Vikings promote Spielman to general manager

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The power structure in the Minnesota Vikings’ organization no longer resembles a triangle — a shape with the same number of sides as the team had wins in 2011.

Vikings’ ownership Tuesday promoted Rick Spielman from vice president of player personnel to general manager, eliminating the former three-headed decision-making system, dubbed the Triangle of Authority by owner Zygi Wilf when Spielman was hired in 2006.

Spielman shared responsibility with then-coach Brad Childress and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinksi. Under the new structure, Brzezinski retains his role as the salary-cap and contract specialist, and Leslie Frazier will remain as head coach, but Spielman now has the final say on football decisions.

“My brother, Zygi, and our ownership feel very strongly that we needed to establish a clear organizational structure, accountability and consistency throughout our decision-making process, enhancing our ability to achieve success for many years to come,” owner and president Mark Wilf said.

Spielman has spent 21 seasons as an NFL executive with Detroit, Chicago, Miami and Minnesota and will continue his to oversee the scouting and personnel programs, including working with Brzezinski, director of player personnel George Paton and director of college scouting Scott Studwell.

While the decision-making process has been simplified, Spielman expects much of the same collaboration that’s been in place since his arrival. Spielman, 46, certainly embraces the challenge and pressure that comes with having the final say.

“Our ownership, our head coach, our coaching staff, all the people involved in this decision process will get a voice to say what they think,” Spielman said. “The difference will be when we make our personnel decisions, and when we go forward I will have the final authority on what that decision is going to be.”

When the infamous triangle was put in place in 2006, it concealed who ultimately made final decisions for the Vikings. Spielman was largely believed to lead the draft, while Childress handled decisions on players. Brzezinksi’s role, which remains unchanged, was to be the financial guru.

Childress appeared to gain power over the final few years of his tenure, especially when he brought in quarterback Brett Favre.

The leadership structure was a strange dynamic from the very beginning. Childress was hired by the Wilfs before Spielman. Fran Foley was the personnel director, but he clashed with Childress and was fired three months later and replaced with Spielman — quite a reversal from the typical standard of having the general manager in place and involved in the coaching hire.

The Wilfs had some success under the old structure, including a trip to the 2009 NFC championship game but knew something needed to be done to ensure the long-term health of the franchise. Even as Childress and Favre were taking the team to the NFC title game, the focus was always on the present and not the future. Then this season, Frazier pushed to trade for aging quarterback Donovan McNabb in an effort to win now, an acquisition that started the Vikings down the path toward a 3-13 record.

“We’ve realized that the stability of the organization for the long term is paramount of importance, so that you continue to have a situation in which everybody knows their responsibility and everyone’s accountable for their actions,” Zygi Wilf said. “We’ve had success in the past many years, and we probably should have taken a harder look even through success. But a year like we had this year made us realize the long-term success of our ball club is something that is of utmost importance.

“Speaking to other owners and learning from other teams and seeing how their systems have worked, we came to the conclusion that this is the way this has to work.”

The Wilfs believe the decision will lead to better overall production from the entire staff.
Spielman will have authority over the roster, though he said any decisions on Frazier belong to the Wilfs. Spielman and the Wilfs each reinforced their belief in Frazier as the head coach despite his rough first season.

Frazier, meanwhile, will have control over his coaching staff and will be able to concentrate solely on coaching the players.

“I think for me it just creates clarity in some of the things we do from a decision standpoint, and that’s extremely important when you’re in the role that I’m in,” Frazier said. “It just levels the playing field in so many ways, so it’s a plus in that regard.”

People outside of the organization have wondered about the power structure in recent years. Count some of the insiders among those who needed a clear definition.

“The biggest thing is you just want to know what the lines of demarcation are,” Frazier said. “For me, I know exactly where I need to go when I have to talk about certain matters and get those things handled, and that’s good.”

Without a triangle in place, all lines now lead to Spielman.

“It’s excitement, but it’s also the disappointment from the season we had,” said Spielman, who appeared nervous and emotional during the press conference. “I don’t think anyone in this organization is satisfied with how we ended up this season. You can’t be. But we have to focus on how we’re going to move forward. That’s what our goal and objective is. I don’t ever, and I don’t think anyone in this organization ever, wants to go with the experience of a 3-13 season like we had this year.”