Okay, I'm about to stick up for Miami Dolphins' general manager Jeff Ireland, and I feel like I'm walking into a pen full of Dobermans with a couple dozen raw steaks taped to my body. After all, the last guy to take up publicly for a Miami general manager was then-Dolphin coach Cam Cameron on Draft Day 2007, when the team took Ted Ginn with the ninth selection and Cameron tried to sell Dolphin fans on how awesome the pick was. We all know how that went....
The story of Ireland's asking Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant if Bryant's mother is a prostitute in an NFL combine interview is one that's tailor-made for columnists, bloggers, and radio hosts to come out of the woodwork and start pounding away on the Miami general manager. It's uncomfortable, it's shocking, and taken at face value it can be construed as Ireland perhaps even bullying Bryant.
Nearly every reaction I've seen to Ireland's question has predictably been pro-Bryant, many applauding Bryant for not coming over the table and punching Ireland for the inquiry. I say "predictably" because human nature is to project how WE would feel if we were asked that question about our own mothers. The fact is most of our mothers are not Dez Bryant's mother (a convicted drug dealer and mother of three by age 18), and most of us have never interviewed for a job that guarantees us an eight-figure pay day.
Nearly every person who has spoken out on Ireland's question (and I will refer to the question singularly, because we don't know if it was part of a line of questioning -- honestly, for something that people are taking Ireland to task on, there's a lot we don't know), has done so from Bryant's perspective. Allow me to speak on this from Ireland's perspective, because the fact is most of the people who have commented on this story and taken Ireland to the woodshed have probably never hired anyone in their lives, let alone hired 21-year-olds for a multi-million dollar vocation.
Before trying to give Ireland's perspective, some facts...
-- At the time the "prostitute" question was asked, the Dolphins had the 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft.
-- In 2009, the 12th overall pick (Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos) received $13 million in guaranteed money.
-- Dez Bryant missed a significant amount of his final year at Oklahoma State because he lied to the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders.
-- Bryant has had other issues that call into question his maturity, including outbursts while at OSU, postponement of his Pro Day back in March, and forgetting his cleats for said Pro Day.
-- As mentioned earlier, Bryant's mother has done prison time for dealing drugs and gave birth to Dez at age 15.
-- Jeff Ireland reports to Bill Parcells, one of the most no-nonsense, accountability-first taskmasters the NFL has ever seen.
SUMMARY: Jeff Ireland is about to interview someone with documented accountability issues and a checkered immediate family for a job that pays at least $13,000,000 guaranteed. He must sell whatever decision he makes to Bill Parcells.
So armed with all of this data, a quick aside on the importance of hiring as a management skill. Having been in management (middle and executive level) in my pre-radio life, I can say unequivocally that hiring is the single most important factor in success for any manager or executive. Whom you bring into your company and surround yourself with will play roughly 98 percent into your success or failure; the other two percent will be your own talent.
When I was hiring sales people for my company, we had a metric that showed how costly a bad hire was. We didn't see break-even on a quota-bearing salesperson until Month 18 of their tenure (and mind you, this is with them actually achieving quota and in a business with 75 percent profit margins). The pressure to hire the right people was incredible. You're accountable to the CEO of your company, shareholders, hell even your own family (gotta put food on the table, right?). Hire good salespeople, train them, and set them loose -- if it works, you're a hero. If it fails, you're fired.
In short, hiring, whether it's for salespeople in a telecom company or wide receivers in the NFL, decides the fate of managers and executives nearly every time. (And if you disagree, I give you Lane Kiffin, who somehow has managed to get one of the five best jobs in college football largely based on hiring his father and Ed Orgeron.)
At its core, drafting players is merely a flavor of hiring. That's all it is. That said, it's an expensive flavor. Millions of dollars are at stake, and Jeff Ireland is responsible for making sure that the Dolphins see a return on the investment in EVERY player. Whatever pressure I felt hiring a salesperson, multiply it by a thousand for Jeff Ireland. Because if a first-rounder craps out in the NFL, there's no "18-month metric" to measure the damage. The damage is immediate, severe and ridiculously costly.
As for the player, money tends to create more problems than it solves when it comes to guys who have entitlement issues, criminal issues, or in the case of Dez Bryant, maturity issues. Sorry, people, but Dez Bryant hasn't earned immunity from any line of questioning; it's not his fault that his mother is a criminal, but it is his fault that he lied to the NCAA.
For Ireland not to find out every shred of information about Dez Bryant and those around him is irresponsible to his employer, his bosses, his owners. The same people who employ hindsight by talking about guys like Pac-man Jones, Michael Vick, and Ben Roethlisberger surrounding themselves with enablers and/or an element they can't control, by definition, have to understand Ireland's motives, don't they? If Bryant's mother were a school teacher or an attorney or a McDonald's drive-through worker, I would feel differently. She is a convicted
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Ireland has since apologized to Bryant for asking the question, which some will view as "Ireland knowing he was wrong" when, in fact, it may just be Ireland wanting to put this behind him so he can get back to doing what he's paid to do -- construct a winning team, find players, evaluate his roster, hire. Clearly, Ireland knows this is a P.R. war that he can't win, so no need for him to try and explain it.
Having hired both stars and duds in my own line of work, I understand Jeff Ireland's asking Dez Bryant about his mother. I don't feel like that makes me a bad person, the same way I don't think that question makes Jeff Ireland a bad person. The dollars at stake for NFL teams
expand the boundaries of what qualifies as a reasonable line of questioning.
As someone who understands that what makes or breaks you in management is oftentimes not "you" at all, when it comes to the Dez Bryant combine interview, I thought Ireland got both feet in bounds.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the Sean & John Show, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/