Pro Scouting Director of the Year

Reggie McKenzie (AP/Jim Biever, Packers)

Professional scouting directors have the primary responsibility for talent evaluation efforts and results. Former pro scout Tom Marino points out who he believes are the top four from each conference, along with his picks for AFC and NFC Pro Scouting Director of the Year.

The position of professional scouting director in the National Football League is a relatively new position established when the great George Halas and his then vice president of player personnel, Bobby Walston, appointed former linebacker coach Ed "Catfoot" Cody to the position in 1972. 

The naming of Cody to the position didn't create much of a ripple in scouting or media circles, nor did the appointment of his first assistant, a little-known, wet-behind-the-ears scout from Boston by the name of Tom Marino.  

I would have to say, we didn't set the standard which all clubs today use as a model, but we did introduce a color system for ranking players, compiled pro football's first emergency or "May Day" notebook, did daily in-season roster and depth chart updates, and I personally was given the opportunity to develop a specific scouting form for evaluating punters. Obviously, modern technology and increased manpower has greatly increased the efficiency of today's pro directors, but I'm still very proud of the fact that all of the aforementioned evaluation aids are still currently employed by individual clubs in some form today.  

Over the past four decades, with unrestricted free agency and a salary structure that has escalated an amazing three-thousand percent leading the way, there have been many significant changes to the professional game which have transformed the position of pro scouting director from one of minimal importance to that of a major factor in the success of any winning football club.

That being said, while most pro scouting departments have grown to include two or more assistants, amazingly five member clubs have no professional scouting director, and for the most part depend on an independent service with a questionable track record. Case in point, in 2003 the Rams traded underachieving former number one selection Trung Candidate to the Washington Redskins in exchange for David Loverne, an offensive linemen originally drafted by the NY Jets in 1999.  Sounded like a great deal to me, particularly when the service rated the journeyman career backup at the time of the trade higher then it did Orlando Pace, quite possibly the greatest left tackle to ever play the game! 

Before we discuss the candidates for consideration for NFC and AFC pro scouting director of the year, let me take this opportunity to extend my best to Jim Stanley, the Arizona Cardinals pro director for the past twelve seasons, who announced his retirement effective on the first of June.  I had the privilege to work with Jim back in 1979 when he coached the defensive line with the NY Giants and four years later watched him lead the Michigan Panthers to the first USFL title. A former three-year starter at Texas A&M at offensive guard and defensive tackle for the legendary Paul Bear Bryant, Stanley was also one of the most successful head coaches in Oklahoma State history.  A great football man, he will be greatly missed.

Unlike the college scout ranking, I have selected eight highly qualified individuals from the twenty-eight league directors for NFC and AFC "Pro Scouting Director of The Year" — and their backgrounds are as different and diverse as the flavors of ice cream served at Baskin-Robbins.

My picks for the top directors in the AFC are as follows:

Steve Sabo

Cleveland

Ray Farmer

Kansas City

Lake Dawson

Tennessee

Clyde Powers

Indianapolis

And, in my opinion, the top four pro directors in the NFC are:

Bobby DePaul

Chicago

Reggie McKenzie

Green Bay

Tom Gamble

San Francisco

Sheldon White

Detroit


Browns head coach Romeo Crennel and Steve Sabo.
AP Photo/Mark Duncan

In the AFC, Browns pro director Steve Sabo is a young man for whom I have a great deal of admiration.  I first met him back in 1994 when he joined the Saints as an in-house scouting assistant.  Like McKenzie, Steve didn't say a whole lot, but the one thing that I and the rest of the Saints scouting staff noticed was that when we arrived at the complex for an early morning meeting and left late in the evening, Sabo was watching tape, updating boards, working out players, or working with the coaching and scouting staff.  You just couldn't out work him!  He was to football scouting what Dan Gable was to wrestling or Pete Rose to baseball.

Just prior to his spring workout at one of the secondary indoor gyms at Duke University, I remember asking Ray Farmer about a basketball player at the other end of the gym who had just drained 18 straight shots from beyond the three point line.  Farmer smiled and politely answered, "He's not a player sir, he's the senior manager."

Drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles as a nickel backer in 1996, Ray Farmer could best be described as a class act.  Ray lettered four seasons at Duke as a safety while also starring in baseball. His professional career was brief as was his apprenticeship with the Atlanta Falcons, but more than one personnel scout a round the league has told me that Ray has the knowledge, instincts, work ethic and passion to become a true star in the personnel business in the not too distant future.

Lake Dawson is another developing star who I first viewed as an outstanding senior wide receiver at Notre Dame in 1993.  He was smart, strong, ran good routes, and was a consistent playmaker. Unfortunately, he just didn't have the necessary speed to star at the professional level.  After four seasons as a player, Dawson worked for four seasons as a scouting assistant before being named Assistant Director of Professional Scouting.  After serving two seasons in that capacity, Lake became the first person hired by newly appointed Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt. Other than my player evaluation, I personally have never met Lake, but when compiling material for this article, an inordinate number of top personnel people, whose opinions I respect, went out of their way to sing the praises of Lake Dawson -- thus the surprise selection into the final four in the AFC.

Clyde Powers was one of the most celebrated prep athletes in Oklahoma history.  After a stellar career at OU, the fifth-round selection played five seasons in the professional ranks with the NY Giants and Kansas City as a run- stopping safety. I like Clyde for a number of reasons. First, we are relatively the same age. Secondly, he really understands what it takes to win at this level and is, in my opinion, the ultimate team player.  Why Clyde has never been given any real consideration for a GM position within the league is beyond belief. But after four decades in the league, I guess I'm not totally surprised.   

Although I strongly believe that the Bears have adopted a Nero approach to pro scouting (fiddling while Rome burns) over the past two years, make no mistake about it, Bobby DePaul is one of the most astute and qualified individuals in the game today.  A former linebacker at the University of Maryland, DePaul was first hired as an assistant coach under Joe Gibbs before joining the scouting staff of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Reggie McKenzie was an outstanding linebacker at the University of Tennessee before being selected in the tenth round by the then L.A. Raiders.  After a five-year playing career, McKenzie returned to Tennessee to both coach and to work on his master's degree.  Upon the completion of his degree, McKenzie joined the Packers scouting staff, and after three years he was named the team's director of pro personnel, a position he has held for over a decade. Reggie doesn't say a great deal, but is without question one of the most analytical and brightest individuals I have ever come in contact with in all of my years of scouting.

Is it possible that Tommy Gamble is about to enter his 23rd year in player personnel?  The son of Harry Gamble, the former head coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Lafayette University, and later president of the Philadelphia Eagles, the younger Gamble's road to the NFL was distinctly different from all of the other candidate. Instead of delivering passes down the field from under center, Gamble was actually one of the top collegiate pitchers in the East during his four-year career at High Point College.  During his professional career, Gamble has made stops with the Eagles, Jets, Panthers, Ravens and Colts before heading West to join the 49ers in 2003.  A rabid sports fan with a particular passion for minor and independent league baseball, the one thing I can say without hesitation is that Tommy Gamble flat-out knows the game

I can still remember sitting in a team room at Miami (Ohio) along with then Steelers college director Tom Donahoe and asking their pro liaison to comment on the top physical attributes of senior cornerback Sheldon White.  He obviously had had very good size and rare speed (sub 4.4), but the liaison's comment were very introspective. 

"We've had other players on the back end that ran 4.4, but didn't react quickly to what saw," he said. "Sheldon runs 4.4 and thinks 4.4."  

Drafted by the Giants in the third round of the 1988 draft, Sheldon also played for both the Lions and Bengals during his six-year professional career.  One individual in-the-know said, "He's very bright, organized, a diligent worker and has excellent instincts."

All four individuals would be an asset for any pro organization, but I'm going to go with McKenzie and Gamble as my top two in the conference based primarily on their experience and track record.

I feel strongly that all four of the finalists are quality individuals and football scouts, but again, I'm going to go with experience and select Sabo and Powers as my two finalists in the AFC.

It wasn't easy, and I actually would be happy with any of the final four functioning in the role of pro scouting director with any club I was involved with in the NFL. But in the end I went with two of the very finest people and scouts in the game today in Reggie McKenzie and Steve "Mints" Sabo.  Congratulations, guys. Now go out there and find us some football players.

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