A Look at College ‘Scouting’ Positions

This week, ITL’s Danny Shimon compiled a list of the Directors of Player Personnel or Directors of Football Operations at all FBS schools. We’ve never compiled such a list before. We did this because, most often, these are the coaches that are working with scouts when they come through, and usually the point men for coordinating pro days. In other words, these are valuable positions for young men aiming to build a network of NFL contacts that they can parlay into a job in the league.

We did this as a service to the scouts and agents who are ITL clients, of course, but also to take a look at the people who fill these positions. How do they get there? Where did they come from? What are their credentials?

Here are a few observations.

  • We counted only eight former NFL scouts holding these jobs. They are Bobby Merritt (Houston), James Kirkland (Illinois), Marcus Hendrickson (Minnesota), Matt Lindsey (South Carolina), Dave Boller (Louisville), Bob Welton (Tennessee), Dennis Polian (Texas A&M) and Bill Rees (Wake Forest). Paul Skansi also held a voluntary personnel role with the University of Washington this season, but he was recently hired by the Redskins.
  • This number is relatively, low which is surprising because as teams build out their staffs with more personnel and recruiting specialists, there’s a perception that dozens of NFL professionals have filled those roles as they wait to get back into the league. Not so.
  • Though we don’t have hard numbers, these jobs are held mostly by people under 40. There are no ex-head coaches holding these positions and no ex-NFL executives. It’s mostly area scouts in these roles.
  • Most of these positions require plenty of non-personnel duties like helping with administration, recruiting, and even fundraising. So former scouts looking to grab these jobs need to know it’s not as simple as serving as a team’s advance scout and watching film on next Saturday’s opponent, or catching up with old friends as they cycle through the team offices.
  • Unlike a lot of positions in college and pro football, these seem to be legitimate jobs that require total effort. One thing you don’t see much of in this list is last names that are common with the head coach or some other prominent football name. People in these positions have to have game. They gotta be locked in and hard-working.
  • Reading the bios, many have traveled with the head coach to multiple stops, indicating that they’ve proven themselves. Again, these aren’t blow-off jobs. They may not have the glamor of other positions, but people who don’t perform aren’t kept around.
  • These positions do seem to be populated by those who worked their way up. In other words, they worked in the football office as an undergrad, then took some low-paying job/volunteer position before landing in personnel.

We get dozens of questions about how to land NFL jobs. Well, before you land that NFL scouting assistant position, you might have to land a college job. Hopefully, you can find something in the above points that gives you a little guidance.

Taking A Look At Four More Renovated Front Offices

Last week, we took a look at five teams and their front office moves, making a few observations about how they’ve addressed their vacancies. This week, we look at four more teams after another busy week in the scouting world.

I should start by saying that most teams that made changes this late — it’s pretty unusual to be making front office moves after BLESTO and National have met — stayed in-house and elevated scouting assistants into key roles.

Eagles: In a series of moves that were formally announced today (but most of which we’ve already put out there via our Twitter), V.P. of Player Personnel Joe Douglas simultaneously put his own stamp on the Eagles’ front office (bringing in confidantes and former co-workers in T.J. McCreight and Ian Cunningham) and also rewarding some talented people (former Colts scout Brandon Brown and Philadelphia’s own Trey Brown, who aren’t related, incidentally). This is a very good-looking front office, at least on paper, in my estimation.

Rams: Los Angeles made a tremendous amount of moves this offseason, on both the pro side and college side, but it looks like the team is going to a more centralized evaluation philosophy. The team is moving up two scouting assistants into area scout roles, which isn’t especially unusual except that the team has seen longtime national scout Lawrence McCutcheon retire and four seasoned road scouts exit the building in the last year. Usually when a team sends a lot of first-timers out on the road, they’re looking for information-gathering rather than opinion. That strategy has become a lot more popular the last few years given the Patriots’ use of that approach.

Redskins: The ‘Skins moved a lot of people around and handed out new titles, but opted not to hire a new GM to replace Scot McCloughan. The team elevated a scouting assistant to fill one of its area scout vacancies, and also brought in former Chargers scout Paul Skansi. It looks like a good mix of youth and experience to round out their staff. Though the team lacks a GM, it looks like team president Bruce Allen carries the iron in the front office right now.

Vikings: Minnesota didn’t make a lot of moves. In fact, they made one — they brought in former Rams area scout Sean Gustus to replace Terrance Gray, who left for Buffalo. Sean did a little work for ITL over draft weekend, and I’m really happy his time ‘off’ was short. At any rate, the Vikings haven’t had to make a lot of major moves over the last few years, and usually, that’s a good thing. Stability tends to be a good thing for scouting departments.

Believe it or not, there are still a few pieces still yet to fall into place. We’ll be back with more observations and insights as the last moves take place across the league.

A Look at Five Teams That Made Major Front Office Moves

It’s mid-June, which means — usually — that teams have pretty much set the course for their scouting departments for the next draft. We’ve been waiting on a few teams (Eagles, Rams, Redskins, Jets mainly) to make official pronouncements and finalize things, but we’ll move forward without them for now.

What follows is our take on the changes several teams have made in the past month-plus, what and who we like, and where we see things going for each of them.

  • 49ers: It’s hard to know what to make of the Niners right now, with new GM John Lynch a total wildcard. What they have going for them is that they have ex-Lions GM Martin Mayhew around to help steer him; new V.P. of Player Personnel Adam Peters in from the Broncos, who’ve done a pretty good job in recent years; and most of the core staff of scouts that has done a mighty fine (and underrated) job of late.
  • Bills: I like the amount of talent Buffalo accumulated for its front office, with several annual candidates for GM jobs across the league. But that’s also the problem: with that many up-and-comers, the scouting department might be a little top-heavy.
  • Browns: Speaking of top-heavy, the Browns, despite presumably heading down an analytics-laden path, have eight (8!) people with either ‘director’ or ‘Vice President’ in their title, and that doesn’t even include the team’s de facto GM, Sashi Brown (Executive V.P., Football Operations) and Paul DePodesta (Chief Strategy Officer). There are also 13 scouts (thought at least two listed are no longer with the team) and eight ‘scouting assistants’ (and by the way, the Browns are known to be interviewing others). Despite the multiple layers of management and evaluators, I’ve spoken to several scouts who say they’re really impressed by the Browns’ draft this year.
  • Colts: I’d have to say Indianapolis has been the runaway winner this offseason. New GM Chris Ballard has a great resume and great energy, and I think he’s made some great moves so far. Not only do the Colts have some great new people in the front office, but they also have a clear chain of command, and maybe the move I like most is their hire of Player Personnel Strategist Brian Decker. More and more, it seems to me that diagnosing how a player handles when he’s drafted, and how he reacts to making big money, is mega-critical to the process.
  • Titans: I have to admit that the changes Tennessee made caught me off guard. After a few bumpy years, the team seems to have built a talented core and is on the way up. With that said, the area scouts the team has added (Mike Boni and Tom Roth) have been universally applauded by all the scouts I’ve spoken to. 

That’s all for now. Hopefully in a week a few more loose ends will be tied up and we can look at five more teams’ moves.

Ask The Scouts: Are Draft Sleepers A Thing Of The Past?

I think one of the biggest reasons that Draft Twitter has exploded, and why the NFL draft remains as popular as ever, is because everyone wants to say, ‘I liked that guy that nobody knew about,’ or ‘everyone said that guy stunk, but I knew he’d be a big star.’

That’s all well and good, but does that still happen in the NFL? In the digital age, when everything is online, and when two major scouting services (National and BLESTO) pin their professional existence on leaving no stone unturned, is it still possible to find a lockdown corner at a tryout, as the Patriots did with Malcolm Butler (his story is still probably my best and favorite blog post)? Is it still possible that a senior who winds up as a Top 10 draft pick could have been completely overlooked by both scouting services, as Lions DE Ziggy Ansah was in the 2013 draft?

By now, if you’re reading this, you know I love to discuss the craft of scouting with people in the business. I asked several friends this question: Would you say that today, in the digital age with so much information out there, that true ‘sleepers’ still exist? Are there still players with some ability that no one, or very few teams, know about?

Here are three responses from those in the ‘yes’ camp:

  • “Sleepers are fewer and farther between but they definitely still exist! It’s hard to keep anything secret in this league but there are prospects that still end up off the radar due to circumstances: running slow, playing at a small college, multiple transfers, etc. For example, (Patriots DC) Malcolm Butler, Oakland’s punter (Marquette King out of Fort Valley State). Then there are the rare cases where they are better pros than they were in college, i.e. (recent Jaguars free agent signee) A.J. Bouye. (Sometimes it’s) luck, but luck favors the prepared.”
  • “As long as humans are doing the grading then there will be human mistakes and triumphs. No doubt! A true scout knows talent when he sees it regardless of what the numbers say. The ‘guy feel’ still is a noteworthy scouting tool!!”
  • “Hell yeah! All the undrafted players who make a 53 every season vs. the drafted players who go to (the practice squad) or (who are) cut are proof!!! (It’s) all about the great area scouts!”
  • “Sleepers pop up when young combine scouts don’t put size, speed and production players from small schools on the list! They don’t believe their eyes because of the quality of football. Example: DT from Albany State (Colts pick Grover Stewart) that popped up late in the year and went in the fourth round. Listen loud, talk soft and see with open mind and clarity comes!”

There were plenty of scouts that were of the ‘no’ opinion, and for many different reasons. We continue this discussion with professional evaluators in our Friday Wrap, which comes out this afternoon. Read the thoughts and analysis of several more NFL scouts who feel it’s harder to find a sleeper than ever — and maybe impossible — in our Friday Wrap. It’s free, it comes out every Friday afternoon, and you’ll be glad you read it. Register for it here.

Ask The Scouts: Is Scouting Harder Today Than 10 Years Ago?

One of the best things about working with people in the game is that you get to ask them questions that demystify one of the most intriguing jobs in the game of football, at least in my opinion. When you ask about things that go a lot deeper than the superficial questions normally asked by members of the sports media, you can get some interesting answers.

This week, with the scouting carousel slowing down and scouts mostly getting back into their normal routine and either returning from the BLESTO meetings or readying to go to National Football Scouting’s meetings next week, we asked several scouts this question:

Do you think it’s harder (more schools to cover, entitled players, troublesome agents, greater media involvement) or easier (digital age, easier communications, better medical data, pro days more efficient) to be a scout than it was 10 years ago?

About a dozen scouts, some on the area level and some higher-ups, responded. We’ve included the respondents of the ‘scouting is easier today’ opinion in today’s post. They’re below.

  • “I wouldn’t say it is easier or harder, but it is different. Fans are more knowledgeable about the process and media coverage is more intense, but instant access to video, social media, and more advanced draft studies are among the changes for the better.”
  • “Easier mostly due to video – VHS tapes, then DVDs, now all digital. We’d have to wait for tapes or DVDs from NFL video, then team video, always late.  Now we can access any game the next week, all on a (Microsoft) Surface. Also, background info on Internet is easier.”
  • “Digital age made it easy to watch the game tape and write reports, but you still have to watch the tape and write the reports to have a great draft!”
  • “Tough to say, but I would (say) it was harder travel-wise 10 years ago because I’m sure there was less communication, marginal GPS services and specified roles in colleges.”
  • “Easier because the Internet allows you to get background info or stats instantly.  That can also be a negative if you have lazy scouts. Fifteen years ago, a scout would actually have to make a school visit to watch film. Now you get it on your iPad or computer immediately.”

Equally interesting, if you’re like me (and if you read this, you probably are), were the responses of those who said it’s harder now than it used to be. We’ve included those responses in our weekly email newsletter, the Friday Wrap.

If you don’t already receive it, join the 4,000 scouts, agents, financial advisors, trainers, coaches, parents of players, active NFL players, draft prospects, former players and others across the football business who do. It comes out late afternoon/early evening every Friday. It’s free, and I promise, you won’t be sorry. Click here to register.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend, and don’t forget why we celebrate it.

 

 

So You Want To Be A Scouting Assistant

I’ve spent the last week working with several ITL clients who are trying to break into the league as scouting assistants and interns. After listening to the progress they’re making and the obstacles they’re seeing, I’ve come to several realizations about the process, and what teams are seeking. Here are a few thoughts.

  • Every team is different: I need to start with this disclaimer. Some teams are looking for young people to do things around the office, gather information, file things, take calls, make copies, and the kind of grunt work that all interns do everywhere, but with a football spin to it. On the other hand, some teams’ scouting assistants spend a lot of time picking up dry cleaning, making airport runs or running other errands that have no football peg whatsoever. In fact, if you listed their day-to-day chores, you might not even know they work for NFL teams. I know one of my best scouting assistant candidates interviewed with a team this week that told him, “you need to go straight to area scout.” They weren’t prepared for his level of preparation and professionalism, and in fact, that’s why he didn’t get hired.
  • If you’re over 27, forget about scouting: I had a long exchange with a good friend who aspires to work for an NFL team last week. He’s spent a lot of time and money getting as qualified to be an NFL scout as possible, but he’s well into his 30s. I felt I had to break it to him that scouting assistants don’t get hired when they leave their 20s. I certainly don’t say this to crush your spirits if you’re 30-plus, but teams are looking for young, cheap people they can mold. Unless you’re coming out of a lengthy playing career for a team, they’re not going to invest in you if you’re on the wrong side of 30.
  • It’s not always about scouting: Teams don’t even want you to think of yourself as a scout when you enter the building. In fact, I think most teams want their interns and scouting assistants to be blank slates: completely formless and willing to do anything. In many cases, football is something scouting assistants almost do in their free time. If you’ve already begun to develop a scouting eye, this is almost a detriment, because most teams want to teach you and monitor your progress rather than having to unwind bad habits you might have already learned. This is why I’m starting to believe earning accreditations and taking scouting-related classes is a bad idea. The NFL just isn’t ready for this yet. When you have thousands of people to choose from, you just want cheap labor. You don’t want quasi-professionals. This is an important point, and this is why the best route to the NFL still goes through college recruiting and personnel offices.
  • Don’t apply online to sports job services: A few services have developed that aggregate sports jobs online and allow subscribers to apply en masse. Here’s one. I don’t know how other leagues work, but in the NFL, this is not how scouting assistants are hired. In fact, if your best shot at getting a scouting job is applying through some similar link, you should buy a lottery ticket the same day you send in your resume, because the odds of success are the same.
  • Forget about Draft Twitter: If you think that you can pad your credentials for an NFL job by becoming a Twitter scout, think again. Yes, Daniel Jeremiah rode his Twitter account to a place on the NFL Network, and several other ex-NFL scouts have had varying levels of success with Twitter, but the key is they had already been in the league. No NFL team is reading Twitter takes and saying, ‘we gotta have that guy.’

As always, I don’t dispense these thoughts to destroy peoples’ dreams, and God knows  there are exceptions to all these rules. Still, having heard stories and seen hiring in action, these conclusions were inescapable. I hope they help.

Creating Opportunities

If you’ve read our posts this week, you know we’re not real high on services that sell scouting or agent classes. While they may provide excellent know-how on the business, that’s not what gets you hired. In the end, your success in finding a job will turn on your ability to create opportunities.

That’s why, Wednesday morning while I was at the gym, it was so satisfying to get this text from a friend with an AFC team: “Hey Neil do you have any potential interns trying to break in?” Of course I do, I told him. As soon as I got home, I sent him eight candidates. By noon Wednesday, a couple told me they had already heard from the team. I wished them luck, of course. The trick is matching good opportunities with good people. I’ve got another friend who’s requested a list of former NFL scouts who are on the street now, and their contact info. I got that to him last night.

These kinds of requests are great, but don’t come in very often. That’s why we tell our clients who are scouting hopefuls that we can provide them with tools, but no guarantees. It’s great when someone asks us for names, but in the end, we try to help them create their own opportunities.

Here’s what we give our Next Wave clients (aspiring members of the football business, who get a one-year subscription at an 80 percent discount, $70). We help them contact the teams they need to contact, and we work one on one with them, where possible, so they know where the opportunities are. One way we do that is by compiling all the openings in our Scouting Changes Grid. Of course, we also expand on everything we hear (in ways you can’t do in a Twitter format) in our Rep Rumblings. We don’t put a lot on Twitter except hirings and firings. Buzz, rumors, speculation, analysis, what we think — all in Rep Rumblings. If you’d like to join our ranks, click here. If you’ve got questions, email us.

Still, even when we’re helping, and even with the resources we provide, there are things that enhance your odds of success. Like getting to know ex-NFL types, befriending them, working hard for them, and getting them on your side. Ex-NFL people tend to know still-active NFL people, and if you treat them right, they go to bat for you. The best way to do that is by working for a school in their personnel department, but you can get creative and find other places to volunteer.

Also, living in an NFL market is an incredible advantage. Take Houston, for example. If you’re here, you not only have a chance to find ways to volunteer for the Texans, but you could easily drive to two other markets (Dallas and New Orleans) if opportunities arose there. Teams don’t pay for people to come interview. We also had a Super Bowl last year, which had endless opportunities to pitch in and maybe catch someone’s eye.

At the end of the day, it’s all about hustle. Don’t forget about that. The odds of getting a job in scouting might not be in your favor, but if you create enough opportunities, good things will happen.

The Fine Line

On Monday, I discussed the things you can do (and the things not worth doing) that may help you land a job in scouting. One of the points I made was that somehow, some way, you’ve got to get in front of scouts or you’re probably dead in the water. You might have interpreted that to mean that you need to do some big-time butt-kissing if you happen to so much as share an elevator with a scout. Not so.

I was able to get one of my scout prospects on the phone with a friend who scouts for an AFC team a couple years ago. This prospect, who had been an ITL intern and had done a smashing job, was top-notch. The best. I felt like he would knock the scout’s socks off, but it didn’t happen.

My friend the scout said the young man had been a little too educated, and maybe had  been a little too polished. Maybe my protege had tried to come across as too NFL-ready when what he should have done was promote his whatever-it-takes attitude and all-out work ethic. I wasn’t around for the interview, but it’s possible he played up his pedigree at one of the finer academic institutions in the country when he should have come across as more salt-of-the-earth.

Another time, I recommended a candidate to a friend in the business and this time, the prospect totally killed it. He didn’t get the job, but it wasn’t because my friend didn’t try. He passed him along, and though the young man didn’t get the job, he was in the running. I’m confident he’ll land something soon. I think he interviewed better simply because he had more experience related to the business, i.e., he had worked in the recruiting/personnel office for a major Big Ten school, and had been to several all-star games, where he’d networked until he collapsed.

There’s one more aspiring scout I’ve worked with, and this one I’ll name. He’s Mike Jasinski, and he works in personnel at Northwestern. I met him through friends and he was one of three aspiring scouts I brought to Bedford, Texas, for last year’s College Gridiron Showcase. He did great, and I think he’ll get an opportunity very soon. I think going to the CGS was a benefit for him, but he’s pretty much played it perfectly, working in a major school’s personnel department, building great relationships with NFL folks, and parlaying it perfectly. I think his personality has been great. He’s professional and deferential without kissing up. He’s confident without being a know-it-all.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s not just about getting the opportunities, but how you handle yourself when you get them. I think most teams are looking for competent young people who are football-savvy, but still blank slates. They want someone who will be comfortable around football people but not entitled. Keep this in mind as you gather chances to state your case.

Want to be an NFL Scout? Here Are A Few Tips

Whenever someone asks me how to get a job in scouting, I tell them this story.

A few years ago, I was trying to figure out how to develop and market a program for budding NFL scouts. So I reached out to a friend (who would go on to be hired as a GM soon thereafter), and asked him, “So how does someone get a job in scouting?” His response: “Why? You got a guy?”

Here’s another quick story. Another friend in the business was in charge of hiring a scouting assistant for an NFL team a couple years ago, and I asked if I could recommend a couple candidates. “Well, OK, but I only want people who really fought their way up, paid their dues, and know what it’s like to really grind. I want someone who came up just like me.”

And there you have it: the two routes to becoming a scout. Either you start young and pour all your blood, sweat and tears into landing a personnel job and don’t stop until you get there, or you “know a guy.” It also helps if you’re the son of the owner or head coach.

This is why I don’t believe you can take a class to be an agent, or a scout, or a coach, or nearly anything else. No degree, certificate or other validation is going to get you a job in the game. It’s a people business. It’s only going to happen based on the relationships you build, how many opportunities you create for yourself, and the sacrifices you’re willing to make.

So how do you get opportunities? You have to get in front of scouts. If you’re working for an FBS school already, you simply have to build bridges with scouts when they come through. You need to make sure you’re the pro liaison, or work with the pro liaison, or find a way to interface with scouts. If nothing else, be there when they sign in for pro day. Here’s another tip — when you meet someone, write a handwritten note to them via the team (or the address on their biz card if you get one) and thank them for the meeting. You’ve got to make an impression and you’ve got to prove yourself capable.

But let’s say you don’t work for a school. Maybe you have a job and a family. If that’s the case, find a way to help with football activities. The best way to do that, and to make scouting contacts, is to volunteer for all-star games. The Senior Bowl is the best, and probably hardest to volunteer with. The Shrine Game is the No. 2 game, and has a pretty hardened group of volunteers with lengthy EWS service time. The NFLPA Bowl likes to do things a certain way and is a little exclusive. Then there’s the College Gridiron Showcase, the game played in the Dallas area that I advise. All four games are always looking for good helpers, but I think the CGS offers real opportunities, for several reasons that I’ll go into later.

I’ll talk more about how to create opportunities later this week. In the meantime, be on the lookout for ways to meet key people in the business. At the end of the day, that’s the best way to make connections that can lead you to your dreams.

The Bloodbath and the Aftermath

If you follow ITL on Twitter, you know it’s been an incredible week for transition in NFL scouting departments, and not in a good way.

It began Sunday morning when 17 Bills scouts, both pro and college, woke up to find that not only were they let go, but their key cards didn’t open doors, their email addresses didn’t work, and they’d been wiped off the Website. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen an entire department (save for two scouting assistants) completely wiped out in one move. But that was just the warmup. From Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon, we reported 11 scouts and evaluators from seven different teams that had lost their jobs. Several of them are good friends of mine, and friends of friends. I remember texting scouts and their responses were full of shock and grief. It was an incredibly difficult day.

So why did it happen? Why was it such a brutal week? I don’t know, but here are some possible ideas.

Belt-tightening: As everyone who follows NFL football knows, TV ratings were off by 10 percent this year. This doesn’t mean teams lost money in 2016, of course — not by a long shot — but it could have given the teams’ bean-counters a reason to recommend cutting expenses. One fact of life in the NFL is that scouts are probably the least respected football people in the building. The players, obviously, get the lion’s share of the money, and the coaches do pretty well, too. However, scouts are on an entirely different plain. If you aspire to be a scout one day, you need to understand that reality.

Analytics: It’s possible 2017 is the true ‘dawn’ of the age of analytics in football. I’m not sure why that would be, as the Browns’ move to go all-in for metrics hasn’t exactly resulted in success. On the other hand, Cleveland has done it, and for better or worse, the critics have pulled back to see if it works or not. Some teams could see this as their opportunity to lean on the younger, cheaper analytics experts in their offices rather than the 20-year area scout in his 50s. As with other big businesses, a lot of what NFL teams do is influenced by what kind of media blowback they risk.

No template: Because scouting is such a mysterious, subjective business practiced by a select few, and because football is so cyclical, no one can point to one strict way of doing things and pronounce, ‘this is how it’s done.’ Even the really good teams blow it with their first-rounders every once in a while. This allows teams to make moves that don’t seem to make sense to people in the business. Fans and outsiders just shrug their shoulders and presume that it all makes sense somehow.

Disposability: Scouts are not celebrities. There is no union for NFL scouts. By their nature, they work in anonymity. Fans don’t know them. This means that when a scout is let go, it doesn’t make big headlines. Sometimes, a team just removes the scout’s name from its Website and never even makes an announcement. What’s more, there’s always a scouting assistant waiting for someone to retire, get fired, etc. In general, I just don’t see value attached to the experience and network a seasoned scout has.

Though Black Monday is behind us, we’re a long way from seeing all the changes in scouting departments that come in May. Time will tell if there’s even more transition next week. In the meantime, if being a scout is what you aspire to, please proceed with caution.