“They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
— Bill Parcells
Very few NFL coaches have the final say on who the team drafts; for nearly every team, that authority rests with the general manager. A few more coaches have authority over who makes the 53-man roster, which gives them something akin to a veto – they can’t pick their players, but they can pick who aren’t going to be their players during the season. Of course, that has to be used judiciously, unlike when Vikings coach Brad Childress exercised his power by cutting Randy Moss in the middle of the 2010 season without first discussing it with the front office or ownership. The Vikings cut Childress three weeks later.
Most coaches don’t get heavily involved in the draft process until around the combine – they get a little busy with other things during the season, and then have to prepare for free agency. The involvement of head coaches tends to wane over the course of the draft itself; because they haven’t had as much exposure to the players toward the bottom of their draft boards, they are more likely to defer to the scouts in the later rounds.
The current NFL head coaches who wield the most power on draft day:
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots. Team owner Robert Kraft gave him the power that he wouldn’t give to Parcells, the guy who initially brought Belichick to New England as an assistant. Belichick makes the call on all football matters, period. The Patriots don’t have anyone with the “general manager” title; Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio reports to Belichick and fills the role once occupied by Scott Pioli as the coach’s chief talent evaluator.
2. Pete Carroll, Seahawks. Seattle named him “Head Coach and Executive Vice President of Football Operations” in 2010. When they hired General Manager and Executive Vice President John Schneider a week later, the team said that personnel decisions would be made collaboratively with no single authority figure, but if it came down to a coin toss, Carroll would win. By all accounts, Carroll and Schneider have great chemistry and it doesn’t appear that any disagreement has ever reached the hypothetical coin toss stage.
3. Lovie Smith, Buccaneers. His contract gives him the final say on personnel matters, power that he didn’t have in his previous stint with the Bears. It’s unusual for a coach who doesn’t have either a proven track record in that area or a Super Bowl win on his resume to be given that kind of clout, but not unprecedented. The Bucs hired Jason Licht as general manager a few weeks after bringing Smith into the fold.
4. Chip Kelly, Eagles. It’s not clear who makes the final call on draft day, Kelly or General Manager Howie Roseman. Both report directly to the owner and Kelly does have the final say on who makes the 53-man roster, so if Kelly doesn’t have the ultimate authority over the draft then at the very least he has major input. Before joining the Eagles Kelly had spent his entire career at the college level, where (for the most part) there are no scouting departments and the coaches handle the talent evaluation as part of their recruiting duties.
5. Sean Payton, Saints. General Manager Mickey Loomis has the final say on all personnel decisions, but his background is in contract negotiations and salary cap management, so he is very deferential to Payton’s opinions. The two work so well together that Payton’s 2011 contract extension included a clause that would have allowed him to leave if Loomis were no longer with the Saints, although the league office rejected that provision. Because of that relationship, the coach has a greater influence on draft decisions than it may appear on paper.
6. Jeff Fisher, Rams. He called many of the shots later in his tenure with the Titans when he also held the title of executive vice president, and reportedly the primary reason that he chose the Rams over the Dolphins in 2012 was that St. Louis offered greater input on personnel matters. Fisher was hired before General Manager Les Snead and both answer directly to the owner. While Snead has the final authority over personnel moves, the Rams leadership has stressed that those decisions are made cooperatively.
7. Andy Reid, Chiefs. He had Belichik-esque authority in Philadelphia, but now seems happy to be able to keep his focus on the Xs and Os and other traditional coaching duties. The Chiefs hired General Manager John Dorsey about a week after Reid last year and both report directly to the owner, but Dorsey has the final say on all personnel matters (“51% of the vote,” as Reid described it). The coach and GM have had a close relationship going back to when both worked for the Packers in the ‘90s, and are definitely on the same page philosophically so Reid’s input carries significant weight.