the removal of Isiah Thomas' football brother, Matt Millen, from the GM position of the Detroit Lions, it s..."/> the removal of Isiah Thomas' football brother, Matt Millen, from the GM position of the Detroit Lions, it s..."/> the removal of Isiah Thomas' football brother, Matt Millen, from the GM position of the Detroit Lions, it s..."/>

The Owner-GM Relationship


With the removal of Isiah Thomas’ football brother, Matt Millen, from the GM position of the Detroit Lions, it seems pertinent to take a moment and reflect on the Owner-General Manager relationship in sports, and why it can nearly destroy a franchise.

The answers lie in a little superpower called common sense, or the lack of it. Anyone who tries to tell me Jim Dolan and Bill Ford, SR. didn’t get suckered in by their respective GM’s excuses, or their simple affection for the person, better be prepared to lay down some dough on those franchise’s immediate futures. You can tell this simply by how many coaches go around the carousel during a team’s losing period under a single GM. In the bad times, the trickle down of blame is almost always going to fall to the coach. At least Dolan made Zeke coach is own mess, even when it was clear to everyone else he should have just fired him outright.

And really, the person who deserves the most blame over an extended period of time is the owner — no exceptions. The problem is, and there are many, that many modern day owners fell into ownership through their parents knowing little or nothing about the sport at all (call it the Cameron Diaz effect). Anyone who follows business or politics knows that second or third generation executives are often the ones that bury a company. The worst is the inheritance child that thinks simply being around a sport means they understand it. Oddly, this idea is sometimes lost in our criticism of sports teams.

While there are occasions where conglomerates purchase a team (which can turn into the colossal cluster-guck that is the Atlanta Hawks), for the most part, the people who would make the best owners don’t even have the money to stay in a luxury seat for one game, let alone purchase a team. The comeback to these complaints is often some form of, “Well you do a better job, honkey,” but the truth is, there are hundreds of people who could do better jobs if given the opportunity. Sure, most Monday Morning Quarterbacks are going to have trouble making decisions on the fly, but I guarantee you I could find someone working a blue-collar job in Detroit that would make a better GM than Millen. That’s the beauty of sports.

And also one of the worst parts. Talking sports is not like talking about the private financial sector or foreign policy in Eastern Asia — the pundits, when not pandering for more viewers and readers, are often correct. The people making the screwball decisions in executive office know this, too, which feeds one of the most vile of human emotions: Pride. Nearly every single office in the world has someone who got promoted above their abilities and becomes a dreadful leader by the simple fact that they refuse to admit they were wrong for fear of being usurped.  Then their workers become frustrated and the entire machine breaks down. It happens at newspapers with bad editors, banks with bad CEO’s and Office Depots with bad managers. If there’s one thing to like about Ed Hochuli, is that he admitted to making a mistake, whether the rules forced him to or not. Call is manning (or womaning, we are nothing if not politically correct) up, Cowboy-ing up or Smelling your own burnt popcorn, but if Dolan had just done it two years earlier, who knows what kind of shape the knicks would be in.

Of course, if GM’s could swallow their pride and just tell the fans they screwed up, they might get fired, but we wouldn’t be talking about this.

We have great owners, too. Jerry Jones is a football guy who made his oil money after college to get himself back into football. You may not like him or his team, but he knows football, and anyone who watches Hard Knocks can tell you he surrounds himself with good people. The Cowboys had their down years this decade, but Jones identified what wasn’t working and made the changes — most importantly hiring Bill Parcells. Being the GM, Jones is the best kind of hands-on owner.

The opposite of Jones  is Paul Allen. We don’t know how much basketball Allen has because he’s never put himself in the position to show us. What we do know is Allen loves basketball — he’s like us, a fan. The “Jailblazers” era sucked for all of us, but give Allen credit for making changes. Bob Whitsitt gave us some great years, but his managerial style was not built for the duration. Allen made poor decisions with John Nash and Steve Patterson, but how long were they around for? Enough to give us some awful, terrible, no good very bad contracts, but also long enough to prove that someone working for them, Kevin Pritchard, was the superior of his superiors. How many times does that happen in a business office? The flipside of Allen, by the way, is Mark Cuban, who is still a step above the rest for how much he cares about the actual product. Ironically, Allen’s co-founder buddy, Bill Gates, runs a company that cares little about the products as long as the consumer keeps buying them (the Xbox 360, anyone?).

Just read some of the comments on that Detroit Freep article on Millen. The fans know the man to change is Bill Ford. That probably won’t happen, and Ford could bail himself out with a brilliant hire, but it’s important to remember that in many cases, like parents who can’t explain why their kid keeps getting suspended, the blame should fall at the top.