Mike Lombardi: the post-Belichick years

He's lost weight; this is good.

He’s lost weight; this is good.

Alrighty. LOMBARDI TALK!! Can we find something to like in his history? Can we overcome the reflexive suspicion of ‘football people’ commanding us to trust them? Welp. That’s today’s goal. Let’s hit it.

[First, bookkeeping: I want to link to the Lombardi-Browns draft compilation I put forward on Frowns for reference. Here tis. It’s ugly. We’re not talking about that today.]

Lombardi has a kinda sketchy Wikipedia entry. In it, we learn he’s not related to Vince Lombardi and I haven’t decided whether or not to give him a pass on his high-end dog choice. But it provides a decent resume to work from so let’s do.

Lagotto Romagnolo. Not found in rescue shelters.

___

Rams consultant, 1996
Prepared advisory reports for ownership during head coach search.

Since Rich Brooks was fired by the Rams after coaching them in 95-96, we’re going to assume the 1997 Rams coaching hire is the one Lombardi weighed in on.

It turns out 1997 had an active coaching carousel: eleven new head coaches. Coslet-Bengals, Parcells-Jets, Bugel-Raiders, Gilbride-Chargers, Carroll-Pats, Ditka-Saints, Fassel-Giants, Reeves-Falcons, Ross-Lions, Mariucci-Niners. Breaks down like this:

  • three HC jumps (Parcells, Reeves, Ross),
  • four OCs (Coslet, Bugel, Gilbride, Fassel),
  • one DC (Carroll),
  • one college HC (Mariucci),
  • one TV analyst with ten years success and five years on sideline (Ditka),
  • and one TV analyst who’d been on the sideline for fifteen years.

Yep, that last one is where the Lombardi/Rams analysis seems to have settled: 61 year old Dick Vermeil. (And not for nothing, the Rams grabbed BUD CARSON for their DC in 1997 too.)

As tempting as it is to kill that as a broadcaster-crony selection… Vermeil wins a Super Bowl for the Rams in 1999.

Score one for Lombardi.

___

Eagles consultant, 1997
Eagles Director of Pro Personnel, 1998
Promoted to Director of Pro Personnel after serving as a consultant to team owner Jeffrey Lurie in 1997. Managed the professional personnel department and advised owner and chief financial officer on all player contracts and salary cap issues.

I guess it makes sense to look at Eagles transactions in 97-98 and see what we think:

Coaching moves: on one hand, talent like Jon Gruden and Sean Payton went out the door in those two years. On the other hand Andy Reid came in in 1999 and Reid’s record over the next decade plus grades out strong. (Don’t know if Lombardi had a hand in Reid hire since he moved to Raiders in 1999.)

Drafts: 97 was a bad draft for the Eagles, Duce Staley the most notable pick; 98 was good with Tra Thomas (11th overall) and Jeremiah Trotter… but not the homerun that was described in the Friday presser. McNabb came in 1999, don’t think he accrues to Lombardi.

Roster changes:

  • There were QB issues from 97-98 for the Eagles. Starting QBs were Ty Detmer (7), Hoying (13), Peete (7), Koy Detmer (5)… that ain’t great.
  • Someone made a decision to let 29 y.o. Ricky Watters leave as a FA in 1998. Watters had gas left in the tank: 36 consecutive starts for Seattle; 1200 yds all three years. Now Duce Staley came in and had two 1000 yard years in 98, 99 so hard to hate on that decision.
  • Hugh Douglas was signed in 98 and gave them 12.5 sacks; have to like that.
  • Irving Fryar was finally let go in 99 and Eagles didn’t really get an impact WR until Terrell Owens. Might pick a nit on Lombardi there.

We’ll call the Eagles’ grade: average.

___

Raiders Senior Personnel Executive, 1998 – 2007
Hired by owner Al Davis to become Senior Personnel Executive working closely with the owner on all football matters. Liaison with head coach and owner; responsible for pro and college player evaluations; and handled veteran contracts.

Is this a promotion? Why does one make a lateral move into Al Davis’ organization? On the surface, it smells like something bad was going on in Philly. But let’s leave that alone and look at the Raiders record from 98 to 07.

First off, one does not know how much is Al Davis in these transactions.

Second, the Raiders did get to a Super Bowl.

But third, they did nothing with draft after the 2002 Super Bowl and didn’t clear five wins for the remainder of Lombardi’s time there.

Coaching moves: Q: When is a Personnel Executive not responsible for personnel? A: When he’s Al Davis’ Personnel Executive. With that said, here’s the list:

  1. 1998: Jon Gruden (four years). 40-28. Two straight playoff years.
  2. 2002: Bill Callahan (2). 15-17. Got to Super Bowl in 2002; lost to Gruden.
  3. 2004: Norv Turner (2). 9-23.
  4. 2006: Art Shell (1). 2-14.
  5. 2007: Lane Kiffin (1+). 5-15.

Aggregate record: 71-97, trending down.

Who the eff knows how a mess like this is made? They got Tampa’s first round picks in 2002 and 2003 by letting Gruden leave. Too bad it was the Raiders picking with them. Too bad it was Gruden facing them in the 2002 Super Bowl.

Do we hold Lombardi responsible for these? The job description above focuses on player evaluations, not coaches. But cripes… don’t you have to speak up in a meeting when you’re staring down your fourth coach in five years? I like an easy paycheck as much as the next guy, but ultimately I’m cognizant that I’m building a work record… ultimately I know my areas of responsibility accrue to me. If your boss is stopping you from performing your role, don’t you have to draw a line somewhere?

There’s really no way to look at this coaching turmoil and not give it an F. I’m modifying this to an HR ‘meets base requirments’ because technically, Lombardi was player evaluation, not coach evaluation.

Drafts: [warning: this is going to get ugly.] [each year’s draft record is linked.]

1998: Woodson (4th overall). That’s it.

1999: Stinchcomb (18th overall), bust-ish only five years in league. Eric Barton in 5th round stuck around for 12 years so that’s value. No impact players.

2000: The famous Janikowski (17th overall) – Lechler (5th round) draft. (Also Jerry Porter in 2nd rd.) I for one think Janikowski is the greatest PK ever. You may disagree, but -for example- if the Seahawks had Janikowski, it’s probable that he kicks a 60+ yard FG in the Georgia Dome and they’d have played the Niners yesterday. I for one think Shane Lechler is the greatest punter ever. Lechler was a steal and using a 1st round pick to lock down the best player in his position ever for 13+ years seems smart to me.

2001: no picks lasted in league more than six years, no impact players.

2002: another train wreck draft. Undersized CB in first round (Philip Buchannon). Non-impact MLB (Napoleon Harris) played three years for Raiders. Kenyon Coleman in 5th round? Ok fine.

2003: Nnamdi at 31st overall, good pick. Tyler Brayton at 32nd overall, non-impact. No other great picks,, though I always liked Justin Fargas who was taken in 3rd round.

Superb Raiders branding. Gallery looks the part.

2004: Robert Gallery, 2nd overall. Eight years in league. Well… this one hurts. He passed on Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Ben Roethlisberger. But the pre-draft mocks say it wasn’t a crazy pick: 4th here, 4th here, 2nd here. I just have a bit of a hard time killing a pick that everyone was wrong on. (At the same time, that’s why I came to respect Heckert’s pick because he in no way was a slave to conventional wisdom.)

Also, this is a team that just signed Kerry Collins. Phil Rivers was very highly rated. Roethlisberger less so, but still high. Don’t you have to tend to QB? (And as we will see, except for Gannon, Lombardi is nothing short of poor with his management of the QB position.)

Anyway, in what’s becoming a trend: no impact players in this draft.

If you’re keeping score, Woodson, Janikowski, Lechler, and Nnamdi are the only hits through seven drafts.

2005: Holy crap, another undersized CB, Fabian Washington, in the first round (23rd). No impact players here either.

2006: If at first you don’t succeed…. we have ANOTHER cornerback in the first round! Michael Huff. At least he’s six feet tall. ? And anyway he’s been playing strong safety since they took him. Add up the first DB misses (Huff, Fabian, Buchanon) and the criticism of Haden and -even giving credit for Nnamdi and Woodson- I think Lombardi needs to be restricted from defensive back picking. Again, no impact players in draft.

So many images to choose from..

2007: JaMarcus Russell!! First overall. Jim Nantz wants you to know that this was not Lombardi’s pick. Fair enough. I guess. (But I wish Jim Nantz would tell us who Lombardi really wanted to take; isn’t that reasonable Jim?) Hard to imagine Al Davis not falling in love with Calvin Johnson with the right report from his people. But ok, Jim Nantz has better sources of info. But also, take note on this from Walter Football: “If you look in my new mock draft database, you’ll see that nearly every mock across the internet has the Raiders taking JaMarcus Russell.” Did Lombardi/Davis really love JaMarcus or were they victims of ‘experienced football people’ group-think?

This is the third time Lombardi stubbed his toe going with conventional wisdom (Vardell, Gallery, JaMarcus). THIS is why I came to respect Heckert: he cares not what Mel Kiper thinks of John Hughes. I want a Jerry Reese who will have faith in his scouts and pick a Jason Pierre-Paul ‘too early.’

On the bright side, I’d call Zach Miller an impact player in the 2nd round.

There’s really no way to look at these drafts and not give it an F.

But again, it’s unknowable how much was Al Davis and how much was Mike Lombardi.

Roster changes:

Hey, signing Rich Gannon was smart.

Replacing him with Kerry Collins not so much. Collins wasn’t great in the ten years preceding Oakland and registered QBR of ~75. Led league in ints in 2004.

Signed 39 y.o. Jerry Rice in 2001. I know, I know, OLD; but don’t laugh: Rice had over 80 catches in 01/02, over 1100 yds both years. Made Pro-Bowl at age 40. They did make Super Bowl with him their leading WR… good signing.

Charlie Garner signed in 2001. In 2002 had 900+ rush yds, 900+ receiving yds. 2002 Raiders were #1 in offense yards; #2 in scoring. Good signing. (thank you @ClevTA)

2005 Randy Moss acquired for Napoleon Harris and the 7th overall pick. Moss bags on team. 2007 Raiders trade him to Pats for 4th round pick (John Bowie). Disaster.

Andrew Walter – Aaron Brooks were Raiders QBs in 2-12 2006. Fail.

Addressed QB issue in 2007 by signing Dante Culpepper. Fail.

Shall I go on?

No, that’s plenty.

___

I won’t get into Lombardi’s media work (though he didn’t like the Haden or Gordon picks). I wouldn’t know where to start to collect the data. Throw in a somewhat irrational dislike of Bill Simmons and I don’t think I’d maintain a veneer of objectivity.

So let’s add it up.

___

Good: Vermeil, Jeremiah Trotter, Duce Staley, Hugh Douglas, Gruden hire, Lechler, Gannon, Garner Rice, Super Bowl.

Bad: Eagles QBs, Gruden trade, Kiffin, six (of ten) drafts with no impact players, three 1st round CB whiffs, Collins, Moss, Walter, Culpepper.

Guys, I’ve got no axe to grind. I don’t know what set off Grossi and Ridenour (though I do know how Frowns came to his opinion). I’ve left that stuff off the table. I’ve left the Browns era stuff off the table.  (For the record:  Andre Rison has all the hallmarks of Art Modell asserting himself.)   There’s no other way to say it but:

Lombardi’s record of drafting and signing may be the poorest performance by a Senior Personnel Executive in the history of the league.

And yet.  Dammit.  We in all fairness cannot lay the record at his doorstep.

.

.

. [should i give him credit for gannon and rice to super bowl? or should we say that the personnel was mostly in place before him? waffling… staying with the take above.]

. [after adding garner to record, thinking i may soften the score. just a little.]

.

.

okie doke, i had my say. interested to hear yours.

You may also like...

  • Don’t forget to trim your dog’s nails regularly. Long nails can make him uncomfortable, cause injury to his feet and will ruin your floors. If he makes a “click” sound when he walks on hard wood or linoleum, that’s a good indication it’s time for a trim. Ask your vet to do it if necessary.

  • josh

    Also, Selwyn Jones (3 INT in 1.5 games in ’93) and Don Griffin…FA From the ’49ers, as well as Everson Walls from the NYG.

  • dan

    It seems like conversations about Lombardi are always the same: those who dislike Lombardi list the bad draft picks he is associated with, those who like him list the reasons why he shouldn’t be blamed for them. Thanks for the more in-depth breakdown.

    For the record, I, too, remember that everyone had J. Russell as the best player in the draft, and have a hard time blaming anyone for that decision. However, wouldn’t it be nice if there were some more late-round gems that could be attributed to the guy?

  • zarathustra

    We definitely should not credit him with the 49ers success, but grossi himself states that he deserves credit fot charles haley–already in hof in a sane world.

    • roger that. but my mission today — no word of a lie — was to drill into the post-browns part of his resume. i’d killed lombardi on his browns record before and i was hearing about change in the presser and i agree that people learn and grow. to that end i was looking for signs of learning and growth. and, well, … it is what it is.

      • zarathustra

        good point. if you don’t mind I would like to go back briefly and address some bright spots that I think you overlooked from his time with the Browns. I will dismiss the pre-Belichick years as belonging entirely to Accorsi. Forgetting organizational titles he was the to personnel man when Belichick arrived. In your draft analysis you did seem to leave out Eric Turner and Michael Jackson from 1991. 1992 was not good–though I do remember Dixon being solid(totally could could be bad memory though.) In 1993 again it might be memory but Caldwell, Arvie, and McKenzie being ok–I think Caldwell was a decent stater. In ’94 Langham was it.

        • zarathustra

          oh, and I forgot about James Jones in the 6th round in 91.

        • yeah, i think i saw lombardi got promoted in 91/92 so i cropped the history around that time.

          • zarathustra

            you’re right. bad memory there on my part. For present purposes those picks should not counted. It is probably pointless because nothing can be proven, but I suspect he made at least SOME positive contributions to the front office before then.

        • zarathustra

          some non-draft acquisitions that have been overlooked:
          1992: Randy Baldwin(awesome kick returner), Mark Bravaro(end of career, but had some nice moments) Bob Dahl, Jay Hilgenberg(improvement at c, later moved to guard)Keenan McCardell(UNDRAFTED) Stevon Moore (borderline pro-bowler) Ron Wolfely (stud special-teamer)
          1993: Jerry Ball, Stacey Hariston (solid starter)Pepper Johnson (vetera, but a leader of the defense when they made the playoffs)Najee Mustafaa (decent veteran starter that address a glaring need)Vinny Testaverde
          1994: Orlando Brown (undrafted)Ernest Byner (end of career, but solid contributer)
          I think you will admit that some of these will force you to re-assess your overall grade of his time with the Browns. Not to say that it was stellar, but its hard to say it was a disaster. You can see how they built a playoff team.