Jerry Reese, GM of the New York Giants, is one of the best.
As a disclaimer, I am taking a huge risk by leaving some friends and colleagues that I respect and trust off this list. As a former NFL executive myself, I know first-hand the work, time and effort that each scout puts in. My goal when I started in Green Bay as a pro scout, making $20,000 in my first season, was to become an NFL general manager.
I worked with Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider. Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey was very influential in regards to me being hired in Green Bay. Reggie McKenzie, the Oakland Raiders general manager, was my direct boss. So I feel as if I have a very strong idea of what it takes to run an NFL organization.
Bad decisions on my part and other factors led me down a different career path as a certified sports agent, but I love what I am doing. Being an agent allows me to stay involved in the NFL. I have watched, up close and personal, the men on this list advance their careers to a point where they should all be considered for a role as an NFL general manager. While I only will list 10 names here, there are countless others that deserve credit and recognition as well.
Keep these 10 names in mind next offseason if your team is looking for new leadership, as all of these guys should be considered.
Jason Licht’s resume reads like a "who’s who" in the NFL. Licht has had stints as a scout for the Miami Dolphins, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots and, now, the Arizona Cardinals. The powerful football minds he has worked under include Jimmy Johnson, Bill Belichick and Andy Reid.
Licht has been a major contributor to four Super Bowl teams and is highly respected in the NFL scouting community. He has already has been a finalist for a general manager job with the Chicago Bears. Licht has worked his way up from area scout to an executive position. Soon he will be the shot-caller for an NFL organization.
Gaine is a former NFL player who has risen through the ranks of the NFL scouting circles to his current position as the right-hand man for Miami’s general manager Jeff Ireland.
Gaine started his career as a college scout in the New York Jets organization, and he has also worked for the Dallas Cowboys before joining the Dolphins. Gaine learned under Bill Parcells, but he has also been active in the head coaching process, so he has seen how different personalities can change the culture of a football team.
This past offseason, Gaine retraced his roots and interviewed for the head GM job for the Jets. Though the position ultimately went to John Idzik, Gaine still received a promotion in Miami this offseason and will get strong consideration as a leading man again next offseason.
DeCosta has been a staple of the Ravens organization since 1996. Though he started his career as an area scout, DeCosta has held almost every position that a personnel man can hold. He is a former college director and director of player personnel, and he is a huge reason why the Ravens have won two Super Bowls during his time with the club.
Over the years, many NFL clubs have requested permission to interview DeCosta for their general manager job, but Decosta has been hand-picked to become the successor to current Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome when he decides to step down. While he has been a hot name for years, look for DeCosta to continue his leadership in Baltimore for years to come.
Khan has been a key cog for the Steelers for the past 12 years, and even though he interviewed for the New York Jets general manager job this past offseason, he is back for another season in Pittsburgh.
Khan got his start in the NFL in New Orleans in 1998 as a player personnel assistant. He has worked his way up through the ranks and was one of Bill Cowher’s closest confidants when he was the head coach of the Steelers.
Khan is vital to the Steelers in terms of the salary cap and has recently taken more of a role in player evaluations. Khan is extremely bright and understands all aspects of running an NFL organization. It is only a matter of time before he gets his opportunity.
Farmer, a former NFL linebacker, was hired to become the assistant general manager for the Cleveland Browns this offseason after initially interviewing for their head general manager position. Farmer was formerly a part of the Kansas City Chiefs organization.
Before his time in Kansas City, where he was the Director of Pro Personnel, Farmer was a scout for the Atlanta Falcons. Given his new title in Cleveland and the fact that he has experience as a player, look for Farmer’s name to pop up in interviews again next year, especially if the Browns improve as a team in 2013.
One of the best college scouts in the NFL, Gutekunst was recently promoted to become the new Director of College Scouting in Green Bay. Gutekunst was originally hired by former Packers general manager Ron Wolf.
He is a disciple of the Ted Thompson school of drafting, which preaches "the best player available approach," and since Gutekunst scouted the talent-rich SEC conference, most of the players drafted by the Packers are from his area.
Gutekunst has worked with four former Green Bay Packers scouts who went on to become NFL general managers: John Schneider, Reggie McKenzie, John Dorsey and Scot McCloughan. He will be in that same category very soon, especially due to the success of recent Packers draft classes.
Russell, a former NFL linebacker, is one of the best young scouts in the NFL and has learned under some of the best football minds in the NFL. Currently, he is working alongside John Elway, but in his past, he has learned under Andy Reid and Bill Belichick.
Russell was not allowed to speak with the AFC West rival San Diego Chargers for their general manager job this offseason. Though Russell’s name will continue to be bantered around for general manager’s jobs, the former Colorado Buffalo also had his name included in the university’s search for a new athletic director recently, but Russell is apparently not interested. Either way, Russell is a good football mind to keep tabs on for the future.
At one point, Ross was the youngest college director in the NFL when, at the age of 27, he was named to that position by the Philadelphia Eagles. Ross, who is now 40, is still highly thought of in the NFL scouting community and has interviewed for head general manager positions in the past two offseasons.
His leadership during the past seven drafts for the Giants has led to many selections of NFL starters, and his success in this area will continue to keep his name in the mix for future general manager jobs. Look for Ross to be a hot candidate in the 2014 NFL offseason.
The simple fact that Robinson helps run the NFL draft for the Patriots puts him in the future general manager discussion. Robinson, a former college coach, has earned his scouting stripes in the Patriots organization and has worked under quite a few great football minds.
Robinson has gleaned knowledge not only from head coach Bill Belichick, but also former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and current Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. He has been a part of quite a few winning seasons in New England, and with continued success, Robinson will only see his star rise.
Gardner has been a scout for some very good teams in his NFL career. He started out as a college scout for the San Francisco 49ers in 1995 and held a position with the club until 2005. He then took his services to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three seasons. In his current role with the Texans, Gardner coordinates all the free agent visits and NFL player acquisitions.
This offseason, Gardner was influential in the signing of future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed. With continued success in Houston, look for Gardner’s name to be in the discussion for future NFL general manager jobs.
DeJuan Polk (Director of Pro Scouting, Atlanta Falcons)
Tag Ribary (Director of Player Personnel, Seattle Seahawks)
Ryan Pace (Director of Pro Scouting, New Orleans Saints)
Matt Malaspina (National Scout, San Francisco 49ers)
George Paton (Assistant General Manager, Minnesota Vikings)
Joe Hortiz (Director of College Scouting, Baltimore Ravens)
Lake Dawson (Vice President of Player Personnel, Tennessee Titans)
Marc Lillibridge is a former NFL linebacker who scouted in the NFL for six seasons. He is currently the certified NFLPA contract advisor to play and scout in the NFL. Lillibridge is CEO of www.profootballsyndicate.com.