With Mike Maccagnan expected to become the New York Jets' new general manager, here are five suggestions for him. These are tips his predecessor might have done well to take.
1. Don't spend big in free agency for the sake of spending.
Maccagnan is going to be under enormous pressure to make a big splash in free agency after John Idzik's quiet 2014 offseason led the Jets to disaster. He needs to resist this pressure.
When Idzik took over, many called for a cautious approach to free agency. Idzik's predecessor Mike Tannenbaum spent the Jets into the ground, saddling the team with numerous bad contracts. Idzik actually did receive some initial praise for his approach. There was a problem, though. The opposite of spending a lot foolishly isn't spending a little money. It's spending money smartly.
It isn't a bad idea to maintain financial flexibility. As a general manager, you do need to find bargains on the free agent market. Idzik didn't do that. Would game-changing players like Darrelle Revis or DeSean Jackson made a positive difference for the Jets in 2014? Certainly, but in a world where Idzik lands Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders, Darren Sproles, Antonio Cromartie, and Brandon Flowers the Jets are probably a lot better, and at the very least, he still probably has a job. The team also would have retained a lot of financial flexibility. As much as anything, free agency is about finding the $3 million player who provides $6 million worth of value to your team.
The goal has to be finding value in free agency. Tannenbaum and Idzik both ultimately failed to do it. They just did it in different ways. Deciding your team is going to spend to its limit is a great way to waste resources.
2. Come up with a plan for dealing with the media.
Idzik came aboard at a time when the Jets were having all kinds of problems with internal leaks creating negative stories.
The Jets beat is tough. It's all of the pressure of the New York market. The fan base is frustrated and impatient. (I love us, but its true.) The media holds incredible sway over a large portion of fans. It didn't seem like Idzik ever appreciated this.
You cannot be heavy handed with these guys. They won't be intimidated and will turn on you in a second. At the end of the day, results are the only thing that will save you, but a good relationship with the media can buy you time with the fans. If the press buys into you and your plan, they can convince many fans to at least have a little bit of patience. Look no further than the last head coach. He missed the Playoffs four straight years yet many believe he got the short end of the stick. The second year GM took the bulk of the blame. While it's too simplistic to blame this all on the media, and in fact there is ample evidence to say that interpretation is the accurate one, it's unquestionable the media played some role in shaping that narrative.
Dealing with the media isn't THAT important in terms of job responsibilities. It's not like the head coach who interacts on a daily basis, but it does matter. It also was a part of the job Idzik performed poorly. He didn't cultivate the types of relationships that could have helped sell whatever his vision was.
To that end, Maccagnan should seek out some friendly writers and provide them access. Maybe throw them an exclusive interview on superficial stuff like draft strategy. Throw out a bunch of cliches talking about his personnel background. Let the writers do the work painting the portrait of the anti-Idzik. Start having a weekly video segment on the team's official site with Eric Allen and do a half-hour weekly in season show on 98.7 in a controlled environment with Bob Wischusen lobbing softball questions. Get your message out there. Let the writers transcribe your words on those shows. They can be the story instead of columns criticizing your approach. It also isn't the end of the world if a beat writer breaks a story on signing a right guard instead of the team's Twitter. The leaks you want to avoid are team employees anonymously ripping the quarterback.
One of the big reasons Idzik only lasted two years was his relationship with the media. Not only did they turn on him, he didn't have anybody he could turn to and defend his vision.
3. Take a hard look at the Jets organization.
Let's be honest. Maccagnan is only being hired because the Jets organization has failed to procure the proper talent. While this ultimately falls on the general manager for making the wrong decisions, that doesn't happen alone. There is simply too much work for the general manager to handle everything. Advisers shape his viewpoint through the work they do.
It seems clear the people under the general manager have made consistent errors. Maccagnan should take a long look at who has been in the front office the longest and who has been behind some of the biggest errors. It is natural with a new general manager that there is going to be turnover. It's important to make sure those who aren't up to the task not remain.
4. Know who you want to bring.
One of the oddest things about the Idzik Era is that the Jets didn't bring over a single person from Seattle's personnel department. Seattle had been recognized as one of the best drafting teams in football. Idzik had an in with that organization. When he was hired, I figured there would be a pipeline of personnel people coming to take bigger jobs with the Jets. While Idzik hired people he knew from his stops in Tampa Bay and Arizona, there wasn't an influx of Seahawks evaluators. I don't know why. Maybe it was because he wanted to be nice and not poach from the organization who helped him get a job as a general manager. Maybe Idzik thought he knew better than the Seattle people. Maybe the Seattle people saw what a disaster this was going to be and decided to steer clear. I couldn't tell you.
Maccagnan surely knows where the best evaluators are in the Texans organization. Houston certainly hasn't had the same level of success as the Seahawks in the Draft so he probably shouldn't take the entire organization. In particular, the Jets are going to need to be a whole lot better than the Texans in the late round. There are likely quality people in that organization, and Maccagnan should lay the groundwork to bring as many as he can to the Jets.
5. Demand total control over football operations.
This is important. Woody Johnson badly wants Maccagnan. Maccagnan has impressed him. It's time to make demands. The most important one is to keep the owner out of decisions he shouldn't be making unilaterally. Obviously the owner has to have some say in franchise altering decisions. What he shouldn't be able to do are things like impose a head coach or demand a player be traded for reasons not pertaining to football. For Maccagnan to be successful, he has to be able to implement his vision fully and have the people he needs to carry them out. That means minimal interference from ownership.
Finally, I wish the new general manager good luck. He is going to be on the ride of a lifetime. If he doesn't find the right players, there will be a fan backlash, and he won't last. That's true no matter where he became a general manager. If he succeeds, though, he will be an immortal. There's is nothing like winning in New York, and this fan base in particular would treat any general manager who brings glory like a king in a way no other fan base would.