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Behind the Scenes: What It Takes To Become An NFL Scout

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It all comes down to what's inside


I didn't grow up as a fan, I was an absolute fanatic. I wanted to play, but I never got big enough and my fear of confrontation really limited me as a free safety. However, I still had this burning desire within me for the game. It was for my seventeenth birthday I was given a book that forever changed my life, Secrets of an NFL Scout. It was written by the architect of the San Francisco 49ers dynasty, Tony Razzano. This is is what I wanted to be, I wanted to be an NFL scout. I couldn't put the book down. Wave the punter off the field, this was it.

During this era, there wasn't anything like this book anywhere on the face of the planet. There weren't any online scouting courses. Heck, it was back before America even went online. The combine wasn't on television yet and it was around the time the Redskins made their last Super Bowl trip. There wasn't much of anything that provided any level of insight to any degree whatsoever to the general public about NFL scouting.

This week, Hogs Haven's very own, Sean Patterson, asked me what the qualifications are to become a scout in the NFL. I immediately thought, what a great idea and it ties to my article last week. There's no such thing as coincidences. So here it goes. It's my turn to be that proverbial voice in the darkness and shed some light into what it takes to break into what would seem by many accounts to be the equivalency of breaking into Fort Knox. Not quite. For starters, it's not as easy, nor as hard as it sounds. Sure, there's the technical side of cover 1, 2 or 3, quarters, man or zone and the ability to speak fluent "Scoutingese," which comes in time. However, what it really boils down to is what's inside of a person. These invisible traits are also known as the critical factors of scouting. These are someone's intangibles, their inner characteristics, their phychological DNA if you will. Bottom line, when all the window dressing is stripped away, it's what's inside a person that gets them either hired or promoted within the league or most anywhere else for that matter. It comes down to if a person resonates with the one who's pulling the trigger.

I can only write from experience your last name doesn't have to be Lombardi and you don't need a college degree to get in. That's my story. I was the kid from a small town who only played one year of high school football. My claim to fame was dropping an interception and I was the only one not to receive a letter jacket. I barely passed through high school and I quickly failed and dropped out of a small community college because my heart wasn't in it. I couldn't major in scouting. Yet, still my phone rang one day and I was hired virtually out of nowhere to work on one of the best staffs in NFL history. I went from working as a loan officer at a bank to working in pro scouting with the New York Jets. I don't say that to toot my own horn, I say it as a point of encouragement. This isn't as impossible as the way it's portrayed to be. There's a popular old saying that says, "It's not what you know, but it's who you know." I'm going to take the liberty of taking a step further, it's even more so about what's inside of a person and how they go about doing things. I know this much for sure, if I could get into the NFL, anyone can do it.

For starters, someone has to like football. I mean they really have to like it. Sounds pretty much like common sense, so we'll begin here. On planet NFL, there's a very popular buzz phrase thrown around the various team headquarters like a football and the saying goes something like this, "Is football important to the person?" There needs to be a pure drive to have a chance to do this.

Belief is essential. A person has to believe, truly believe they can get in. Sounds like another slam dunk, think again. Back in 2010, I was invited to speak on the scouting panel for Sports Management World Wide (SMWW) at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. I sat up there and shared my journey before a packed conference room of aspiring scouts and agents. Afterwards, about twenty or so people formed a line and were waiting to speak with me. One by one, they wanted to shake hands and pick my brain like that old game, Operation. What jumped out at me is even though all these aspiring scouts paid their hard earned money to be at this event, only one person really struck me as truly believing he could get in and he could make it. Every one else said all the right things, but only this one guy really and truly had it. This guy jumped out at me like a deer springing out of a ditch in front of my car. One day, his name will be announced as a GM. His level of faith and belief was off the charts during our interactions. When I was writing my 350-page resume that got me into the league back in 1998, a close friend asked me, "What are you going to do when you're done with all this and nothing happens?" I fired back, "It's going to happen." I never doubted.

Desire serves as the fuel in the gas tank. Raw, pure and unadulterated desire. I remember that word, unadulterated, from Mr. Cooke. He seemed to like it so in his honor and memory, I'll use it here. Desire. A fire in the belly to do this. Passion. I know of a lot of scouts who carry around stopwatches and clipboards, but they don't come off as having much of this comodity. Perhaps they've gotten away with it because they played the game and happened to just fall into this secondary career or maybe they were birthed into it. Regardless, for the rest of us, it's required. No desire, no passion, no service. There's got to be something that keeps someone awake watching game film at two o'clock in the morning in slow motion. If I ever got a chance to build a staff, I'd hire passionate fans as my scouts who are not currently working in the National Football League. I'm already keeping an eye on my guy who comments at the tail end of some of my articles about a player being a "baller," and he talks about how fans have instincts. I also like his confidence level.

Writing is an important tool of the trade. Whether someone is a wordsmith or they just peck around on the keyboard like a hen, it doesn't matter as long as they're prepared to do a lot of writing. Scouts watch film and they write. They watch practice and they write. They conduct interviews and they write. They do background work and they write. They go to workouts and they write. They write and write and write. By the way, they write. Granted, I've been around veteran scouts who write such fragmented sentences you'd swear it's a secret code during a time of war, so the morale of the story is it doesn't have to be pretty and it doesn't have to be poetry either. There's a just a whole lot of writing that's required, so liking to write really helps.

Picture someone who has the necessary raw characteristics to do this as a lump of clay and the bosses are the potters. Teams don't really care what a potential hire knows about players, they care if the potential hire has the ability to learn what they want to teach that person about players. An aspiring scout may have the ability to find the next Tom Brady, but without the ability to be teachable and pliable, NFL stands for "Not For Long." Trust me, been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Being able to take direction and blindly obey and follow is criticial.

Having the ability to work in groups and having good people skills works into the equation as well. Beneath all the glitz and glamour, scouting is about people. Whether evaluating or working with them, people are around every corner and having the ability to constructively interact with them is important. Making it as a scout has a lot to do with someone's ability to know their role and their ability to play it. A scout may have better ideas than the owner, but unless those ideas are solicited, it's best to just to take notes and let the work doing the talking. Racehorses win more awards than wild stallions.

Being dependable and organized are two more traits to add to the list of desired critical factors. Scouts work on tight schedules and they work on tight deadlines. There's more work to be done than there are days on the calendar. A scout might need to be at a school by 6:00 a.m. and need to turn in their reports by 10:00 p.m. that same evening. There's always extra credit work to be done, but there isn't simply any make up time along the way.

Vision and imagination are very important. When I say vision, I'm not talking about the ability to read the smallest letters during the vision exam at the eye doctor. I'm referring to the ability to see into the invisible realm and see into a player's inner characteristics. Imagination is where projection comes in to play. Stats are yesterday's news and few things are more deceiving. Scouts need to have the ability to look at a player, whether in college or pro, and accurately be able to project him into a new team, philosophy and situation. Projecting talent is a very similar concept of putting together one of those old jigsaw puzzles a lot of us worked at when we were kids. Projecting talent is just as concise. What a player will become is the million dollar question being discussed and debated in war-rooms across the country right now.

Instincts and a gut feelings can be the only things scouts have to go on. They can't quite put their finger on it, but they "just have a feeling" a player has what it takes or they might feel "something is off." Having good instincts is important, but being able to trust and stand on those instincts is even more important even if nobody else in the world can see what they're seeing. This has been the case for all of the top visionaries in the history of the league.

Scouts fly the friendly skies more than all the hang time added together, especially on the college side. College scouts only get home typically a weekend or two a month during the season and into the spring during pre-draft meetings. If someone is a homebody, this is a tough job.

This is a fairly comprehensive list of qualifications it takes to get past the "No Visitors Allowed," sign that hangs upon the front gates of NFL franchises across the landscape. It has much more to do with chemistry than mock drafts. As far as putting together a game plan of how to get into the league, I'll reference another article I recently wrote Daniel Kelly: Key To Getting In The NFL - Touchdown Europe that will perhaps serve as a road map for someone out there. I ask for nothing personally in return except for you to pursue your dream and one day, when you're named as a GM, do whatever you can to pay it forward.

Daniel spent four years working in pro scouting with the New York Jets and he's the author of the book, "Whatever it Takes," the true story of a fan making it into the NFL. Go to WHATEVERITTAKESBOOK.COM to see and hear more of his amazing story of growing up as a die-hard Redskins fan who got hired out of nowhere to work on one of the best staffs in NFL history. Daniel co-hosts Whatever it Takes, a radio show on El Shaddai Radio, he's a contributing writer for Touchdown Europe and he's a featured writer on Hogs Haven. Daniel is a fan of the Washington Redskins with the unique perspective of someone who has worked inside the game.