In a move that surprised many, the New York Jets on Wednesday fired general manager Mike Maccagnan and named head coach Adam Gase as the team’s interim GM. The timing was unusual in that Maccagnan just last month had job security enough to oversee the team’s draft, including the selection of the third overall pick in defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Maccagnan was likewise given the freedom to spend $125 million in free agency this offseason, which included paying for easily replaceable production by signing former Pittsburgh star Le’veon Bell at running back. Maccagnan was also reportedly instrumental in hiring Gase, a decision that may have ultimately led to his ouster.
Maccagnan’s fall from grace was precipitous. He was named executive of the year by the Pro Football Writers of America for the 2015 season, his first as Jets GM. That season, he helped shepherd the Jets to a 10-6 record, coming up a win short of the playoffs. Now, less than four years after being recognized as the top executive in the league, Maccagnan is unemployed.
But perhaps we should have known his days were numbered when he won that award. Shockingly, this honor has become the front office equivalent of the Madden curse. Seven of the past 10 award winners have been fired. Of the three winners who still have jobs, one — Jerry Jones — is an owner who is unlikely to fire himself, and the other two are the most recent recipients: Howie Roseman in 2017 and Chris Ballard in 2018.
|Fired Dec. 10, 2018
|New York Jets
|Fired May 15, 2019
|Kansas City Chiefs
|Fired June 22, 2017
|Fired Jan. 21, 2017
|San Francisco 49ers
|Fired Jan. 1, 2016
|Kansas City Chiefs
|Fired Jan. 4, 2013
|Fired Jan. 3 2012
For the seven fired GMs, the average time from winning executive of the year to being unemployed works out to a brisk 1,122 days, or just over three years. Former Colts’ GM Bill Polian leads the seven in time served, with a 12-year run with the Colts and 22 years total as an NFL executive prior to winning a record fifth executive of the year award in 2009. He stepped down as GM after the 2009 season but remained vice chairman of the team, and then he began the decade of despair by getting unceremoniously fired — along with his son, who succeeded him as GM — two years later.
It’s interesting to note that the longest-tenured GMs in the NFL who aren’t also owners — the Patriots’ Bill Belichick and the Steelers’ Kevin Colbert — have never won the award. Neither has Washington’s on-again, off-again GM Bruce Allen, and he’s been able to hold on to a spot in the organization for the past nine years. Perhaps owners and league observers are giving GMs both too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things come up pear-shaped. Half of the honored executives during the past decade worked as GMs of the Colts and the Chiefs, suggesting that the teams they inherited might have been just as important to their success.
Often, GMs on the list rose and fell based on the fortunes of their head coaches or quarterbacks. San Francisco’s Trent Baalke won the award while paired with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who would take the Niners to the brink of Super Bowl glory. But Harbaugh departed for Michigan, and Baalke was quickly dismissed after he hitched his wagon to a sweaty and confused Jim Tomsula and the ghost of Chip Kelly. Indianapolis’s Ryan Grigson, gifted the first overall pick in his rookie year as a GM, took an absolute no-brainer in quarterback Andrew Luck and reaped the benefits for five years, posting a record of 52-34 as a GM before being fired.
The reigning executive of the year, Chris Ballard, might be an exception. Ballard worked under fellow award winner and former mentor John Dorsey in Kansas City. Dorsey was fired soon after Ballard left for Indianapolis, and some insiders have pointed to Ballard’s management acumen and attention to detail as something Dorsey leaned on and was unable to replicate in Ballard’s absence. Dorsey landed on his feet in Cleveland, however, and he inherited both the first and fourth overall picks in the 2018 draft, setting himself and his team up for success.
If Maccagnan has an opportunity at a second act as an NFL GM, he should probably follow in the footsteps of Baalke and Dorsey and seek out a team with a good coach and a high draft pick. Then he should probably pray that he never wins another executive of the year award.