By Matthew Tabeek
There really isn’t a clear-cut path to becoming a scout in the National Football League. There’s no specific degree requirement, no mandatory coaching or playing experience, either.
Understanding the game – having a firm grasp of X’s and O’s and different schemes – is an obvious prerequisite. And so are strong interviewing and writing skills – there are lots and lots of reports to file, after all.
But beyond that, what each NFL team looks for in a scout – coaching and playing backgrounds, levels of decision-making experience – and how much value that team places on those individuals can vary quite a bit.
Thomas Dimitroff, who’s been the Falcons general manager for more than nine years, sees scouts as more than mere information gatherers. They have to be much more than guys “filling in the lines and filling in the boxes.”
“I want real, true research,” said Dimitroff. In his mind, that research conducted by the group of scouts that he’s assembled with the Falcons is what’s “going to make or break how we put this team together. That’s really, really important.”
“They’re the unsung heroes, they’re the lifeblood (of the team),” Dimitroff said, who was also the New England Patriots director of college scouting for five seasons and spent a dozen more years as a scout with other NFL and CFL teams including the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns.
So, who are these men who comb college campuses throughout the entire country, evaluating every single potential NFL prospect? What type of person does Dimitroff look for and what does he expect from them once he brings them in?
There are currently 12 pro, national, regional and area scouts in the Falcons personnel department. Scott Pioli is the assistant general manager, Joel Collier is the director of pro personnel and Steve Sabo is the director of college scouting. Dimitroff said he believes there needs to be multiple, dichotomous personalities within a staff – but that it’s also very important that they all fit together.
“So, fit was a really important thing for me – different cultures, different backgrounds, some coaching, some not coaching, some much more academic, some not as much, some just football through and through.”
When 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.
“And I realized even more it was not just sitting around in a room and hearing everyone’s opinion, it was talking about being able to share within those scouting meetings, whether I was in there or not – guys like Phil Emery, Russ Bolinger, Ruston Webster – these guys with a wealth of knowledge being able to share not as much what [prospects] they hit on,” Dimitroff said.
So, he changed that. And now when he goes into the scouting rooms, Dimitroff says it’s “like a literal symposium of learning.”
The Falcons scouts come to the table with different ideas, different mindsets, and different approaches – some with a lot of knowledge and experience at GM levels, decision-making levels, and some with only a hint of it.
“They’re very, very productive meetings in my mind,” Dimitroff said. “I really like this staff a lot.”
Every member of the Falcons scouting department is as different as the path they took to Flowery Branch. Some are former general managers, some are former All-Americans, and a few never played college football.
They’re not on TV and they don’t receive much attention, if any at all. But they all share a strong passion and love for the game. Their stories are inspiring, heartwarming and, at times, heartbreaking. And they consider themselves a family – an important part of the Brotherhood Falcons coach Dan Quinn has assembled.
“I have not been around a staff that has been this sort of cohesive and collaborative and have each other’s back,” Dimitroff said. “And honestly, we started building it probably over the last three or four years, but it really took form in my mind with Dan’s approach to Brotherhood. Dan and I talked a lot when he came in here about eliminating the silos ... We've worked to really merge both [coaching and player personnel].”