I broke into the National Football League some 20 years ago in the College Scouting Department of the Denver Broncos. My previous football background was as an assistant at the Air Force Academy and later head coach at the Academy’s Prep School.
During this time Coach Fisher DeBerry assigned me responsibility of “advance scouting” opponents. Hitting the road and dissecting the opposition seemed natural. After all, I served as an Intelligence Officer during the “Cold War”, the ability to gather information that would help to formulate the right game plan and find matchups to exploit was already inbred. No doubt these experiences served me well when I arrived at Dove Valley the summer of ’92.
“Teach your children well”
I was fortunate to find two of the most outstanding mentors a scout could ask for. Jerry Frei, a former WWII P-38 pilot and member of the Wisconsin Badger’s National Championship team in the ‘40’s, had been a head coach in college (University of Oregon) and served on the Broncos, Bucaneers and Bears coaching staffs. Jack Elway (yes, those Elway’s) was the head coach at Cal State Northridge, San Jose State University and later Stanford, as well as the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe. Wd joined the Broncos the same year.
The influence these men had on my career was enormous, but if I had to simplify what they taught me about scouting college football it would be that “somebody has to play”. College scouts at times focus too much on what a player “can’t do” versus what he “can”. It boils down to basic human nature and “risk avoidance”. Nobody wants to be the scout that says a player is capable of something he isn’t and then your club inadvertently drafts him.
It’s a “people” business
Scouting college football is about assessing talent displayed at one level and projecting ability to improve and produce at the next. A lot of it is breaking down film and judging the critical factors and position specifics that traditionally makeup an NFL player. More importantly scouting college football is about developing lasting relationships that you can consistently trust for accurate information. Working closely with a group of people ultimately looking to do the same thing, add the very best talent available to compete for a Super Bowl Championship.
I get hundreds of requests asking “How do I become an NFL scout?” They talk about their passion for the game and how they live, eat and breathe football. They’ll speak of their keen eye in evaluating players and how they were typically taught by a friend or family member (father, brother, uncle). The driving force behind their motivation is predominantly “love of the game” and I greatly admire that zeal for involvement.
“Seven degrees” of separation
But first I ask them about their “network”. Have they reached out to as many people in and surrounding the game as possible? Get them to tell their story and seek any advice they might be willing to share. Don’t focus on just scouting college football, speak with others in the industry on how the game is played, managed, covered and operated. Use the available resources of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to make the initial contact, follow-up with a one on one conversation. There are mutual experiences and connections to be cultivated.
“It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna to rock ‘n’ roll)”
Be willing to do anything to get your foot in the door. Don’t have your sights set firmly on being a college scout from day one. It’s a journey, not a destination. Be prepared to assist in the PR department or Operations or Video. Take on any small opportunities you can find during Training Camps or the Off Season. I brought four very capable and qualified young people into the Personnel Department that all started in other areas of the organization. I started myself outside Player Personnel before gaining an opportunity to move into the department at mid-season in 1992.
Remember, the best and brightest aren’t necessarily scouting at the elite level in our sport. Many gained opportunity through past working relationships, mutual friends & acquaintances, and family ties. It doesn’t seem like the logical way to build an organization, but it’s become a basic way of doing business in professional football. Decision makers are looking for a comfort level in those that help guide them through the process of scouting college football.
Take the time to find your own WWII pilot or father of a future Hall of Famer. You’d be surprised at how much you’ll learn, and perhaps even how much you can teach. Eventually that door is more likely to open, because after all “somebody has to scout”.