Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why the Seahawks need a Leader not a "Game Manager"

Pete Carroll the coach of the Seahawks has decided he does not need a quarterback. Given the two he signed, I can see why. Carroll has fallen prey to a widespread coaching assumption in the high ego  NFL that he does not need a quarterback, he needs a game manager. When he defends his non-quarterback quarterback Tavaris Jackson, the best he can say is that Jackson makes no mistakes. He also generates no points so the Seahawks are off to another losing season with one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

I wrote earlier about what a mistake it is for a coach to seek a game manager rather than a quarterback. It all comes down to coaching hubris, but also the thin spread of talent. I want to revisit the post to explain why the Seahawks are failing and will fail as long as Carroll thinks all he needs is a game manager who becomes an extension of his will.

Essentially Carroll and those coaches like him want a manager, not a leader. A manager works under terms of predictability and implements  directives. You expect reliability and consistency from managers. The manager, unlike a leader, implements rather than creates. To be a good manager, you focus upon judgment, but very constrained judgment within a system of limited options.  Making a QB a game manager does several things:

1)            The plan matters more than the player. The QB under this rubric executes a plan that the coach conceives. In a sense this resembles baseball's VORP measure, it assumes a  minimal quarterback at league average with no real value above replacement. So the plan matters more than the player.
2)            This demonstrates a very risk averse approach where a coach/team emphasize minimizing mistakes and sticking with the plan. It reifies limits in the team. 
3)            It instantiates the utter dominance of the coach and the coach’s mind—the plan—over the talent or status of the QB or team for that matter. The QB reduces to an automaton, a certain coach’s dream. The QB's discretion exists but within a narrow universe of calls.

All teams approach games with a plan based upon scouting the other team’s tendencies and built upon one’s own team’s strengths and weaknesses. As Dwight Eisenhower reminded us, “plan, but don’t trust the plan.” A good plan serves as a frame to guide and probe and then adapt to what the other side throws at you. A game manager approach minimizes the guide and maximizes the plan is the plan, a soviet approach to play.

The problem with game manager approach to football lies in the rigidity and predictability. It places severe self-imposed limits it puts on the QB, the team and even the coach. The coach has defined as out of range an array of tactics and strategies for the QB and team. Having a game manager philosophy narrows the job of the opposing defense because they know what not to expect and can concentrate upon the limited repertoire of the game manager.

No plan survives contact with the enemy, and game managers are not trained to overcome adversity or surprise. Game managed team do not come back when down. A game managed team will struggle facing new alignments or surprises. The plan dominates the mind set and schemes, but plan driven teams leave very little room in its captain, the QB, to improvise and adapt. Worse a game manager is not given the chance to grow into a leader and to inspire confidence and high performance from his team when faced with challenges. Managers manage existing resources, they do not lift the performance level to new levels under pressure. Leaders and quarterbacks to that, not game manager mimics of a coach.

All you have to do is see the miserable state of the Seahawks offense. It is not that they are not scoring but they are not even creating runs or series yardage gains. The other teams know so well what limited things the Seahawks will do and they know that the quarterback is under orders to take the least risky approach, that they can be overly aggressive and not worry about repercussions or surprises. So their yards per carry and yards per pass are exceptionally low and it is not just about the talent. It is about a system that precludes innovation and adaption under pressure. That is what a game manager and a game managing coach breed.

Another language exists to describe quarterbacks—leader, playmaker, captain, game-changer. This can flow from talent and skill, but it also describes an attitude of player and coach. More than a few of the game manager QBs reflect a coaching assessment of their limited talent. It reflects the coach's lack of confidence in their players and overconfidence in themselves. It reflects a coach who is not willing to risk the mistakes that growth requires. The plan/manager approach locks in limitations before the game starts. It represents the triumph of risk assessment over play.


  1. I wholeheartedly agree that Tavaris Jackson is neither A) a real NFL quarterback, nor B) the answer for the Seahawks. However, I think it's important to note that at times, a game manager is the correct option for an NFL team.

    The salary-cap structure of the NFL means not all teams can afford, nor should they allocate budget towards, a high-level quarterback. In fact, at times, to do so could be highly detrimental to a team's success.

    If a team is built around an expensive, excellent defense it might make sense to not allocate a significant portion of the salary cap budget towards a quarterback.

    The Ravens of the early 2000's are an excellent example of this philosophy working. The Ravens realized that every point they didn't allow was worth almost exactly as much as every point they scored. And further (probably, though this is hindsight speaking here) realized that elite defensive players were cheaper than elite offensive players on a point-by-point basis. So, they spent money on point-prevention rather than point-scoring, taking advantage of an inefficiency in the market, and in 2001 this led them to the Super Bowl with acknowledged game manager Trent Dilfer. They've been a playoff-caliber team for over a decade now, primarily using this blueprint.

    Yes, this does imply the utter dominance of the head coach/GM's plan over the talent of the QB. But, budget constraints exist and the Ravens found a way to maximize theirs by employing a game manager rather than a leader.


  2. Ryan,

    I think this is a good point and think that it does reflect a talent distribution issue as well as undervalued defensive assets. It might make even more sense if you factor in how vulnerable QB is to injury and what that can do to an offense as they Colts are demonstrating. But it really does make the defensive job easier when you have these kinds of limitations and predictability.

  3. Well I am not in the team and I hope that he made the right choice it is quite hard to make a right decision when you have to risk it all.