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Sunday football notes

In NFL’s power circles, LaMonte is representing

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / January 9, 2011

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A list of the most powerful people associated with the NFL would include commissioner Roger Goodell, union executive director DeMaurice Smith, team owners Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, and top player agents Drew Rosenhaus, David Dunn, Tom Condon, and Ben Dogra.

But at this time of year — the firing and hiring season — another trumps them all.

Bob LaMonte, a former high school history teacher, could make a strong case for being the most powerful person in the league. Not that he has any interest in doing so.

“I really pay no attention to it, and I couldn’t be more honest about that,’’ LaMonte said. “To me it’s meaningless. And I’m not trying to be humble, because I don’t think I’m the most humble person in the world.

“But I just believe I was blessed to have that opportunity and if I was the most powerful or wasn’t the most powerful, I wouldn’t change anything I did. Our motto is: ‘We’re not a big-time company, we just represent a lot of big-time people.’ ’’

That he does.

In addition to Browns president Mike Holmgren (LaMonte’s first client 33 years ago), LaMonte represents six current or former general managers: Mark Dominik (Buccaneers), Tom Heckert (Browns), Chris Polian (Colts), Rick Smith (Texans), Rick Spielman (Vikings), and Randy Mueller (Chargers).

He also represents these current and former head coaches: Brad Childress (ex-Vikings), John Fox (Panthers), Leslie Frazier (Vikings), Josh McDaniels (ex-Broncos), Andy Reid (Eagles), Mike Sherman (ex-Packers), Mike Singletary (ex-49ers), Steve Spagnuolo (Rams), Mike Martz (ex-Rams), Marty Mornhinweg (ex-Lions), Mike Nolan (ex-49ers), Jim Mora (ex-Seahawks), Jon Gruden (ex-Buccaneers), and Charlie Weis (ex-Notre Dame).

Talk about firepower.

And it makes for an interesting postseason.

LaMonte, who runs Professional Sports Representation with his wife, prepares for the craziness during the season by setting up a board with potential openings on one side and the top candidates (some not his clients) on the other.

“We try to see how those things would correspond,’’ LaMonte said. “We have teams with definite change, maybe change, and there’s always a surprise. And see how we can best fit our people into those changes.’’

There was an unprecedented number of surprises this season, as for the first time four coaches were fired before the end of the season. Three were LaMonte clients (Childress, McDaniels, and Singletary) who figured to have some staying power.

LaMonte, 65, doesn’t recruit. His business is 100 percent referral. And not everyone gets accepted. LaMonte has specific criteria for clients: ascending assistant coaches or personnel people between the ages of 35 and 45 with the target of being a head coach or general manager in the 45-55 range.

LaMonte interviews prospects who come to him at the combine each year and puts them through the wringer. Not everyone gets represented, but those who do benefit from LaMonte’s year-long tutelage program.

“We’re not about getting interviews, we’re about getting jobs,’’ LaMonte said. “If you interview one of our guys, you’re going to hire them.’’

Frazier learned that the hard way before asking LaMonte to represent him last offseason.

“He said, ‘I’ve interviewed six times in the last three years and every time I lost to one of your guys. I think it would be better if I worked with you,’ ’’ LaMonte said.

Frazier went from interim to permanent coach of the Vikings last Monday.

“He prepares his candidates with copious notes for their interviews,’’ said former Packers executive Andrew Brandt. “Mike Sherman came in with a thick binder outlining his schedule every week for the next 52 weeks. He had potential staff outlined and their biographies. He outlined philosophies and leadership principles.’’

LaMonte has long been known as an agent who pushes for more and more power for his clients. He freely admits he did so in the past to increase coaches salaries from $300,000 in 1988 to where the average is now ($3.75 million).

“If I can drive both jobs together, I can start to push salaries into areas never seen before,’’ said LaMonte.

But is it right for his clients? While Reid has been a success also running personnel, Sherman, Childress, and McDaniels all flopped.

LaMonte said the preferred organizational model is a “a strong general manager and a strong head coach that are able to coexist together where the head coach is the voice of the team during the season and the general manager is the voice of the team in the offseason. The best model I ever saw was Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf in Green Bay.’’

Some wonder if LaMonte isn’t pushing his clients on his other clients. Holmgren hired Mora in Seattle, and then Heckert as general manager in Cleveland. Among the targets for the Browns’ coaching position are Pat Shurmur, Mornhinweg, and Fox — all LaMonte clients. But Cleveland also has interest in Mike Mularkey and Perry Fewell, who are not represented by LaMonte.

“People say to me all the time, ‘You just get people jobs and you just put people everywhere,’ ’’ LaMonte said. “If that was really true, I’d be charging 80 percent, not 3 percent.

“At the end of the day, it’s about their talent. I would never call that person. They would call one of my clients first, not me, to tell them they’d like to be interviewed.’’ SOMETHING FISHY

Dolphins' floundering is business as usual

Call it the Curse of Joe Robbie, or Don Shula, or whatever. This past week, the Dolphins continued their downward spiral. The once well-respected franchise is becoming a national punch line.

Unless you were under a rock, you know the Dolphins openly flirted with several head coaching candidates — even visiting Jim Harbaugh in California — while leaving incumbent Tony Sparano twisting in the wind. Then they returned to give Sparano an extension and more personnel power.

Ever since 1994, when the Robbie family sold the team to Wayne Huizenga, the organization has been in a free fall.

That season, the Dolphins came within a missed Pete Stoyanovich field goal in the closing seconds of making the AFC Championship game. They haven’t been close since.

In the past 16 years, the Dolphins have reached double-digits wins five times. They have four winning seasons since 2001. And they haven’t won a playoff game since Dec. 30, 2000, against Peyton Manning, when he was in his third season.

The Dolphins have been in a funk because ownership, whether it was Huizenga or now Stephen Ross, has failed to surround itself with good football people and let them do their jobs.

Huizenga showed Shula the door and gave all the power to Jimmy Johnson, who quickly burned out. Then they gave Dave Wannstedt total control as well. Then Huizenga begged Nick Saban to leave LSU — which he did not want to do — and he never had his heart in it.

General manager Randy Mueller and coach Cam Cameron may have overcome their 1-15 season (unlikely), but no one will ever know because Huizenga panicked.

He finally got it right when he hired Bill Parcells to put the football side of the organization in place, only to see turmoil ensue after he sold the team to Ross. Ross had the right idea in bringing in former Chiefs president Carl Peterson to aid him, but Peterson is a world-class meddler who most believe was passed by the game in the late 1990s. Peterson’s first-hand involvement last week didn’t dissuade anyone of that opinion.

THE CHASE IS ON

Vick's legs could be a handful for Packers

The work that Dom Capers has done as defensive coordinator of the Packers is nothing short of amazing when you consider he has had nine starters or key reserves miss a combined 77 games. Seven are currently on injured reserve.

Yet the Packers are second in the league in scoring and total defense. It’s one thing to survive with adversity. It’s another to flourish.

Today’s playoff game against the Eagles will be an interesting chess match in regards to Michael Vick.

If there has been one weakness in the Packers defense, it’s against the run; they rank 18th in the league. More specifically, the Packers have struggled containing athletic quarterbacks.

Vick rushed 11 times for 103 yards in the first meeting against the Packers as he nearly brought the Eagles back from a 20-3 third-quarter deficit in relief of injured starter Kevin Kolb. But the Packers weren’t prepared for Vick the way they will be this time around.

That being said, the Packers allowed the other six athletic quarterbacks they faced (Trent Edwards, Jay Cutler, Shaun Hill, Mark Sanchez, Troy Smith, and Drew Stanton) to rush 21 times for 204 yards (9.7 average).

If it was just Vick the Packers had to worry about, containing him wouldn’t be a problem. But the presence of running back LeSean McCoy, receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and tight end Brent Celek complicates things.

The book on Vick is to blitz him with corners. That’s what the Giants and Vikings did.

But Capers has admitted that the Packers struggle with rush contain when they play man-to-man. Capers has also said his preferred approach against Vick is not to rush hard up the field, but to have defenders stay in their lanes with arms raised to deter him from running and knock a few of his passes down from his low arm slot.

To win, Vick is going to have to complete key passes. Many still doubt he can do that on the biggest stage. It’s part of the reason the Eagles went with Kolb in the first place; he’s more accurate and more consistent in his defensive reads.

Etc.

In Bills’ estimation, Fitzpatrick fits nicely Early signs are the Bills will not take a quarterback with the third overall pick because they like what they’ve seen in former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw 23 touchdown passes in 13 games. How committed to him is coach Chan Gailey for next season? “Very committed,’’ Gailey said. “He’s done a lot of good things. He can improve. But we’ve got to stop the turnovers. If we can do that, I think we give ourselves a chance to be a successful offense.’’ Gailey wants to see what Fitzpatrick can do with a healthy cast around him in the second year of the system. “I’m looking forward to it, very much so,’’ Gailey said. “And I think our offensive line is going to be a lot better next year. I think we’re going to be able to do better things with C.J. Spiller next year. [Fitzpatrick] allowed other guys to flourish, and that’s what he does. He puts the ball where it needs to be for people to make plays, and that’s the one thing you like about the guy. He gives your team an opportunity to win.’’

Minimal impact Left out of my postseason overtime story earlier this week were two key statistics about how much the rule change will matter. If history is any indication, not much. Since 2003, when there were three overtime games in the playoffs, just seven of 66 playoff games (10.6 percent) have gone into an extra session. And of the 27 overtime playoff games since 1958, only three would have ended differently under the new rule (all three ended on a field goal by the team winning the coin toss): 2009 Saints-Vikings NFC Championship game, 2002 Titans-Steelers, and, drum roll please, 2001 Patriots-Raiders. Yup, the Tuck Rule Game. So Charles Woodson could have something new to complain about.

Short yardage All three of the Falcons’ possible divisional-round matchups would be rematches. They defeated Green Bay, 20-17, Nov. 28 at the Georgia Dome and the Seahawks, 34-18, Dec. 19 in Seattle. The Falcons split their series with the Saints, winning, 27-24, in overtime Sept. 26 at the Superdome before falling to the Saints, 17-14, Dec. 27 at the Georgia Dome . . . You’d think at some point NFL teams would start to grade down draft prospects from Texas. As the Vince Young disaster showed once again, coach Mack Brown tends to produce prospects who are babied and immature. The breaking point with Young for the Titans came after the Nov. 21 loss to the Redskins when Young cussed out coach Jeff Fisher in front of the team . . . Gailey said the roster spot of linebacker Aaron Maybin, the Bills’ first pick of the 2009 draft who has no sacks in two seasons, is tenuous. Maybin played just 28 defensive snaps over the last 13 games this season. “Right now, he’s on the outside looking in,’’ Gailey said. “But if he doesn’t improve his status he won’t find playing time on this football team.’’ . . . The Eagles tried twice since 2008 to acquire Packers center/guard Jason Spitz but were rebuffed each time, including during training camp this year. Spitz was quickly benched in his only appearance this season. Meanwhile, the Eagles have been terrible at all three positions after center Jamaal Jackson tore his biceps in the opener. So while Spitz sits on Green Bay’s bench today, he could have been starting for the Eagles . . . Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson isn’t exactly sad to be on his way out in Minnesota. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,’’ he said, “but it wasn’t pretty green on this side, either.’’ . . . Eagles end Trent Cole had his way with Packers left tackle Chad Clifton in the season opener between the teams. Cole has to have a huge game for the Eagles to have a chance today . . . Look for the Packers to go after Eagles right cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who was benched two weeks ago against the Vikings . . . Atlanta’s Mike Smith is coaching in the playoffs with a bye week for the first time in five appearances, so he consulted with ex-Ravens coach Brian Billick, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, and Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan before setting up the schedule. He elected to treat it as a regular-season bye week for the players, while the coaches had duties preparing for all three potential opponents.

By the numbers 1: Team that finished in the top five in scoring offense and defense this season, the Falcons. The NFC’s top seed finished fifth in scoring (25.9) and fifth in points allowed (18.0).

2: Offensive coordinators chased off by Todd Haley in two seasons as Chiefs head coach. Gailey was fired in the preseason in 2009. Charlie Weis will be leaving for the University of Florida when the season ends.

2: Games won by the Packers in which they scored 10 or fewer points this season (9 vs. Jets, 10 against the Bears). The last time that happened in team history was 1946.

View from the outside From Aaron Schatz: Former Patriot Asante Samuel of the Eagles leads NFL cornerbacks with 3.5 yards allowed per pass attempt in coverage, according to the FootballOutsiders game charting project. The rest of the top 10: Antoine Winfield, Vikings (4.5), Joselio Hanson, Eagles (4.6), Brent Grimes, Falcons (4.9), Ron Bartell, Rams (5.3), Justin Tryon (Colts) 5.4, Ronde Barber, Bucs (5.5), Antoine Cason, Chargers (5.5), Jerraud Powers, Colts (5.7) and Joe Haden, Browns (5.8). Numbers for Patriots cornerbacks: Devin McCourty (7.1), Kyle Arrington (8.1), Darius Butler (9.6). The league average is 7.7. David Jones of the Jaguars is worst in the league at 12.4.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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