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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Says Who?

Recently I posted on Ed Snider's most recent tenure as the head of the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers, and, in doing so, linked to a column by Stephen A. Smith, which I thought was right on point. Today, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin writes about Snider, states that the Comcast empire is profitable despite the horrid results of the Flyers and 76ers, and that when Snider leaves, he'll have handpicked his successor. Read the whole thing here.

I can't agree with Conlin unless he has been briefed upon Comcast's succession plan (if they have one and if it's something other than, "well, we'll call a national recruiting firm like Russell Reynolds and conduct a search") and has been told that Snider will have the say as to who will succeed him. Somehow, I just don't think that's the case. First, the Roberts family, which holds a lot of stock in Comcast and effectively calls the shots, will have a significant say. Second, this is a publicly held corporation we're talking about, and while fiefdoms can exist in any entity -- public or private -- it's hard to figure that this entire space has been ceded to Snider and that Comcast simply won't interfere with him. I find that hard to believe.

Moreover, I'm not sure whether Snider has had a track record of development successful sports executives the way Bill Parcells has developed future NFL head coaches. You don't hear around either league or sports networks that such and such a person comes from a long line of distinguished sports executives who cut their teeth in Philadelphia sitting beside Ed Snider. Bob Clarke was Snider's protege, and he fizzled out, a combination, perhaps, of being in the same job for too long and failing to adapt to a changing game. As for coaches, the Flyers always seemed to be looking for the next Fred Shero, and they failed. As for the 76ers, no one ever said Ed Snider knows much about basketball. He doesn't.

That's not to say he's not an accomplished man. He built a hockey following in Philadelphia out of thin air and gave the city some great excitement in the early-to-mid 1970's with the Flyers. Those teams were electric, and they amped up a city that was still reeling from the collapse of the Phillies in 1964 and the implosion of the post-Wilt Chamberlain 76ers in the late 1960's and early 1970's. He built an admired hockey franchise and created more value through sports media. And more.

But that doesn't mean that he's built a sustainable organization with a succession plan or that he is a good evaluator of managerial talent. Bob Clarke remained as Flyers' GM for too long, and his successor, Paul Holmgren, is iffy. Billy King hasn't been successful at the 76ers' GM, and he remains on the job after many failures. Which means. . .

that there's a good argument to say that not only shouldn't Ed Snider pick his successor(s), but he probably won't.

The Philadelphia sports media may think so, but to me they've always cast this magic wand over Snider, making him seem like the local Sports Ninja with superpowers who always prevails. I don't know why that is, but they permitted him for a long time to ride a thirty year-old wave that was two successive Stanley Cups dating back 30 years. In fairness, the Flyers have had some (very) good teams since then. But to say that he's invincible and calling his own shots, I think, is wrong.

The key is to let Snider exit gracefully and preserving his legacy. Some people know when to retire; others do not, but if the Snider regime continues into the future for both of these local franchises, the numbers (which Conlin says are great) will catch up with him and Comcast.

And despite all of their media properties, neither the company nor the icon will be able to create a believable storybook ending.


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