A GM Won’t Solve the Bengals’ Problems


At the risk of my status as a “comrade” of WDR, which has done yeoman’s work sticking it to The Man in the Bengals’ front office this season, I have to depart from the conventional wisdom that the solution to the team’s problems is for said Man, Bengals owner and president Mike Brown, to hire a general manager.

If that’s all he does, it won’t help. In fact, it’s more likely to cause further damage to the organization.

As Michael Abromowitz points out, the real source of the Bengals’ woes is the entire Brown family. But with respect to Abromowitz, it’s not their ownership that’s the problem, but their presence in the front office.

In addition to Mike Brown (president), the key positions of senior vice president, player personnel and vice president, player personnel are held, respectively, by Pete and Paul Brown. Mike’s daughter Katie is an executive vice president, and together she, her father and her husband Troy Blackburn (also a vice president) form the three-headed hydra that currently serves as the team’s general manager.

The organization is also home to longtime Brown family friends, and their families, such as “scouting consultant” Bill Tobin and director of player personnel Duke Tobin.

It’s this “mom ‘n’ pop” structure that is the true impediment to change in Cincinnati, because it eliminates all front office accountability.

Who was responsible for the “language issues” in the trade agreement with Detroit for DT Shaun Rogers that stalled the deal long enough for Cleveland to swoop in and steal him away? In a normal organization, that kind of foul-up is a fireable offense. But since it was almost certainly a Brown family member overseeing the talks with Detroit…nothing happens.

Any team that has year after year after year of poor drafts would be expected to revamp its scouting and personnel departments. But since personnel in Cincinnati is run by Browns, and scouting done by family friends…nothing happens.

The lack of accountability in the front office leads to the lack of urgency reflected in Mike’s now-infamous “themes” address. With no one’s job on the line, there’s no particular impetus to “get it right this season.” For the Brown family, there’s a never-ending string of next years.

Hiring a general manager won’t change this. That person wouldn’t have authority to fire members of the Brown family, and any family friends targeted by a GM could turn to the Browns for protection. He might not even be able to get as much as a couple more scouts hired. If anything, Mike Brown would be likely to use the expense of hiring a GM as an excuse to reduce spending elsewhere. The Bengals could end up with fewer scouts or “consultants” or whatever.

WDR’s Sleeping With Bieniemy may be right that a unique confluence of events this year and next may lead Mike Brown to hire a GM. But unless that hiring comes with the simultaneous resignations of all the Browns and their friends, that GM won’t be anything more than a figurehead designed to deflect criticism from The Family and fool fans into opening their wallets with a false front of “change.”

Update: More here.