When building a successful professional football operation, it is just as important to select the right coach and quarterback as it is to give an ear to what the drivers, trainers, ball boys and secretaries have to say.
Indeed, it might be more important to listen to the non-athletes of the organization, Mike Tannenbaum, general manager of the New York Jets told a Morris County Chamber of Commerce audience in Florham Park Friday.
All Jets personnel who come in contact with the players are required to turn in at least two sentences about that interaction, said Tannenbaum, a Basking Ridge resident. When a player, especially a draftee or a professional the Jets are interested in signing, is driven somewhere by the team, the driver is interviewed.
Tannenbaum said the Jets want to know how that player treats those he comes in contact with at times that he is not being watched.
There is a practical reason, he said.
“You don’t want to give $5 million to a jerk,” Tannenbaum said.
But more important, he said, is how the Jets build the organization and instill a “dynastic” feeling that can lead to Super Bowl victories.
Tannenbaum was named Jets general manager in 2006, and executive vice president in 2008. He is in charge of the team’s football operations, including the hiring of coaches, the annual player draft, players operations like scouting, and the financial aspects of the operation including contract negotiations.
He was speaking at the Park Avenue Club, adjacent to the Green at Florham Park, where the Jets headquarters and training facility are located.
He showed through many examples that the approach to football success on the field is mirrored in the team’s business operations as well.
Tannenbaum disappointed the audience when he said he could not speak about the current league lockout and stalled contract negotiations with the players, because it is a legal matter.
While the team on the field is judged by talent and execution of its players, off the field, it is judge by how well it runs as a business organization, he said. So it is important that not only the players have the opportunity to get better, but that every Jets employee be given the chance to succeed and advance, he said.
Establishing a system of training and evaluation is important, he said, as is establishing mentors.
But is also important as an organization, when the time comes, to make a decision to have a player or employee move on—a change that can be made in a way that does not end in acrimony, Tannenbaum said.
It is important to remember, Tannenbaum said, that the Jets are in a competitive business. But, he said there are subtleties to every decisions.
He said a lesson he learned from former San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh is to think and plan as if the team is the underdog.
Making a trade for a player who might not be a model citizen might be a risk, he said, but that risk is weighed against the potential gain for the team.
That was also the approach taken when it hired Rex Ryan as its coach, Tannenbaum said.
Ryan is a larger-than-life figure who draws significant attention, but has developed a team that is seen as a Super Bowl contender.
Tannenbaum said when the Jets were considering Ryan as their coach, they had people in the jets organization talk to their counterparts around the league—especially with the Baltimore Ravens, where Ryan had been a coach.
“Our coaches talked to their coaches, or video guys talked to their video guys,” he said.
The result of all those conversations was a picture of man the team felt was right for the job, Tannenbaum said.
At its a heart, Tannenbaum said, the Jets organization operates on the principle that “people want to feel important.”
So, he said, “we pay attention to the intangibles and the little things.”