Is Phil Emery the Model of Future General Managers?

Jonathan Daniel

Grantland's Bill Barnwell did a pretty thorough look at the Bears' general manager. We look at his criteria and offer my thoughts on how he grades Phil Emery.

That may or may not be the actual headline of the article. In fact, it is.

Lester stuck it in the FanShots about this time yesterday, and Spongie headlined this morning's Den with it, but we may as well discuss the Bill Barnwell about Phil Emery as the "GM of the Future" that posted on Grantland yesterday.

Barnwell pointed at four factors that he thinks point to a GM of Emery's type as the direction that being a general manager is leading towards - and no, those four don't include "versatility," "athletic index" or "synergy." Maybe synergy.

1. Treating fans like they might actually have an idea of what they're talking about.

Emery's not big into cliches and silence - he's vociferous, he's blunt, he'll explain what and why and take up enough words to fill a Kay Paradiso article while doing so. All in one go. And it's not a bad thing. I think we were more frustrated by Lovie's method of handling the media, and Angelo tripped over himself every five seconds with some new malapropism or other. Emery just likes talking football, and after a decision is made, he'll tell why he made that decision, and to this point in his young GM career, he doesn't really tip off future decisions in his explanations.

Clarity's a fine line to walk in sports - just ask hockey and the dreaded ubiquitous "upper body injury." How much information is too much information, and how little is too little? So far, it seems like a balance Emery's struck to near perfection - clear, maybe not concise, but he doesn't overly tip his hand.

2. A hyper-focus on process.

If you listen to Emery in press conferences or talk to him, you'll hear the word "process" come up so many times that you'll lose count.

Well, it's true. And really, it's something you can even see when Emery discusses firing Lovie Smith. The "process" can be just as easily used to describe acquiring a player as it is to describe why a final decision was made.

All too often in sports, we focus on the end result without looking at how the team got there. Emery's job isn't to look at the end result and slam the book shut. He needs to look at the process that got to the end result, and then project going forward. Which is why if any of these four points are key to being a successful general manager, this one is the biggest key of them all.

3. Having no fear of the unknown.

You really can't when you're in a career fully based on projection and future performance. And I think we've seen that with his draft picks. Shea McClellin and Kyle Long might not have been most people's first-round draft picks, but Emery wasn't afraid to take his guys. The same applies to pulling in a head coach from the CFL. And even when it comes to the Bears' cap situation at the end of the season, Emery isn't worried about that.

but Emery rightly doesn't feel too stressed about that, noting to ESPN Chicago, "I guess if you're saying an enormous amount of leverage [for Cutler], that means we've had a great season ... that's a problem I look forward to."

So, priority one for 2013, success, and worry about the future contract ramifications later.

4. An inclusive, occasionally nontraditional decision-making process.

Barnwell's point here slides to the old-school scout adapting to using new metrics and weighing every additional voice of input to arrive at an informed decision. And he doesn't shut anybody out either.

"In putting together our staff," Emery told me, "you're always looking for people who have unique skill sets. We have a number of people who have the title of scout, but they have other unique skill sets which help make our scouting staff better as a whole. With somebody like Mitch [Tanney from Stats, LLC], we're adding to the mix of good people who are thoughtful and have a unique skill set who can make the group better."

Okay, maybe "versatility" is a buzzword applicable here too. But the point is, he has a process, he goes through the process, he gathers input from everybody involved, he's not afraid to make the final decision himself, and he's also not afraid to face up to the fans after the fact.

Of course, time will tell if he'll be ultimately "successful," and that headline is pretty outlandish to this point - but suffice to say, for now he's got a pretty good start.

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