I remember one of my first pro days. It was at Texas A&M, probably sometime in the early 00s. This was during the Slocum era, before the school had built its luxurious athletic complex, and it was held in the weight room. Yes, they even ran 40s there, right between the benches and the squat racks.
The strength coach, while eyeing me the whole time and suspecting I was an agent, never threw me out. But then again, it was a pretty intimate affair — no crowds, no pushing to see the players, no cameras. It was me, about a half-dozen scouts, and 6-7 players. Those were the days. You could get some work done in relative peace.
Those days are gone. Even at the smallest schools and the coziest venues, it’s way different running a pro day in 2018. Here are a few things scouts have to deal with now that just a few years ago were unheard of.
Families: I was watching a sitcom last week, and the opening scene involves a man going to meet a potential investor in a big, fancy office, and he has his kid with him (he couldn’t find a babysitter). It was done for a laugh on television, yet every pro day you go to today involves extended families showing up, and yes, that often involves little kids. At the very least, a young man’s parents are there, and at the bigger schools, they’re allowed to bring about anyone they want, within reason. But that’s even true at the smaller schools these days.
I was at Prairie View A&M last week, and crowded into a big room waiting for the players to work out were several men that looked like players’ dads to me (which is to be expected) but also moms, brothers and sisters, and yes, girlfriends and kids. That not only makes scouts’ jobs harder, but also the pro liaison on staff at the school who now has dozens of people he has to manage. Here’s another thing: many of the parents come dressed up, wearing long dresses and ties. Others will show up wearing themed shirts. I don’t mean to minimize the event, and I respect that this is a big day and they want to look their best, but geez, that has no impact on a scout. Having generations of families there just tends to slow things down.
Media: As recently as 10 years ago, most people in the media didn’t know what a pro day was, or at least, acted like they didn’t. These days, a scout has to often weave his way through writers and dodge cameras simply to get heights, weights and times. What also cracks me up is how so often reporters try to ask scouts about specific players and their draft chances. Come on, man. This is proprietary information. You think a lowly area scout will risk his job to give you a few comments for your story? I totally recognize that members of the media have a job to do, but it’s asking a lot to expect scouts to give up morsels during a pro day so a writer has something to toss onto Twitter. I asked one scout last week at Texas A&M if he’d be at Texas the following day. His response? He was headed to another state entirely, presumably by air, but I wouldn’t rule out his driving it. The point is, most scouts have a plane to catch afterward or another pro day to drive to. They just want to get their jobs done and move on.
Greater and greater numbers: Again, I think that it wasn’t long ago (maybe a decade) when players realized that playing in the NFL was for the privileged few. The seniors got workouts, and there might be a handful of players from smaller schools that worked out, but these kids were highly decorated, all-conference types. Now, the drill is that if a kid isn’t signed by an agent, he calls around until he finds one. There are always agents willing to sign a small-school kid, hoping they get lucky, as long as there are no costs involved. The kid then expects the agent to call around and try to get him into a pro day. Sometimes, a big school relents, though most of the time, these kids are just not NFL material. I’ve seen the looks on the faces of scouts that show up at some of these workouts, hoping to see a half-dozen kids, but seeing 10-15, and knowing that their 90 minutes of work just turned into three hours, and they’re hoping to get home before 9 p.m. that night. Fat chance.