When an obscure career assistant named Mike Sherman was chosen as head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2000, it symbolized a victory for organization and substance over style and sizzle.
Ron Wolf, the general manager who hired him, was bowled over by Sherman's job interview, by his attention to detail and the scope of his presentation.
"I was really strongly considering somebody else," Wolf, now retired, said. "When Mike came in, I don't know if anybody ever heard of him. I went to [Packers president] Bob Harlan and said, 'If I had any guts, I'd hire Mike Sherman.'"
A day later, Wolf found his fortitude as well as his next coach. Sherman won the job because he was better prepared and more thorough in his interview than other candidates. Armed with a binder filled with organizational detail and big-picture perspective, Sherman represented a new wave of coaching candidate.
Unlike most job interviews in the everyday world, the one the Ravens have embarked on to replace Brian Billick calls for a heightened level of sophistication. Their job search is more high-profile, more financially rewarding to the coach and potentially more damaging to the team if it backfires.
Aspiring coaches are surprisingly resourceful in showing off their best profiles these days. It is no longer enough just to know how to beat the Tampa Two defense or attack the zone blitz. Coaches are being asked to represent their franchises in so many arenas that they must have skills that extend far beyond the field. They must be spokesmen, ambassadors, disciplinarians, visionaries, leaders and teachers.
In short, chief executive officers.
Bob LaMonte created the cottage industry of executive sports representation in 1979 with his wife, Lynn. Since then, Professional Sports Representation Inc. - based in Reno, Nev. - has become the launch point for dozens of coaches, coordinators and management executives.
LaMonte, who describes his operation as a referral company, has guided several head coaches to their current positions in the NFL and helped move two more into college jobs, including Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. He also represents 14 NFL coordinators and five members of NFL management.
"We've always felt that it's not about X's and O's," he said. "It's about CEOs. That's basically the fulcrum on which we developed our program."
The program offers a back-to-school, six-week primer for job candidates. It starts with a 175-page binder of instructions on getting the job, and runs the gamut "from soup to nuts."
"We never send a person to take an interview," LaMonte said. "We send a person to interview to get a job."
He sent Sherman to the Packers, Andy Reid to the Philadelphia Eagles, Mike Holmgren to the Seattle Seahawks, John Fox to the Carolina Panthers, Jim Mora to the Atlanta Falcons, Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Nolan to the San Francisco 49ers and Brad Childress to the Minnesota Vikings.
A one-time history teacher in the Bay Area in California, LaMonte has turned the job interview into a veritable art form.
The NFL has done its part, too.
As salaries and expectations rise, the NFL has come to understand the importance of selecting the right coach. That means getting the job interview right.
"It's very critical," Wolf said. "It tells you whether the guy can be in control. It tells whether the guy is coming to your place to retire or to coach."
As in Baltimore, the process starts with a search committee, which makes its list of candidates. Then there are background checks, compatibility queries, staff projections and interviews.
Last January, after firing Dennis Green, the Arizona Cardinals introduced a new element to the equation - players.
Team president Michael Bidwill and general manager Rod Graves introduced their coaching candidates to a corps of players, including Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart. The Cardinals wound up with former Pittsburgh Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt, and Graves said his players made a difference.
"We knew he was a candidate with two other clubs," he said. "I think that being able to sit down with our players and feel their passion for the team made a huge impact on him."
Graves said NFL teams are generally looking for someone with dynamic leadership, organizational skills and a plan that meshes with strengths of the team. The most common mistake a team will make is not being thorough enough in the interview process.
"You want to get his reaction, put him in situations where he's got to answer tough questions," Graves said. "Generally, these guys know football. I don't have to spend a lot of time asking him about base packages. ... To me, it's more about management. I want to know his management style and get comfortable with his approach."
When the Houston Texans hired Gary Kubiak two years ago, a committee including then-general manager Charley Casserly interviewed eight candidates.
"We had the coaches look at video and talk to us about that, explaining some of the things they did on tape," Casserly said. "Basically, you have questions you want to get answered and you're trying to get a feel for the individual. You want to hear his plan for your team."
The time frame is complicated by the limited availability of coaches on playoff teams and the NFL's mandate that a minority candidate be interviewed, a stipulation since 2003.
"The tough thing about this is, you're hiring in a confined time frame in a competitive situation for a huge job," Casserly said. "It's not a normal situation. A lot of it is out of your control. Sometimes you can't control the clock."
Wolf, who retired in 2001, said the more information he gathered, the better prepared he was to make a decision. Sometimes, though, the decisions were obvious.
"You'd be amazed at how many people are not prepared," he said. "They'd eliminate themselves immediately. It happened time after time after time."