Division of power
Using his family business as the model, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has
determined that the team's key decisions will be handled by a 'Triangle
BY SEAN JENSEN
Posted on Sun, Jan. 22, 2006
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf spoke with NFL luminaries such as New England
owner Bob Kraft, Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney and Commissioner Paul
Tagliabue in brainstorming his organizational structure over the past
The Patriots and Steelers are among the teams with omnipotent head
coaches, while teams such as Carolina and Chicago empower an
old-fashioned general manager.
Ultimately, Wilf settled on a familiar setup. After re-signing vice
president of football operations Rob Brzezinski to a three-year contract
extension and hiring Brad Childress as head coach, Wilf is interviewing
candidates to become his director of player personnel, completing what
is known as the "Triangle of Authority."
That approach helped turn Wilf's real estate business into a
multi-billion company, and he is optimistic it can turn the Vikings into
Super Bowl champions.
"It follows the guideline that we established in our family business,
and that is to communicate and come to a consensus and not to have that
much disagreement," Wilf said. "And if you do (disagree), keep it in the
family and work it out.
"What I felt was very important is to make sure that there would be much
more communication by all three parties. That necessitates we put three
minds together in solving whatever issue is at hand, so we don't rely
upon one individual to make these decisions."
In building Garden Homes Development, Wilf, his brother, Mark, and his
cousin, Lenny, were the three points of the company's triangle.
Fittingly, Mark and Zygi's father, Joseph, and Lenny's father, the late
Harry Wilf, were the patriarchs at the center of that triangle approach.
Inside the Vikings' triangle are Zygi and Mark Wilf, with Childress,
Brzezinski and the personnel director acting as the key points.
Baltimore executive vice president and general manager Ozzie Newsome
said there's a common thread that runs through some of the NFL's most
"As I see the league and what I consider good franchises, they have
three strong, talented people in charge," Newsome said. "Those are teams
with an involved owner, a head coach and general manager. Those three
have to work together and take advantage of each other's strengths."
For instance, Newsome said Patriots coach Bill Belichick clearly has a
solid handle on personnel decisions, but he doesn't revel in dealing
with the media.
"So Mr. Kraft and (vice president of player personnel) Scott (Pioli)
pick up some of that," Newsome said. "Here, Brian (Billick) is excellent
with the media and fans, but (owner) Steve (Bisciotti) and I don't like
it as much.
"So, Brian picks that up for us. There are different ways to get the
important things done, but I think it takes three talented people who
use each other's strengths to the utmost and work together well."
Given those parameters, the Vikings' setup would be a pentagon,
including Wilf and his brother, Mark. But Brzezinski said he doesn't
anticipate Zygi Wilf micromanaging.
"He hires good people and lets them do their job. But he wants to be
informed and involved in what's going on," said Brzezinski, who will be
entering his eighth season with the Vikings. "He also has a ton of
credible business experience, and a lot of what he's applied in his
experiences can help us win as a football team."
Childress was not available for comment.
The arrangement, however, isn't entirely original. Vikings owner Red
McCombs used a similar setup in recent years, with Brzezinski and coach
Mike Tice the key principles, with college scouting director Scott
Studwell providing input in his area of expertise.
"It's the same approach, except it's not a two-prong approach,"
Brzezinski said. "It has everyone do what they do best: the coach
coaches, the personnel evaluator evaluates and I do the business part."
Under McCombs, however, there were two embarrassing draft-day gaffes
that highlighted the Vikings' atypical committee approach and their lack
of a clearly defined power structure.
In 2002, the Vikings allowed their 15-minute time limit to expire and
failed to land the player they coveted, defensive tackle Ryan Sims, with
the seventh pick. In 2003, while discussing trades with two teams, the
Vikings again missed the deadline and ended up choosing ninth instead of
Neither blunder, though, cost the Vikings, because they landed all-pro
defensive tackle Kevin Williams in 2003 and left tackle Bryant McKinnie
in 2002. Sims, meanwhile, has been a colossal disappointment.
"There's a lot of ways to do it successfully," said Eddie Jones, who
worked closely with Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and was Miami's
longtime president. "There's nothing to say that a triangle approach
won't work. But someone, it always seems to me, has to have the final
say. When someone doesn't have that, you find some bickering."
For the most part, Tice and Brzezinski worked well together the past
four seasons. But their relationship deteriorated last season, including
a difference of opinion on the need for a third quarterback, J.T.
Wilf recalled asking Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver if he stepped in
when his head coach and personnel director had a conflict.
" 'Do you make the decision?' " Wilf recalled asking Weaver. "He said,
'No, I throw them back into the room and tell them, don't come out until
you have one.' "
Wilf said the Vikings will rely on "consensus building" but that each of
his three top football executives will have autonomy over their areas of
expertise. For instance, Wilf said, the director of personnel would have
the final say if the trio cannot come to an agreement on draft day and
the deadline is approaching.
"We would hope that each time, everyone is happy," Wilf said. "But if
all of a sudden there is a gut call to be made, it's going to be (the
personnel director). That authority is going to be him, just as much as
on game day the final authority is with the coach."
Wilf, though, does expect consensus during free agency.
"We should want to have that person collectively," Wilf said.
Initially, after publicly addressing his decision to fire Tice a day
after the season ended, Wilf indicated that he planned to hire the
personnel executive first, then the head coach. But the team's pursuit
of Tom Heckert, Philadelphia's vice president of player personnel, was
thwarted when the Eagles promoted him to general manager.
Wilf acknowledged that the scope of the personnel executive has changed
since then, "due to the nature of the process of hiring my first coach,
and getting to know more of my people better, as the season unfolded."
Still, Wilf clearly wanted to put his own imprint on the Vikings as he
moved into his second season.
"It's tough when you inherit an organization, in terms of making it into
your mold and the way you run your business," Wilf said. "What I'm doing
is basically refining it by making sure that the right people are in
place, and making them understand that we're all on the same team. As we
should be on the field, we should be in the front office, as well. If a
team can't communicate on the field, they won't win. If we can't
communicate up on top, in the front office, as it deals with personnel
and organizational issues, then we won't do that well."
Wilf said the owner's responsibility is to "facilitate the
communication" and only provide input on issues such as character or on
"Ultimately, you hope that the decision has been made by professionals,
and you're just there to endorse it," he said. "The most important thing
is that they come up with the same decisions on many important issues,
so they can make my life that much easier."
As they interview candidates for the personnel director position, the
Vikings have assessed a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Some
candidates are long-time pro scouts with limited experience as decision
makers. For instance, Ron Hill was Atlanta's vice president of player
personnel, but Dan Reeves had the final say there.
Rick Spielman, Miami's former general manager, and Bill Kuharich, New
Orleans' former president, have been key decision makers. But both
executives' reputations are somewhat tarnished by struggles in their
Spielman brought in talented players such as receiver Chris Chambers and
tight end Randy McMichael but had perennial problems at quarterback. Two
of Kuharich's dubious decisions were hiring Mike Ditka and trading Ricky
The Vikings clearly are trying to avoid a power-hungry executive who
will attempt to overshadow the input of Childress and Brzezinski.
The one candidate who counters the rest is Tom Dimitroff, New England's
director of college scouting. He comes from arguably the NFL's top
The Vikings also interviewed San Diego's Fran Foley and are scheduled to
speak to Jacksonville's Charlie Bailey. Denver's Rick Smith also is
still a candidate, once his team is eliminated from the playoffs.
The Vikings' two internal candidates are Studwell and Jeff Robinson.
Brzezinski acknowledges there are many ways to run an NFL team. But he
believes their approach will benefit the Vikings in the long run.
"Everybody does it different," Brzezinski said. "But it's a philosophy I
believe in, with consensus building, communication, and having checks