Russ Bolinger regional scout

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.

‘Blown away’ by Quinn on the first day

Bolinger has been through 15 different head coaches in 33 years as a player and a scout. Naturally, he’s heard a lot of season-opening speeches by new coaches at the start of training camp.

But he said he’ll never forget when Dan Quinn stood up in front of the team on the first day of training camp and delivered his first speech. Right then he knew there was something different about Quinn.

“I was blown away,” Boling said. “I went up to him and I said, ‘Coach, I’m 58 years old and I feel like running down on kickoffs. I haven’t felt like this ever, except maybe in college once or twice.’ I said, ‘How did you do it?’ He goes, ‘Russ, everybody I worked for, I kept the good and threw out the bad.’”

At that point Bolinger said the scouts – even the grizzled veterans – were excited about the relationship between Quinn and Dimitroff. He said that every other place he worked there were dividing lines and “silos” between the coaches, general manager and personnel.

Not so with the Falcons.

“(Quinn) started slowly with the progression and gives everybody a chance – either you join the Brotherhood or you’re out,” Bolinger said. “It’s not like you’re out right away. By the end of it, if you’re not joining the Brotherhood, you are kind of sticking out and you’re not having much fun – because there’s nothing better than being in it.

“I’m telling you that around the league it’s lip service until you really experience it.”

The Super Bowl is ‘gold for you guys’

Besides experience, wisdom and no shortage of colorful stories, Bolinger also brings perspective to the room. He reminded his fellow scouts that in 33 years as a player and scout he had never experienced a Super Bowl before the Falcons’ trip to Super Bowl LI in Houston last February.

“I told the young guys, ‘This is gold for you guys,’” Bolinger said. “’You’re experiencing this at this age – this is a gift, guys, because now you know what it takes.’”

And that’s what drives Bolinger now. He knows as well as anyone that the windows are small and the opportunities are rare.

“Super Bowl,” Bolinger said, and paused for a few seconds before remembering a line he wrote from his book titled, The Cosmic Quarterback: It's Third Down and He's Long Gone. “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.”

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