Randy Mueller is a former NFL Executive of the Year and long-time executive who operated as Vice President of Football Operations with the Seattle Seahawks, General Manager of the New Orleans Saints, General Manager of the Miami Dolphins, and Senior Executive of Football Operations for the Los Angeles Chargers. He most recently worked as GM of the AAF’s Salt Lake Stallions and Director of Pro Personnel for the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks.
We caught up with Randy Mueller for this week’s Friday Five…
Who is your biggest mentor?
I’ll be honest, growing up I always had, for some reason, the respect of the older guys. They always kind of treated me well, whether it was Chuck Knox as a coach or Mike McCormick as our GM or later on a guy like George Young. He was in the legal office but had made his name with the Giants. Those guys really helped me.
One mentor of mine that I lost during the process was Payne Stewart’s agent Robert Fraley. He happened to be Cortez Kennedy’s agent. He was a mentor of mine from way back and really helped me along the way. He had no need to, so those guys really, for some reason, put their arms around me and helped me. Robert Fraley was well connected with coaches and people in all walks of the NFL. That helped me, and no doubt he helped me as well. Those guys were mentors to me.
Then I got to Miami, even after 25 years in the league, and got to work with Nick Saban. He hired me. So that totally changed an outlook that I had predetermined for 25 years of experience. I’ve been lucky to work with some pretty good people starting with Coach Knox and Dennis Erickson, and Mike Holmgren. You know, obviously, Nick is the flavor now and maybe the greatest of all time in college, but our years in Miami were pretty good together, too.
You won the Executive of the Year in 2000 with the Saints. What do you think you learned in Seattle that made you so successful so quickly in that new location?
When I left Seattle, I had been in charge for four or five years, so it wasn’t like I was going to New Orleans as a first-time GM or somebody wet behind the ears. I had been in the fight in Seattle for several years. I had a pretty good backpack of experience when I left. So that was very helpful.
The other thing was, and I learned this really from Paul Allen and his group. They were the last ownership group I worked for in Seattle. Paul’s theory always was: get us in the middle of every deal, I want to be aggressive, I want to gather the information, we can always say no at the end of it.
I took that to heart. It really helped me when he went to New Orleans because I was just that – very aggressive. I wasn’t afraid to swing and miss like a lot of the GMs are now. They’re not scared of failing. That helped me. I don’t know that I would have had that same motivation to make moves if Paul hadn’t instilled that. He said you got to get us in the middle of every deal, and we can always back out at the end. So, I did just that when I went to New Orleans. We changed our roster in, gosh, probably two months’ time.
During our first two months on the job, the roster changed so dramatically. We kind of were able to instill our own culture. To be honest with you, this was a little before the cap being what it is, and they had cap space. We were able to use that by identifying some young ascending talent around the league. So, it really worked out timing-wise for us. Obviously, we hit on some players that fit our schemes. Jim Hazlitt was our coach, and that same year, you mentioned the Executive of the Year Award, he was named the Coach of the Year. It was a pretty good combination for us.
With the reemergence of the XFL and the USFL, would you have any interest in joining one of those organizations and getting back into professional football?
You know, it’s funny you asked because I think when you do what we do for a living, and that’s really more than any evaluator, you’re a team builder. Those kinds of leagues are awesome because I’ve done it before. You get to build a team from scratch. That never happens in the NFL. When you take over an NFL franchise, you’re always dealing with things you can’t change, and maybe you get to turn over a third of the roster. But in these spring leagues, these new professional leagues, you build a team from scratch, and I absolutely love the process.
So yes, I would do that. I am probably more interested in something like that with the right people than I would be going busting my head against the wall for 365 days a year in the NFL as I did for 30 some years. So that process of building from scratch is really fun and it’s exhilarating. That’s a great tool to have in your back pocket – having done that, and I’ve enjoyed it in the past.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I think it’s hard because when you’re younger, you really can’t do this, but one thing I would do differently now is, and you’ll find this, the older you get, you really can be more demanding of people around you. You can hold them more accountable. I really learned that from Nick Saban during my time with him at Miami. You have to make everybody else better at their job. You can’t do that by doing everything yourself. So, even though you can delegate, which I think I was okay at, I probably wasn’t as demanding as I could have been.
I would demand and get more out of people around me. I had a lot of good people work for me, but I think they could have even been better if I had, and it’s not my personality. I would definitely find a way to hold them accountable and get the most out of them. I think that’s the hard thing for young people because they really don’t have a bunch of skins on the wall, right? It’s hard for them to be hard on anybody. In this case, somebody with my experience and who had been around a while could have been harder on people in a good way, if that makes any sense.
If you could invite any three people in history to dinner, who would they be, and why?
My hero growing up was Tom Landry – the coach of the Cowboys. He would definitely be at that dinner table. I would love to pick his brain. I had a chance to be around him a couple times when I was really young. I loved his demeanor. I loved his personality, the way he handled things: that even-keel personality. I tried to pattern my life after that. He would definitely be one of them.
From a world-changing standpoint, I was lucky because I spent many Sundays between Paul Allen and Bill Gates watching football. That would be pretty good for most people. I used to kid myself all the time. I could tell my buddies back in logging town, Idaho, about this, but I don’t think they’d understand it. These two guys changed the world, right? I had him both on my shoulder for many Sundays, asking me questions. So that’s crazy. I would definitely include them in the mix. Obviously, really smart people, really world-changing people. I think they would be awesome to include in that.
To be honest with you, I would include a guy like Bill Clinton, who I have respect for as a world leader. He was one that has people skills that I think relate to all of us no matter what industry we’re in. I think we could draw a pretty good force amount of that group.
Thank you to Randy Mueller for participating in this interview, check out more of our Friday Five interviews, here.