The first widespread reaction to the news that the San Francisco 49ers were hiring John Lynch as their general manager was surprise and even shock. After all, this is a man who has never served in a team’s front office before, having spent the past few years as a TV analyst.
But the below-the-surface reaction to the Lynch news, a bit deeper in the cracks of NFL circles, was one of jealousy and confusion. There are dozens of NFL talent evaluators and even bean-counter types who, after all, have better résumés than Lynch does, even with his football background.
There are only 32 general manager jobs. They do not come open as often as head-coaching positions. Frankly, they’re very hard to get. So for NFL lifers who have pounded the pavement on scouting trails, ground countless hours of tape and written up scores of player reports, the news of Lynch walking into a choice NFL gig — and, oh, by the way, getting a six-year deal — was met with a few hurt feelings around the league.
But Shelton Quarles says he’s not one of those people. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ director of football operations was a teammate of Lynch’s from 1997 to 2003, and they came up together as the team rose from chumps to champs as members of one of the best defenses of their generation.
Unlike Lynch, Quarles went right into personnel after his NFL career ended and is now going into his 10th year of handling various front-office duties — from pro personnel to his current position, where he’s a liaison with head coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht and has handled everything from contract negotiations to roster management.
Quarles would love to be a GM one day. It’s his ultimate goal. But he’s not going to allow himself to be jealous of Lynch’s shocking and meteoric ascension.
“I am not going to be upset just because I — and even knowing John as I do — want that chance too,” Quarles told Shutdown Corner Monday morning. “People want these jobs for a reason. Hopefully it will happen for me at some point, but I am not jealous that he got his chance.
“It’s natural for anyone who is in the business and wants to become a GM. I can understand why guys might feel like that. But doors are open for a certain reason, and he took advantage of his opportunity.”
Quarles does admit: “I was surprised,” adding “There’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve, I think, with everything he has to do there. But I am sure if he surrounds himself with the proper people he’ll be fine.”
It has been rumored that former Bucs GM Mark Dominik, who now is an analyst at ESPN, could be joining Lynch in the 49ers’ front office in some sort of nursemaid type of role. And given that Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is expected to take the 49ers’ head-coaching job, it’s also possible that his father, Mike Shanahan, also could join in some sort of senior role. That also would tie the circle together, as Shanahan coached Lynch from 2004 to 2007.
Quarles said it will be imperative that Lynch “let people do their jobs” that they’ve been hired to do and not get too bogged down on the details that others can handle. That’s really what John Elway has done to become a successful Broncos executive after not having any NFL front-office experience. There are plenty of reasons why Matt Millen failed in his TV-to-GM transition with the Detroit Lions. But those are two the only real comps we have in this generation — and it shows that the Lynch hire could be a stroke of genius … or a colossal failure.
“From my standpoint, the Matt Millen thing,” Quarles said, laughing, “I’d rather be [more closely] linked to Elway than to Matt.”
Although Quarles knows Lynch has a lot to learn on the job, he makes a point: His playing experience and TV production experience has exposed him to a lot of different views of how successful and not-as-successful teams have been built.
“He might not know every potential player coming up from college or whatever, but he still has a enough of a background and has gotten his feet wet to where he’s not going into it blind,” Quarles said. “But every step he’s taken over the course over his career, on the field and off, he’s taken the right direction. He’s been successful in whatever he’s done, so I think the sky is the limit for him.”
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