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Scott Pioli Assistant General Manager

By Matthew Tabeek

"I said to Thomas, ‘Don’t forget when we started in the scouting area, there was this group of young guys in the scouting department and there was this group of veteran guys – and all of us youngsters were trained by the old guys.' It was like getting your master’s degree."

A large black-and-white map of Washingtonville, New York – about the length of the couch that sits below it – dons one of the walls in Scott Pioli’s office at the Atlanta Falcons’ team headquarters.

Not surprisingly, it’s also the wall Pioli’s desk faces. And hanging on the wall just to the right of his desk, there’s a framed picture of his former Washingtonville High School football coach Frank Green with a note written to Pioli. It’s signed, “Coach Green.”

For a man who has accomplished so much for his work as an NFL executive over the years – he’s been named the NFL’s executive of the year multiple times by various media outlets, including the NFL Executive of the Decade by Sporting News and the NFL Personnel Man of the Decade by ESPN to name a handful awards – Pioli, the Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager, refuses to forget where it all began for him.

Pioli says he’ll never forget where he comes from, and that’s evident. But the small Orange County town, which is about an hour-long drive from New York City, is more than just Pioli’s hometown.

In many ways Washingtonville represents Pioli’s rock – his foundation, a source of pride as well as motivation. And long before doors to the NFL opened, it was here where Pioli first dreamed of following in Coach Green’s footsteps.

“My goal in life, my desire – my entire life, and even when I went to Central Connecticut – was that I was going to go back to Washingtonville High School, be an American history teacher and be the head football coach of Washingtonville High School when Coach Green was done,” said Pioli, pointing to the picture of his old coach.

“I wanted to be a football coach, because I always wanted to be in a position to give back to football what I got out of it – which was the mentoring, which was getting out of Washingtonville and being the first person in my family to attend college,” Pioli said. “And the only reason I attended was able to attend was because of football.”

Jumping to the NFL: It comes down to friendship, trust

Pioli graduated and left Washingtonville for Central Connecticut State University. He showed up “as a chubby linebacker” and finished his playing career as a defensive lineman. “Each year I got chubbier, heavier and stronger and they kept moving me inside,” Pioli said, laughing.

He might’ve gotten heavier, but he also turned out to be a decent player – a three-time All-New England selection before graduating with a degree in communications. Pioli made two more stops over the next four years: the first was a two-year stint back in New York, this time as a football graduate assistant at Syracuse University under the late and legendary coach Dick MacPherson. The second two years were spent at Murray State, where Pioli landed a full-time coaching job – first as the offensive line coach and one season as the defensive line coach.

But it was at Central Connecticut in 1986 when Pioli first met and formed an important relationship with Bill Belichick, who was the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator at the time. Later at Syracuse, Pioli used to provide Belichick with scouting reports during his visits and it eventually turned into “a really cool friendship.”

Belichick was named the head coach of the Browns in 1991, and a year later Pioli was on his way to Cleveland to join him. Pioli could’ve easily stayed coaching at Murray State, but wanted to work with Belichick – even though he had absolutely no idea what he’d be doing.

“[Belichick] brings me up there, offers me the job in Cleveland and says listen, ‘I don’t know what the job is, I don’t what the title is, I don’t know what the duties are, you’re going to do everything and I’ll use you where I need you. You just have to decide if you want the job,’” Pioli said.

One small caveat: Belichick could only offer a $14,000 salary. It didn’t matter to Pioli.

Pioli trusted Belichick and the second-year Browns coach wanted to surround himself with people he knew and trusted. “He wanted his people,” as Pioli puts it. “And he knew I was always going to have his back.”

And Pioli wanted the job. It had nothing to do with working in the NFL and everything to do with working for Belichick. “To work with Bill. It was a guy that I knew, trusted, was a friend and I respected his approach to football,” said Pioli, who became a Browns scouting assistant in 1992.

‘It’s like getting your master’s degree’ in scouting

Pioli’s career stops after joining the Browns – which include time spent with the Ravens, Jets, Patriots and Chiefs – are both well-documented and impressive. From being a part of the Ravens’ first draft class (which included Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis) to the worst-to-first turnaround with the Jets (who went from 1-15 in 1996 to a 12-4 record in 1998 while Pioli was the director of pro personnel), to helping the Patriots win Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, and XXXIX, claim four AFC championships, and six AFC East titles while serving as the vice president of player personnel for nine seasons.

Still, the decision to go to Cleveland and the football minds he learned from there proved invaluable early on his career. It was there, too, where Pioli got to know Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and his father, Thomas Dimitroff Sr., who was a scout for the Browns. Pioli bonded with both of the Dimitroffs and considered Dimitroff Sr. a mentor.

Pioli recalls a conversation he had with Dimitroff upon his arrival in Atlanta.

“I said to Thomas, ‘Don’t forget when we started in the scouting area, there was this group of young guys in the scouting department and there was this group of veteran guys – and all of us youngsters were trained by the old guys.' It was like getting your master’s degree,” Pioli said.

“What they used to do with us was the young scouts, during the entire training camp we were tied to the hip of one (veteran) scout,” Pioli recalled. “We had to go to every practice with the scout, we had to sit in meetings, we had to discuss players, we had to write reports, and the older scouts would talk about the reports and the players.

“That’s how we learned how to scout and be football scouts.”

Those experiences, combined with a foundation formed back in Washingtonville under Frank Green and Belichick’s message of “everything you do, do to win and make the team better” proved to be Pioli’s career compass – and something he’s brought to the Falcons’ personnel department.

Now in his 25th NFL season and closing in on his fourth year with the Falcons, Pioli has his sights set on helping Dimitroff and Falcons coach Dan Quinn bring Atlanta its first Super Bowl title.

Regardless if it happens or not, somewhere Coach Green is smiling.

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