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Les Snead on Risk, Decisions, and Football

Mon Jun 05 2023

Econ Talk Podcast Summary


  • The podcast is Econ Talk, Conversations for the Curious, part of the Library of Economics and Liberty.
  • The host is Russ Roberts of Shalem College in Jerusalem and Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
  • Les Snead, general manager of the Los Angeles Rams in the National Football League (NFL), is the guest on this episode.

Decision Making in Sports

  • Les Snead explains that his job as a general manager involves selecting players, coaches, and building a competent collective for the team.
  • His responsibilities vary depending on ownership and calendar year but include partnering with ownership and executive leadership to engineer their vision, listening to everyone's insight to give them an edge, ensuring systems and processes allow people to be experts in specific missions or moments, engineering a culture of specificity, focus, alignment, symbiosis, adaptability, innovation range and courage.

Player Evaluation and Performance

  • The GM and coaching staff evaluate player performance and execution during games.
  • Over the course of the season, some players excel while others do not live up to expectations.
  • The general manager's job is to see the vision and progress of a player, while the coach evaluates how well a player executed their assignments in a particular game.
  • Coaching is more microscopic, while GMing is telescopic.

Winning and Losing in Sports

  • Winning the Super Bowl can be fulfilling, but it can also cause excruciating headaches.
  • Losing the Super Bowl is often treated as a negative experience, but it can also be one of the better moments in a team's sports timeline.
  • Losing the Super Bowl brings more regret than pain.
  • The silver medal is not considered a great achievement in sports, even though it's still an incredible accomplishment.

Evaluating Players and Random Factors

  • Evaluating players involves quantitative information from events like the combine, watching game tape, and interviewing coaches to get a feel for their intangibles.
  • Football skill is a simple calculus formula of talent and tangibles.
  • Intangibles are important in decision-making for football players.
  • Random factors such as injury, emotions, pressure, and money can derail a player's career.

The Experience of Football

  • Football is a brutal sport, especially physically.
  • The unique collaboration of 53 players chasing the same goal makes football popular.
  • Fans don't fully appreciate the violence, pain, suffering, dreaming, teammate camaraderie that professional football players experience.
  • After the game, there's an intense mutual respect between teams because they have been through something together that bonds them.

NFL Draft and Decision Making

  • The speaker discusses the NFL draft and how fans and sportswriters grade it.
  • Coaches make decisions based on factors that fans may not be aware of, such as injuries or matchups.
  • The reasons behind decisions made by coaches are often not public knowledge.
  • During games, there are systems and processes in place to help coaches make decisions, such as analytics and probability.

Personal Experiences and Fandom

  • The hosts discuss their personal experiences with sports fandom.
  • Russ shares a story about avoiding spoilers for the 1980 US hockey team vs. Soviet Union game.

General Managers' Relationships and Future Plans

  • The speaker talks about the camaraderie among general managers in sports.
  • They mention that they do talk to other GMs, but it's a small and competitive club.
  • The speaker confirms that they do tease each other, especially those they are closer to.
  • The speaker thinks about what's next for them besides being a GM and confirms that they do have a list of ideas.