By Juan Lozano | July 29, 2020
We see and think about football a little differently at HCR.
We like to bring attention to people in the football business that may not otherwise receive much of it.
The average fan might know a lot about a team’s quarterback, the head coach and general manager. Fans see the results of their decisions and actions and their very public success or failures.
But we also recognize the contributions of others in the game, whether they are groundkeepers, trainers, equipment people, or other important personnel. They are a vital part of the game and without their contributions, your favorite team can’t get on the field to practice, must less compete in a game.
In this article, we highlight an organization’s college scouts. They are the anonymous contributors to a team’s decision makers.
Members of a team’s rabid fan base would have a hard time naming a team’s college scouts. After all, in many organizations, scout names are not included on a team website.
In a team’s college scouting department, the college scouting director generally is at the top of the organizational pyramid. At the bottom is a college scouting coordinator and a team of assistants and interns. The national and area scouts are right in the middle of that pyramid.
What do they do? And why are they important?
Let’s look at their job.
A scout is assigned a territory and they are expected to evaluate players from schools within the territory during the school’s preseason camp or competitive season. A scout is expected to produce written documentation of their evaluation.
Each organization divvies up territories differently. To visit all the school in their area a scout sometimes has to take a number of planes, trains and automobiles (ok maybe not trains) to go from school to school. It’s a lot of time spent alone in cars and hotel rooms.
The visit provides the basis for the majority of the evaluation. (A good scout usually picks up donuts and brings them in for the staff. While not expected, it is certainly appreciated by coaching staffs. Donuts are the price of admission for entry into building. One former coach known for his eating prowess was known to say “No donuts. No tape.” No one knows for certain but there appeared to be an element of seriousness to his request.)
The player evaluations are based on the conversation that the scout has with team personnel such as the team’s NFL liaison, the strength and conditioning coach, the training staff, and sometimes the head coach. The scout will also watch game film and observe practice. Sometimes the scout has the opportunity to speak with a player.
Some teams require scouts to not only write-up prospects, but all draft eligible players on a roster that fit a team’s physical standards. (Trust us that is not an easy task and you feel bad for the teams that have to do that).
Scouts are not always welcome in the football facility. Some college head coaches place limits on when NFL teams can visit. Other equally paranoid coaches will only let scouts watch “team stretch” and “individual” periods of practice. Others will allow a scout to watch practice, but only with a chaperone and sometimes then only from the stands or from a corner office in a room about fifty yards away from the action. This obviously makes the job harder on the scout. (I was a former liaison at a number of schools and I’ve been a part of all these types of scenarios. The scouts always got their information they needed. I made sure of it.)
National and area scouts are a team’s first interaction with future NFL Talent. The area scout is the first gatekeeper.
The scout’s job might be different for scouts this year and for the foreseeable future. We aren’t sure whether they will be permitted on campus, much less the football offices, or even a game to learn about and evaluate players.
Sure a scout can watch a game on their laptop or TV screen. But there’s more to scouting than just that. That’s the bare minimum. A scout needs to be on the road watching players and gathering information. There’s a lot to be gained from in-person evaluation. A good scout can tell you things about the prospect that may not be obvious. They can tell you about the way the player interacts with teammates and coaches, what his body language is after a play, etc. These are things that aren’t apparent on a TV copy of a game.
A good scout can tell their organization whether a player still has room to develop, whether he takes hard coaching well, or weather his development has been stymied by scheme or coaching.
In our observation, scouting has changed throughout the years. Many current, more experienced scouts are former coaches. More and more scouts are starting as interns and coming up through the organizational ranks. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, many in the business lamented that the young scout has now become an information gatherer and does not provide much in the way of analysis and that their instincts are not as sharp. They simply don’t know football as well.
It’s not their fault.
Many of them are just young and fulfilling the obligations of the role that is assembled by their superiors. They are being asked to gather info by asking the same questions (Is he a “rep” guy? Is he a leader, etc.? What’s his home life? How does he learn football?) and then providing nothing more in terms of analysis.
It’s a departure from the “Old School” scout approach where they ask those questions, but have follow-up questions and provide a deeper analysis.
These days of the area scout visiting a school may indeed be over at least for the time being.
It’s a shame because the scout visit was always welcome. Of course the donuts were always appreciated, but it was always good to get their perspective on players. Also, everyone is on better behavior when a scout comes through the building.
On visits, we’d get great stories from legends such as the late George Karras and the original Viking Jerry Reichow. We got great perspective from the late Reggie Cobb.
You’d see why some teams win consistently and some don’t.
We’d see the professionalism of the Steelers in Mark Gorscak, Joe Greene, and Dan Rooney, Jr.
We knew that Kyle Smith (Washington), Dan Jeremiah (NFL Network) and Chris Ballard (Indianapolis) would be destined for higher profile positions.
And other scouts such as Larry Cook of the Patriots would tell you something that YOU didn’t know about YOUR player.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of scouting positions.
As there are more Ivy Leaguers assuming executive roles with teams, and decisions are being made using data almost exclusively, it seems that the scouts are getting pushed out in favor of information gatherers. That’s a major loss for the game in our estimation.
It’s the more experienced scouts that are able to find the guys that make up the majority of the roster. You know…. the types that play at smaller schools, that don’t get analyzed by draft twitter or and don’t get invited to all-star games. Those are the types of player can’t be found in by going through a data analysis exclusively. If we see a downsizing of scouting departments and a de-emphasis on the campus visit, football will be losing a very important part of the player acquisition process. Football will lose some great people that can teach us a great deal about the game.
Opinions expressed are solely of the author and do not express the views or opinions of Headcoachranking.com.