C’mon. Rick Wagoner as a latter-day Vince Lombardi?

That may seem a mighty stretch, but not to David E. Cole, founder and ongoing Lombardisque leader of the Traverse City Management Briefing Seminars.

Cornered in a hallway at the Grand Traverse Resort, Mr. Cole says General Motors Corp. President and CEO G. Richard Wagoner Jr. is becoming “a fabulous coach” now that he has lassoed former Chrysler Corp. Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz to lead GM’s charge to regain design respectability.

The Lutz coup is the second bold step Mr. Wagoner has taken recently by going outside GM for top talent. Earlier this year he recruited John M. Devine, retired Ford Motor Co. finance guru, to join GM as vice chairman and chief financial officer – this for a company traditionally steeped in bean-counter talent. (Mssrs. Lutz and Devine, incidentally, worked together back in the ‘80s at Ford).

“Rick understands what’s needed to build a team,” says Mr. Cole. “He doesn’t seek credit and he doesn’t threaten people; he thinks like a good coach. Vince Lombardi stressed fundamentals like blocking tackling, and then got stars like (quarterback) Bart Starr out on the field to execute.”

Mr. Wagoner has concentrated on reducing GM’s manufacturing costs and upgrading its vehicle technology – the fundamentals – over the last five years or so, Mr. Cole points out. Now he has snatched Bob Lutz from the sidelines to score some points on the design side. “The timing is right; GM has a lot of new stuff coming,” says Mr. Cole. “Clearly you’re going to see Lutz’s imprint on design fairly quickly.”o