For the first time in a long time, Washington’s NFL team is receiving near-universal praise for a football decision. It’s hard to believe, so let it sink in.
There’s no doubt that the business side enjoys league-wide props regularly, considering the amazing job it does in making a dollar out of 15 cents. Like president Bruce Allen said last week, “We’re winning off the field.”
Regrettably, his other job title at that time was general manager, a position charged with victories based on the scoreboard. Using that metric, Washington has been pitiful during his five-year reign, 28-52 overall and 7-25 the past two seasons.
All that losing on the field apparently struck a nerve, finally leading owner Daniel Snyder and/or Allen to realize that real change was necessary, not more talk. Washington swung and connected on what looks like a home run, reportedly hiring Scott McCloughan to take over as GM and lead the woeful football operations.
Finding a more-highly respected candidate would be difficult. McCloughan has spent 20 years in the NFL with the Packers, Seahawks and 49ers, and each team reached the Super Bowl while he was there or shortly thereafter.
As a senior personnel executive with Seattle, he had a hand in drafting Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin. According to a lengthy feature on McCloughan in last month’s ESPN The Magazine, this was his draft report on Wilson: “Obviously we are really interested in passers with better height, but this guy may just be the exception to the rule. He has the ‘it’ factor.”
In a prior stint with the Seahawks, as director of college scouting from 2000-05, McCloughan could point to a couple dozen draft picks throughout the team’s Super Bowl XL roster. He left to become the Niners’ vice president of personnel from 2005-08 and was promoted to GM for his final two seasons with San Francisco, where he was instrumental in selecting a bevy of prominent players, including Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis.
He’s a disciple of former Packers GM Ron Wolf, who hired him as a Green Bay scout in 1994, and thus a firm believer in building through the draft. His philosophy is there’s no such thing as too much young talent or too much depth, because smart picks stuck behind smarter, more experienced picks can always be traded for more picks.
That’s what the Packers did after drafting Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck while McCloughan was in Green Bay. The lesson on stockpiling was hard to miss; the Packers previously had traded for Bret Favre. They later drafted his successor, Aaron Rodgers, and traded Favre to the New York Jets.
Such shrewd maneuvering in D.C. has been restricted to fantasies.
Washington has endured duds in the draft and that won’t change. But it should no longer experience more than its share. Like everyone, McCloughan is correct less than 100 percent of the time. But he has proven ability to identify quality players in the early, middle and late rounds.
Someone with that kind of eye is a franchise’s most valuable employee.
Your talent evaluator is the most important person in the entire organization,” coaching legend turned FOX analyst Jimmy Johnson told the Sun-Sentinel a while back. “… Now it might be your general manager, it might be your director of player personnel, it might be your head coach. That was my responsibility when I was back in coaching. I think he is more important actually than your head coach.”
No one can argue that McCloughan, who has fought problems with alcohol abuse, isn’t right for this job. But that doesn’t excuse Washington or any other team from following the rules, namely the Rooney Rule, which requires at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for head coaching and senior operations posts.
Washington reportedly fulfilled the obligation by interviewing former Arizona GM Rod Graves. Though the interview might have been a perfunctory formality given McCloughan’s credentials, the Rooney Rule helps qualified candidates remain in the loop when they otherwise might be overlooked. But teams must use it honestly in assessing possibilities, not as something to get out of the way quickly so they can hire another white guy.
Graves, Vincent Newsome (Ravens director of pro personnel), Marc Ross (Giants vice president of player evaluation) and Lake Dawson (Titans vice president of player personnel) are among the top minority candidates for GM openings. Given an opportunity, any of them might do a fine job in a top position here or elsewhere.
But in McCloughan, Washington landed what appears to be the pick of the litter.
The team finally did something right, a change that should lead to a whole lot more.