The San Francisco 49ers decision to hire John Lynch as their next general manager has generated numerous comparisons. Some point to the success of former players like John Elway and Ozzie Newsome. Others point to Matt Millen’s failure in Detroit.
From a pure fact-based perspective, the Millen comparison is the most apt. Both were great defensive players who went into broadcasting shortly after their careers ended. Both left broadcasting to take on an executive role with a team. Millen started as Lions president and CEO, and eventually became GM when he fired Bill Tobin. Lynch’s first executive role is as general manager.
There is a notable difference in that Millen effectively ran everything, while Lynch will potentially be answering to Kyle Shanahan in some regards. Jed York wants them to work together and have good teamwork, but Shanahan will likely have more final say than Lynch.
Whatever the case, the Millen comparison has brought the former Lions executive out of the woodwork. He did an interview with Eric Branch that will be posted later, but earlier in the day spoke with Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Millen acknowledged some of his failures, and discussed what Lynch needs to be able to do to find success. He pointed to the issues surrounding managing people and dealing with internal politics, moreso than the basics of talent evaluation.
"The biggest thing that helps in those jobs is experience and having been exposed to it," Millen said. "When you haven’t been and when you don’t have it, you’re forced to rely on other people. For little things. And so that’s why you have to know the people. That’s why you got to know them. You got to know their eyes, you got to know, philosophically, how they are, you got to know what they’re like politically, you got to know who’s trying to work you. There’s tons of stuff. And then you’ve got to know -- when I say know the whole building, you've got to know all the people in the decision-making process, up to and including ownership."
I would think Millen’s personnel evaluation probably played some role in his failures, but clearly the culture that Millen created put him in a bad position from the get-go. He talked about being familiar with the entire NFL, but not having the kind of deeper relationships needed to bring in the right people around him. He talked about how that puts a new person at a disadvantage heading into the organization. It sounds a little like pushing blame to some extent, but he at least acknowledged being a failure, so that’s something.
Lynch walks into a situation where he has no experience, and is joining a new head coach with no experience. Both have their share of connections and networks to build upon, but both are new to an organization that faces plenty of questions. How they can operate together and deal with any internal politics that might still persist will be critical to avoiding the failures of Matt Millen. Well, that and not drafting a wide receiver in the first round for three straight years.