Phil Emery national scout

By Matthew Tabeek

"Probably as a Falcon, one of the most fascinating and privileged ones to be a part of was the discussion of leadership and the type of leader that we needed at the quarterback position when Thomas Dimitroff came here, leading up to the drafting of Matt Ryan."

When listening to Phil Emery speak – whether it be about coaching, traveling, teaching or anything, really – it’s very easy to picture him standing in front of a classroom wearing a tweed jacket lecturing students on a college campus somewhere. He was, after all, a professor once.

Emery, who says he had a “desire” to get into coaching, is a cerebral guy with a wealth of experience and no shortage of great stories. “It started post-college, I really wanted to get into coaching,” said Emery, who graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit.

And that he did, beginning with some early career stops that included Wayne State, Central Michigan and Western New Mexico. Emery did it all, holding and performing all sorts of positions and tasks – from assistant coach, equipment manager and strength coach to recruiting and even painting the fields when necessary.

Painting fields and setting up classrooms might not seem career-enhancing, but Emery begs to differ. He said a lot of those jobs at the lower levels helped him later on. “In terms of all those organizational tasks, they really built skills that helped administratively,” he said.

Thirty-six years later, including 19 in the NFL as a scout and general manager, Emery is currently a national scout for the Atlanta Falcons. It’s actually Emery’s second stint with the Falcons, after serving as the team’s director of scouting from 2004 to 2008.

In 2009, Emery was named the director of college scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs. From 2012 to 2014, Emery was the general manager of the Chicago Bears. After a “one-year sabbatical” as Emery puts it, he returned to Atlanta as a national scout in 2016.

Leaving ‘a job for life’ for the NFL

From the time Emery started coaching as the offensive line coach at Western New Mexico in 1982, the one title he held at every stop was strength and conditioning coach. He’d also gotten involved in the professional organization for strength coaches, called the National Strength and Conditioning Association. It’s worth noting because it eventually led to a job as an assistant strength coach at the University of Tennessee.

“That doesn’t sound remarkable, but at that time there were only 50 full-time assistant strength coaches in the country and there weren’t even 100 full-time head strength coaches in the country at any level,” Emery said. “To find a place that was willing to pay someone to be full-time as an assistant strength coach was remarkable.”

Then in 1991, Emery was named the director of strength and conditioning services and served as an associate professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. “Unbelievable young men and women at the Naval Academy, you know future leaders – just really good people to their core,” Emery said. “I had gotten tenure – had a job for life.”

But Emery wanted to scout and wasn’t afraid of a career change. At some of his prior stops and during his last year at Navy, he started asking lots of questions.

“I always thought scouting, in terms of love of football, that that would be the best job for me,” Emery said. “Always wanted to go in that direction, was always fascinated by the scouting process when scouts would come … I was always the liaison person, and I would ask a lot of questions.”

Emery had an opportunity to interview with the Bears for a scouting position in 1998. He landed the job he had long coveted and was off to the NFL. Nineteen moves – and 19 houses – later, the 58-year-old Emery finds himself back in Atlanta.

“I think what Dan (Quinn) and Thomas (Dimitroff) have built here drives me,” Emery said. “Every one of us has a ball to an extent, I want to make sure I hold on to mine – high and tight.”

A ‘privileged’ member of an unforgettable discussion

As a former general manager, scout and coach, Emery has taken part in countless high-level personnel discussions throughout his career. But he will never forget one in particular prior to the 2008 NFL Draft.

“Probably as a Falcon, one of the most fascinating and privileged ones to be a part of was the discussion of leadership and the type of leader that we needed at the quarterback position when Thomas Dimitroff came here, leading up to the drafting of Matt Ryan,” Emery said.

The meeting, Emery said, included Falcons owner Arthur Blank and it focused on leadership, what makes a good leader, what makes a good or great leader at the quarterback position and the type that the Falcons needed most that fall and leading into the future.

“It was led by Arthur, we went through all the experience – all the people he’s dealt with at a very high level of Home Depot, his experience in building a business, and with Thomas and his background – obviously with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, the quarterback position,” Emery said.

Emery called it a “great round-table discussion” and explained how Dimitroff came to the conclusion that Ryan was the right type of leader for the Falcons.

“But that discussion was part of it -- and having the privilege to sit in that room and listen to that, that was second to none.”

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