industry are worse than the meanest schoolgirls. Gossip and backstabbing is all part of the landscape.

Agents get to see and hear a lot of the drama this time of year, not to mention become a part of it. For example, one of the biggest problems in Philly this year wasn’t Howie Roseman or Juan Castillo. It was a few power hungry individuals who undermined those above them by getting the players involved in their own agendas.

Why is Michael Lombardi’s hiring as a player personnel man in Cleveland met with criticism? Most likely because his rivals are jealous of him and a few media people know he won’t give them the scoop that he/she was probably getting from someone else. Lombardi, after all, is the same guy that Belichick confides in and that Jim and John Harbaugh both tried to hire the day after they got their head coaching jobs.


The problem in the NFL is that there are too many Rasputin’s: A Russian character best known for controlling the Czars through manipulation, deceit, and dark room trickery. He was eventually assassinated. Those who work in team offices will tell you that there is always someone trying to warm up to the owner at the expense of throwing their friend or workmate under the bus. One NFL finance guy was fired a few years ago for applying for the job of team President without telling the people he currently was answering to. Two best friends who use to be roommates when they started out both rose to the rank of GM. To my knowledge they haven’t talked to each other in over six years or more.

When a team does find chemistry in their front office, especially between the evaluators and coaches, it’s rare. That is why head coaches are asking for more and more personnel control. It’s not that they want to actually pick every player on their roster, they want to limit the possibilities of creating a fractured environment that they may have experienced elsewhere. It frustrated the Spanos family that GM AJ Smith and Marty Schottemhiemer went a long period without talking to each other. They eventually had to let one of them go because of it. These in-house battles and periods of cold shoulders are more prevalent than people realize. It even happens with teams that are successful and winning Super Bowls. It’s no secret that Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones’ relationship soured quickly while working together.

NFL team jobs mostly attract men, who are usually poor communicators, super ambitious, competitive, and insecure. Working in the NFL is a very insecure environment to start with. When a ship starts sinking every one starts looking around for a lifeboat. You wouldn’t believe the lack of communication and the rigid frozen air that perpetually exist in some front offices.

In the HBO series, Game of Thrones, the evolution of power-swings is constantly in motion. Is it the decline of the Reid or Belichick Empire? Are the prince Harbaugh’s growing the new coaching trees that will seed the league for the next two decades? Is the new profile of power in the form of the man wielding the calculator and law degree as the Hand of the King? Is the Irishman in Philly going to take the NFC East by storm while surviving raids by his own people?

The real drama in the NFL is not always on the field. Just ask anyone who has worked there.

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