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