Roger Goodell Potential Replacements: Who Could, or Should, Be Considered?


Roger Goodell is under fire, and it keeps getting warmer. I would have never thought it was a possibility, and I think that it would not be if he and the NFL offices would have just come out and acknowledged what is likely the truth: as Ty Duffy laid out, the stance on domestic violence in the league has never been particularly strong (relative to other off-the-field incidents or even those on it), and the league was caught off guard by the Ray Rice reaction–and the power of video.

Instead, we now await a Deep Throat from the NFL offices, as there have been anonymous owner statements about Goodell’s deference to Janay, other anonymous sources saying that Ray Rice did tell Goodell that he hit Janay in the elevator, and an anonymous AP source saying he sent video of the incident to the NFL offices in April.

If– big if — there is concrete evidence that the league office is untrustworthy in this regard, then it moves beyond Ray Rice and the specifics of this suspension . . . and that’s when I think something could happen.

We put our heads together, and then rubbed them because that hurt, to come up with some potential replacements in the event that this thing with the NFL goes completely off the rails. Some of our picks were serious, some creative, and some, hopefully, funny.

Jeff Pash, Executive VP and Counsel, NFL (Jason McIntyre)

Under ordinary circumstances, he’d probably have a great shot, but given the Ray Rice situation it’s anyone’s guess who will take the fall. Will it be the security or legal department? Who knows. But Pash, who is widely regarded as the 2nd most powerful man in the NFL, has the credentials to be a candidate to replace Goodell. Harvard graduatewell-respected, and like the commish, he profited handsomely in 2012: $7.8 million.

Condoleeza Rice (Ty Duffy)

The nut of this Ray Rice blunder is that the NFL is too insular and too male. Condoleezza Rice would be an outside hire and, obviously, a woman. She follows football, which isn’t so relevant. She has a resumé that makes old rich white guys comfortable – Republican Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, Augusta National Member – which is more relevant. Rice would be a transformational hire, for a league desperate to change the narrative and move forward.

Sepp Blatter (Stephen Douglas)

The NFL has been the biggest sport in America for years, but it is time to take it global. Roger Goodell brought the NFL to London and no one cared. Sepp Blatter brought the World Cup to Qatar and EVERYONE cared. Toronto? London? Barcelona? Las Vegas? Under Sepp Blatter the NFL will be everywhere.

Are you worried about the safety of the players? Neither is the league under the free reign of Sepp Blatter. Throw concussion protocols out the window. If a player gets knocked out on one play, he’ll be back on the field as soon as he can break away from the training staff. And football players will be able to get away from trainers a lot faster than futbol players because they are Americans and much bigger, stronger, better athletes.

Discipline? With Goodell, you have no idea where you stand. Two games? A fine? Suspended indefinitely? It’s all so random. With Sepp Blatter in the Commissioner’s Office, players and teams will get the exact punishment that they pay for. Literally. Bribes will not only be expected, but they will be widely-accepted. With Goodell we have no clue about motivation. With Blatter, we know it is all about the money.

Bill Cowher (Jason Lisk)

If this gets to a point where Roger Goodell has to step down (or is forced out against his will), it makes an internal candidate from the league offices like Pash a dicey proposition. I know that Roger Goodell was the COO and moved up when Paul Tagliabue retired, but simply going “next man up” if there is an issue about how something was handled in the league office will not play publicly.

I think there are two ways for the league to go. The first is to get someone with a legal/political background who can have a perspective on policy and the impact decisions have (something I think Goodell has been less than stellar at considering, reacting swiftly to events without considering unintended consequences). Of course, there are a few concerns here. How much do they know the sport and the business side workings? More importantly, if we are going the political route, how divisive will the choice be on some keystone social issues that will be at the forefront for the league

The second is to go with someone with deep connections to the game who will be respected internally “across the aisle”, but not rooted at the NFL offices under Goodell. The candidate will have to be young enough to handle the job, but experienced enough to have gravitas. Tony Dungy is, in my opinion, too divisive on some political issues. Bill Cowher is my “out of left field” recommendation as someone with deep ties to the game, as a former player, coach, executive, and broadcaster. Cowher left coaching almost eight years ago and pretty much every team with a coaching opening has been linked to him since then. Now, they all can share him.

Will the young generation embrace him? Well, he has appeared in The Waterboy, The Dark Knight Rises, and in dark mascara in his girlfriend’s music video last year. Bonus points for that.

The NFL has had its wartime consigliere in Goodell, who has ruled with an iron fist on player issues, led the strong-arming and negotiations in winning major concessions in the labor showdown, and been rewarded handsomely. What he is not is respected across both sides. Cowher would be a popular choice that would play well in all groups, players and owners, initially. And he has a strong jaw.

Don Garber (Mike Cardillo)

Don Garber just signed a five year contract extension with MLS, and it happens to come the same week Roger Goodell is getting roasted in the media. Coincidence, right?

The current MLS commish ticks off a lot of boxes on the resume, which is why he would be an attractive candidate if the job were open. He spent 16 years working for the NFL until taking charge of MLS in 1999. Also, he’s already been a commissioner, something few other candidates can say.

One definite area Garber’s experience with MLS and world soccer could help the NFL is international growth. If we except that we’re on the verge of peak NFL saturation in America, the only way for the league to grow — in other words, for the owners to make more money — is to tap into the international markets, whether through expansion or further games overseas. Given that MLS is but one small fish in the huge pond of world soccer, Garber is in better shape than most understanding the sports landscape outside the 50 states and the NFL’s best way tap into other markets. (cough, cough, gambling.)

The transition from MLS to NFL would be quite a shift for Garber’s priorities as a commish, however. MLS works as a collective with a tight salary cap and for much of its existence focused much of its efforts on trying to remain in operation. Granted, Garber helped oversee a period of growth and expansion where MLS franchises are now in-demand. It is worth mentioning under Garber’s watch some MLS transactions have hardly been transparent, such as the league assigning U.S. international midfielder Jermaine Jones to the New England Revolution via blind draw.

Mark Murphy (Ryan Glasspiegel)

You might say I’m a Green Bay homer, but hear me out. The Packers president has sat in owners’ meetings since 2007, and is a former NFL safety and Northwestern Athletic Director. He’s deft in the art of speaking without saying anything. He looks the part. Under his stewardship, the Packers’ on-field product and business have been enormously successful.