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A Scout’s Take: The importance of character info and how scouts get it

Greg Gabriel takes us inside a scout’s job when gathering character info about a prospect.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When drafting a football player, especially in the early rounds, it is of the utmost importance that the Scouting Department gets the decision-makers the right information. Having the right information can be the difference between the player being a productive member of the team or a bust.

When we discuss character, it involves two entirely different and separate categories. There is personal character and football character. I don’t want to dig too deep into these, as I have written about them before. In brief, the personal character deals with how a person lives his life. Is he a good citizen, does he stay out of trouble, has he ever been charged with a crime, is he selfish, etc.?

Football character, on the other hand, deals with all things football. Does the player have a strong passion for the game, a strong work ethic, and a strong competitive nature? Is he coachable? How does he get along with his teammates? Is he a leader, etc.?

So, who do the scouts get this information from? It can be a long answer, and it certainly isn’t from just one person. It comes from several separate people who are involved in or around the football program at a school.

Almost all schools have a “Pro Liaison,” and that person is responsible for talking to the scouts when they come in for a school call. Many schools would prefer that a scout only talk to the liaison, but that’s not how a scout get’s all the correct information needed.

Many liaisons are told what to tell the scouts, they don’t want to say much negative as that can come back and haunt the school or program. Scouts, on the other hand, need the negative information as well as the positive. What it comes down to is the scout building trusting relationships in and around the program where he can get pertinent information.

When I was the Scouting Director for the Chicago Bears, our scouts were told that they could miss the talent evaluation because we had several different people doing reports. They cannot, however, miss on the character. They were going to be held accountable for getting that information and getting it right.

One thing we did to ensure we got good background and character information was keeping the scouts in the same area each year. That way, they would be calling on the same schools, and over the years, they could build several strong relationships, and they did.

The Bears currently have a scout on their staff who was there long before we got there. His name is Jeff Shiver, and he has been covering Midwest schools for the Bears since 1986, I believe. Jeff has built a network of people from all these schools and he is just a phone call away from getting honest information. I can honestly say no one knows the players in his area better than Jeff. Rest assured, when Jeff gives the decision-makers information on a player, be it good or bad, they can trust that it is 100% accurate.

There are some schools where scouts just cannot trust the information they are given. One such school when I was a road scout was Penn State during the Joe Paterno years. Paterno did not like the NFL game and went out of his way to make it miserable for scouts to not only visit the school but get accurate information.

The Pro Liaison would give us strictly the company line and by that, I mean each and every player was a good kid, from a good family, does very well in school, is a hard worker, and has never been in trouble. We all know that none of that was true. In order to get accurate information, we had to build relationships with others, many of whom weren’t connected to football. We would get the best information we could, but we knew it wasn’t always going to be accurate. Because of that, it became risky to draft a player from Penn State at that time. We drafted one player high from Penn State (Michael Haynes – 2004) during my years with the Bears, and he busted mainly because we didn’t get the football character right.

In 2012, I worked for the Philadelphia Eagles as a consultant. As such, I made several school calls that fall. One was to the University of Cincinnati. They had a young tight end by the name of Travis Kelce. I was at Cincy on a Thursday and stayed over for a Friday night game. On that Thursday, the then Cincinnati Pro Liaison talked to the five or six scouts who were there that day. When we got to talking about Kelce, he could not have been more negative. In fact, it may have been the worst background information I had ever received on the player.

Lucky for me, there was a coach on the Cincinnati who I had worked with previously and had a good friendship with him. After the negative review, I went to him and asked. He explained that there were some issues but not anywhere near as bad as what was explained, and none involved football character.

Later that day, I called Howie Roseman, the Philly GM, and told him what I had learned about Kelce. Howie said, “Don’t believe a word that coach said, the same guy gave us nothing but negative information on Jason Kelce, and we all know that his football character is rare.”

The point is that a scout must be able to trust who he is talking to. There are people who won’t give the scouts accurate information. I learned over the years who I could trust or not trust. Knowing that, I wouldn’t bother to even talk to the people I didn’t trust because it would be a waste of time. The important thing is getting the right information.

In a perfect world, a scout would like to talk to the position coach, strength coach, trainer, equipment manager and academic advisor. I have found that the the equipment manager always has great and accurate information. As the equipment manager, he is around the players more than any other. He sees how they interact with teammates daily throughout the year, not just during football season, and how they are when they are going through adversity. The conversation we have with equipment managers, more often than not, is invaluable.

The same holds true with the academic advisor. While that person has a connection with the program, he/or she knows the player in a different way. That person knows if the player takes academics seriously or if he is just in school to play football. They also can give good information on the player's personality because they see the player in a different way than coaches do. They know many of the player's interests as the conversations they have with him are usually not about football.

In order to be successful in the NFL, a player must have a strong football character. He can have less than perfect personal character and his strong football character will pull him through. Why? The game and his desire to be great are so important to him that he will overcome some of the negative issues with his personal character. The player with personal character problems as well as football character issues will fail, as will the player with strong personal character but weak football character. Their talent may keep them in the League a few years but soon or later their lack of passion for the game will come through loud and clear.