By Matthew Tabeek
"Gotta get that ring before I retire. I always said, you know so when you walk by my coffin and you see that ring, you know that I’m a champ and not a chump."
Following his 10-year career with the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams, Russ Bolinger decided to stay on the West Coast and set off for the bright lights of Hollywood. He grew up in Lompoc, Calif., and, well, caught the acting bug toward the end of his playing career.
Making $20,000 for a one-day shoot in a Toyota commercial will do that.
And Bolinger, like he does with most things in his life, went all-in. He took acting classes, got into theater, plays and even co-wrote a play with former player John Schalter titled “Gameface” – described by the Los Angeles Times as “a gritty gridiron locker room drama centered on an aging drug-abusing superstar played with credible edge by Bolinger” – that ended up being quite popular for a time.
But after five years in Tinseltown, Bolinger realized that he needed a different set of characters in his life. He told his wife that he needed “to go get a day job” and the only thing he wanted to do was get back around football “in whatever capacity.”
“What I realized is that the most unique people – whether it’s a coach, a player, equipment guy – are in football,” said Bolinger, now a regional scout for the Atlanta Falcons.
“The characters in professional football, college football – that is my lifeblood. They keep me going because you meet the most interesting people, I think. For lack of a better word, they’re characters.”
When Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff first came to Atlanta, he said he had a staff that was young, growing and learning, but he realized that it was also devoid of some of the veterans that were so important in his young years of scouting.
Enter Bolinger, who worked with Dimitroff in Detroit in 1996 and 1997, and brings plenty of experience as well as some of that veteran element that Dimitroff wants in the personnel department.
After leaving Hollywood, Bolinger spent two seasons as a graduate assistant and recruiting coordinator for the University of Utah before becoming an area scout for Tom Coughlin and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1994. He eventually served as a college scout, college scouting director, college scouting coordinator, and assistant pro director during nine seasons with the Lions. And then before heading to Atlanta to be reunited with Dimitroff, Bolinger worked with the St. Louis Rams and spent five seasons as a national scout for the Washington Redskins.