, ,

This time of year is tough because I spend a lot of time consoling agents and parents of players. It’s a pretty desperate time.

Most often, the question is, ‘why didn’t my client (or my son) get signed or drafted? He got so much attention from teams and we thought there was genuine interest. Now, nothing.’ Though I’ve been hearing this for about 10 years now, I don’t have an answer. The best I can do is shake my fist (figuratively) at the teams and their scouts and do my best to reassure them. It rarely works.

This week, however, I got to play scout. In a sense.

As I’ve discussed in this space before, I’m one of six partners in a search firm based here in Texas. We work pretty much exclusively with high schools (we’ve done one college), filling mainly head coach and athletic director vacancies. This week we conducted interviews for a highly successful and rather storied school district. We sat down to evaluate 13 men and women for an hour each over two days.

Sometimes when we conduct interviews it’s pretty simple to figure out who the best candidates are, but not this time. The way the schedule was set up, we thought the ones we’d like best would be the ones we’d meet on Wednesday, but it didn’t work out that way. In fact, at the end of Day 1, we felt like we already had five candidates we could take to the superintendent. I felt a little unsettled when we finished up on Tuesday. Who would we cut? I half-hoped the candidates on Wednesday would be busts, disappointments. I was so upset by things that I woke up at 3 a.m. that morning. I was reluctant to ‘root against’ anyone, but I also didn’t know what we’d do if all our candidates measured up Wednesday.

Naturally, the folks we brought in Wednesday were very good. Each was qualified and knowledgeable, with no surprises or disappointments. The ones we expected to like, we did like, only we liked others, too. As I drove home last night, for the first time in the six or seven years I’ve worked with Champions, I didn’t call the preferred candidates on the way home. I still had no idea who we’d choose.

It was during those four hours on the road that I called Jim Hess, one of my partners with Champions and a former NFL scout with the Cowboys. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s almost like we could throw darts at the wall. They’re all pretty good.”

It was at that point that I realized I was experiencing what scouts experience, just on a much smaller scale.

Once you get past maybe the fourth round, the difference between players gets a little tricky. Once you get past the seventh round, the difference is almost indistinguishable. Once you get past the undrafted free agent signees and start to look at who should be brought in for tryouts, it’s almost impossible.

We know that there is a difference between these players, of course. Every season, undrafted free agents make a significant impact on the game. But those players made it all the way through the draft with 32 teams’ scouts passing on them. Figuring out what separates the impact players from the others is something few, or no, teams can do consistently.

And that’s the dilemma. Though I get frustrated when my clients’ people get passed over by teams, I can’t say I don’t understand why it happens. But that’s little comfort, to them or to me.