A recurring theme in Josh Harris’s brief tenure as the Washington Commanders’ owner is the search for edges, or little ways he can gain an advantage over opponents.
“Certainly sports science and analytics, and coaching staff and front office and being attractive to players and location and a new stadium — I think all that stuff builds into a winning franchise and winning culture,” Harris said in November.
In the months since he finalized his $6.05 billion purchase of the Commanders, Harris has started to collect those edges. He hired a stadium adviser (Thad Sheely), a senior vice president of football strategy (Eugene Shen), a player wellness consultant (Tim McGrath) and, most recently, a small contingent of experts (Bob Myers and Rick Spielman) to help with his biggest decisions yet: finding the team’s next top football executive and head coach.
Forming that search committee, which also includes part-owners Mitchell Rales, Magic Johnson and David Blitzer, was one of the first steps in what Harris called a “thorough but rapid process” to remake the team’s coaching staff and front office. Harris hopes to get the top executive in place quickly so that person can help find the head coach and build out the rest of the staff.
The true timeline, however, will depend on myriad factors, including potential competition for candidates and the postseason.
“What we’re ultimately trying to do is end up with the best people, and the best people generally have alternatives,” Harris said.
Monday morning, after the team fired coach Ron Rivera, it announced the hires Myers, a former NBA executive, and Spielman, the former general manager of the Vikings. Though many NFL teams turn to consultants, enlisting one from another sport is different.
“Sometimes people who are really smart don’t want to hear from other people,” Commanders limited partner Mark Ein said last summer. “[Harris] likes to get the best … whether it’s the law firm or evaluating the stadium or relying on his other sports executives for opinions. It’s bringing together the best people, asking their opinion and taking it. He likes to have and consider these perspectives.”
Spielman and Myers are central to not just the team’s offseason moves, but also to Harris’s broader philosophy of finding more edges. Myers spent 12 years as an executive with the Warriors, helping the franchise to four NBA championships while twice earning NBA executive of the year honors. He also worked for 14 years on the agency side, learning under and then working alongside famed agent Arn Tellem. His last five years as an agent were with Wasserman Media Group — the same agency that represents Adam Peters, the 49ers’ assistant general manager who is the Commanders’ top executive candidate.
“He knows how to identify talent,” Harris said of Myers. “He knows how to build winning franchises, winning cultures. I mean, he is obviously not a football person. He’s not been around football, but he’s an amazing sports executive. … He knows everyone in sports, he knows a lot of agents. … He knows how to engage with talent.”
A candidate interviewing for a primary executive role can accept a new job at any point during the playoffs, if his or her current team grants permission. Head-coaching candidates cannot interview in person until at least after the divisional round of the playoffs. So far, four teams — the Carolina Panthers, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers and Commanders — have vacancies for their primary executive job. Seven teams — Panthers, Raiders, Chargers, Commanders, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks — need a new head coach.
The Commanders’ search for a top executive has focused primarily on five candidates: Peters, Chiefs assistant GM Mike Borgonzi, Browns assistant GM and vice president of player personnel Glenn Cook, Eagles assistant GM Alec Halaby and Bears assistant GM Ian Cunningham, according to multiple people with knowledge of the process. Borgonzi, Cook and Peters underwent a first round of interviews Tuesday, and Halaby and Cunningham were scheduled to meet with the Commanders on Wednesday.
Those initial interviews were held at Harris’s home offices in Miami and followed a distinct format, according to people with knowledge of the process. Each candidate talked to Spielman separately, then met with Myers and Harris. It’s possible the candidates will also interview with Rales, Johnson and Blitzer in some capacity, be it in person or virtually.
Two people said the interviews seemed to be designed to eliminate “fluff,” meaning any scripted material in which candidates appear as if they’re simply going through the motions of the interview.
The vision for Washington’s front office differs from recent years. The top executive will probably be titled president of football operations or something similar; GM Martin Mayhew is still under contract and, along with executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney, is expected to stay with the team through at least the search process. Mayhew’s and Hurney’s futures will probably depend on the primary executive’s plan for the front office.
“What that person wants to do or not do is really important in our decision process,” Harris said of the incoming executive. “Doesn’t mean that [owners] are not involved in it, but it means that to a large extent, you’re relying on that person to bring a series of candidates to the table, and so that would be my ideal scenario.”
Rivera was both head coach and top executive, retaining final say over personnel and operations during his four years in Washington. Harris said he envisions a more siloed structure for the next front office, with the top executive overseeing operations and personnel and the coach managing all aspects on the field.
“There are certainly individuals that control everything,” he said. “I think it’s increasingly hard, so my orientation is not to do that. But on the other hand, I’m going to really be somewhat flexible around talent.”
Because as Harris has said often, it starts with finding the “best” talent, and find those extra edges.