NFL: Is There a Right Time to Hire or Fire a General Manager?

Since the 2019 NFL Draft, in an unprecedented manner two NFL teams fired their General Managers. The New York Jets and Houston Texans both moved on from the men that made decisions in the draft. The Jets hired Joe Douglas in June, while the Texans are yet to name a new GM.

Firing the GM after the Draft is an odd move. Effectively, the GM was allowed to add talent for the upcoming season, yet the GM was considered unsuitable to make decisions like this. Simultaneously, the new GM also may have to fix the mistakes of their predecessor, except without having the Draft to do that. This means their first season in charge is beginning on the back foot, with the roster construction impaired.

Current Trends

Usually, teams will fire their GM around December, allowing them to hire a replacement by mid-February. This is what the Oakland Raiders did in hiring Mike Mayock, the Green Bay Packers in Brian Gutekunst, and the Cleveland Browns in John Dorsey. Over the past decade or so, nearly all GM firings and hirings have occurred over the November-February period.

Why do teams always do it at this time? Largely because it allows the new GM to have enough time to evaluate the incoming talent for the Draft. They can also make roster moves throughout Free Agency. A GM needs to not only have time to engage in these activities, but also plan and prepare for how they will navigate them.

Additionally, by retaining a GM over the Draft and Free Agency periods, only to fire them later, it limits the team in multiple ways. If the GM has not proven to be a strong talent evaluator, allowing them to continue to add pieces means the roster has potentially more needs. Furthermore, the way the roster is put together may not be working. This sets the team back by having to reshape the look of the team.

Often a GM will be hired at the same time as a new Head Coach, so that any roster changes that occur fit the direction of the HC. While the Jets’ recent GM change mirrors this to an extent, they hired a new HC in January, and the GM in June. The Texans, however, were not replacing the HC and had hired the GM Brian Gaine in January 2018.

The Evidence

Are either of these teams getting it right with the odd timing? It’s hard to say. There isn’t much evidence to go off, and teams get it wrong even when they hire in January and February. Not only that, but there are other factors that determine a GM’s success – the coaching, player health, ownership, and it can take years to see if a hiring was successful.

Of the 32 GM hires that have occurred since January 1st, 2013, 27 have been made in January or February. The remaining 5 have all been between May-July, with one of these the Jets’ hiring of Joe Douglas. The remaining 4 are less than instructive.

John Dorsey was released by the Kansas City Chiefs due to salary cap and management style issues. His replacement Brett Veach was hired shortly after. The Chiefs also had HC Andy Reid with a large input into the roster construction, an uncommon arrangement in the league. The Carolina Panthers replaced Dave Gettelman with Marty Hurney in July 2017. However, Hurney had previously been with the team and had success in drafting players. Of the other two GM hires, both are from the Buffalo Bills. Doug Whaley in 2013, and then Brandon Beane in 2017. The jury is out on Beane, while Whaley lasted just four years.

Implications

What do these trends tell us? That teams tend to give their GMs the opportunity to start changing the roster immediately through the Draft and Free Agency. The 5 anomalies are just that – anomalies. The Chiefs had someone in place that was part of the roster decisions (Reid). The Panthers re-hired someone they already felt comfortable with (Hurney). The two Bills’ GM hirings are the only other examples we have, and Whaley was not a success.

The Jets are bucking the trend by bringing in Douglas in June. There is no way of knowing if it will work for a few years. While teams get it wrong with the hiring of GMs in January or February, at the very least they give themselves as many chances as possible to improve the roster. The Jets gave up that opportunity in 2019, and will need to be patient with Douglas.

If the Texans also decide on a GM soon, it would be equally uncertain what hope it gives them. The majority of successful transitions happen before the offseason begins. While the Texans and Jets may begin a new trend, there is no precedent for GM hirings to be a success or a failure mid-year.

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