Often when a stranger asked what I did for a living and learned that I was an NFL scout, the usual response went something like this: “Wow, what an awesome job!” The inference being that the job was rather glamorous. In many ways scouting for an NFL team is an awesome job but the day to day grind is anything but glamorous.
A Misconception About Scouting
Prior to landing with the NFL San Diego Chargers I had coached at the small college level for 30 years. Football coaches at all levels log countless hours throughout the week in staff meetings, player evaluation, film study, game preparation, on field practice and the like, well before the game is played. Most days of the week usually start before the sun is up and rarely end before most people are in bed. Games are played on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and then the process starts all over again. Although I was accustomed to spending a lot of time on the job as a college coach I soon discovered that the scouting workday and workweek weren’t much different.
A common misconception is that NFL scouts do most of their evaluations by attending games on weekends, writing a report and traveling to the next game. In reality in-person, game-day evaluations account for very little of a scout’s work time with the vast majority of the work occurring throughout the week during on-campus college visitations and subsequently recording the fruits of those visitations in rather detailed written reports.
Toward the end of summer, usually during training camp, scouts contact college football offices to set up a visitation schedule for each school in their geographical area that will be visited over the course of the next few months (August through November).
A typical week day for me routinely started early with a stop at a local grocery store for a dozen or two pastries or bagels for the coaching staff at that day’s college visit. (Coaches are like cops when it comes to donuts.) Most college staffs are at their posts early and I tried to be on campus between 6:30 and 7:30AM to meet with the school’s pro liaison. All FBS (Division I) and FCS (Division IAA) colleges have a designated coach or staff person who meets with NFL scouts to set the visitation schedule, review the roster, recommend players, provide a venue to evaluate game video, describe when and where practice will be held and arrange meetings times with coaches, athletic trainers, strength coaches and academic personnel. (Head coaches at Division II, Division III and NAIA schools usually act as their own pro-liaison.)
The initial pro liaison meeting lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the number of senior prospects the school had. Most scouts are tasked with evaluating all the seniors on each team in their area with particular attention to those seniors that meet the following criteria:
-any senior recommended by the school
-all senior starters
-any statistically productive senior or significant contributor even if not a starter
-any senior who meets his NFL team’s minimum standards of height, weight and speed
The pro liaison would review with me (and any other scouts who were visiting that day) the senior roster, providing pertinent information about players’ strengths, weaknesses, injury history, character traits, work habits and off field issues. In addition, he would set the schedule for the remainder of the day.
The Evaluation Process
Following that meeting I would commence the rest of the work day in the order set by the pro liaison. The order differed from school to school but usually consisted of the following components in no particular order.
*Meet with position coaches to ascertain a prospect’s playing strengths and weaknesses; practice work habits; toughness; love of the game; leadership potential; relations/behavior with teammates, coaches and staff; ability to learn, retain and process information as it relates to football in general and his position in particular; ability to think on his feet and quickly make game day adjustments
*Meet with athletic training staff to determine injury history; how compliant the prospect is with injury treatment and rehabilitation; a prospect’s pain tolerance; how the prospect interacts with and treats members of the training staff both males and females
*Visit with strength and conditioning staff to get a glimpse of the player’s willingness to prepare; his physical and mental toughness in adverse situations; his determination and perseverance; his work habits away from the eyes of the coaching staff
*Visit with academic counseling staff to determine general learning ability and learning style; to see if there are any learning/retaining issues; to get a sense of a prospect’s personality outside the football environment
*Evaluate video – It was my responsibility to study a minimum of three current game tapes on each prospect. This task was by far the most time-consuming aspect of my college visits. Each position has a number of critical factors such as athletic ability for the position, instincts and competitiveness as well as position specifics. For example quarterback position specifics would likely include: arm strength, accuracy, decision making, timing, release mechanics, pocket awareness and mobility. Critical factors and position specifics are best determined by studying tape. Upon completion of tape evaluation each of the critical factors and position specifics were given a number or color designation which translated to a high, middle or low draft grade, a free agent grade or a reject grade.
*Observe practice to 1. evaluate body type: does a prospect’s physical appearance reflect his advertised height and weight or does the 6’2” 200 pound wide receiver listed in the program turn out to be a poorly defined 5’10” 180 pounder and 2. to evaluate practice habits: does the player hustle and give effort in all drills; does he show position and/or team leadership; is he first in line; do coaches have to correct him often; if so how does he take criticism; is the player involved with his teammates or does he isolate himself during drills
Somewhere in that schedule I would try to find time for a lunch break. Some FBS staffs invite scouts to eat lunch at the team’s training table but more often than not lunch consisted of a previously purchased piece of fruit, a protein bar and a bottle of water while evaluating game tape.
The amount of time it took to accomplish the interviews and tape evaluation depended on the number of prospects at each school. If I could complete those tasks before an afternoon practice then my school visit would conclude after practice. If not I would stay after practice to complete staff interviews and tape evaluations or I would return the next day to complete the process. I usually had a fairly good idea if my school visit would require one or two days and my fall schedule was set accordingly ahead of time. I don’t ever remember spending more than two days at a school.
Wrap Up and On to the Next School
Upon completing the school visit my workday wasn’t done. If I were staying in the city of the school I had just visited, I would grab some type of fast food, return to my hotel and at the very least summarize my notes and attach a tentative grade to the players I had evaluated that day. If I had time and wasn’t too tired I would begin writing individual reports until I couldn’t stay awake any longer. If I wasn’t staying in that town I would hop in my car, eat on the road and head to my next destination which might mean a three or four hour drive followed by some paperwork before I crashed for the night. Regardless, the work day that started somewhere around 6:00AM usually didn’t end until 10 or 11 o’clock that evening.
The daily routine described above was fairly consistent Monday through Friday although Fridays might vary at some schools depending on that team’s travel schedule and availability of staff members since the Friday schedule for some college teams differs from their Monday through Thursday schedule.
I drove my territory which featured schools up and down the West Coast and throughout the Mountain states and which are scattered some distance apart. It wasn’t uncommon to spend eight hours on the road between schools. When that was the case, I would dedicate the day for travel and report writing instead of a school visit. Some scouts fly as opposed to driving between schools but other than being able to work in the airport or on a plane there is a lot of wasted time getting to and from the airport, picking up and returning rental cars and standing in security lines not to mention the hassle of dealing with missed or canceled flights.
On Saturday I would often attend a game if one were being played in the city in which I was staying. If not, Saturday (as well as Sunday) would be dedicated to travel and/or report writing.
As you can see there is a lot more to scouting than just watching a game, taking a few notes and traveling to the next game venue. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time as an NFL scout I would not describe the daily grind, chronicled above, as glamorous, but it affords one a great way to be involved with football at the highest level without the pressure associated with coaching.