“How to be an NFL Scout” is another post in the “How to Get My Job” series. In this and future episodes, I’ll interview people about their jobs, discussing how they got their job, what their job is like, and what advice they have for people looking to get a similar role.
Today’s interview is with John, Director of College Scouting for the Cleveland Browns. John talks about what it’s like to work for an NFL team, how be an NFL scout, and ways for players and non-players to get that first job in the NFL.
Want to know more about how to be an NFL Scout? Submit your questions below!
What’s your name and job title?
John, Director of College Scouting
What type of company you work do for and how long have you been there?
The Cleveland Browns, hired January 2010
Give us a bit of detail or insight about your day to day. Is your day a lot of internal meetings? Do you have many offsite meetings? Is it heavily strategy or forecasting based? Is there a lot of travel?
My day-to-day depends heavily on the time of year. During the fall months I spend most of my time travelling to colleges around the country to evaluate the top players in college football. During those trips I spend time talking to each player’s coaching and support staff to learn about them as a person and player. I spend four to five hours per day watching film on all players that we consider prospects at each school. I also spend time viewing practice as well as attending college football games to further my opinion on each prospect. From December through April I spend most of my time in our Cleveland offices. There my time is divided between watching film, meeting with our General Manager and Director of Player Personnel on a daily basis to come up with draft strategy, and managing the college scouting department.
Are you part of a team (or do you manage a team)? If so, how many people?
As director of college scouting I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of the college scouting department of the Cleveland Browns. I have 10 scouts that report directly to me.
Tell us about how you got your job. What was your path like?
I have been involved with football in some aspect since I was 12 years old. I played until I was 22, attending the University of Michigan (several profanities typed and then omitted by Tim). After my playing career ended I worked as an intern in the football operations department for the Detroit Lions during the 2004 NFL season. That’s when I started thinking about and learning how to be an NFL scout. Following that internship I was hired as a pro scouting intern with the Philadelphia Eagles in May 2005. In May 2006 I was promoted and served as the college scouting assistant with the Eagles until May 2007 at which time I was promoted to the job of pro/college scout. I worked in that position for three seasons and then was hired as the director of college scouting for the Cleveland Browns in January 2010.
Was it a difficult job to get?
The hardest thing about working in the NFL is actually getting your first opportunity. I was very fortunate that when my playing career ended, I had the help of a Michigan coach who introduced and recommended me to several people that worked in NFL scouting departments and showed me how to be an NFL scout. Without that kind of resource, it is extremely difficult to get your foot in the door in the NFL because there is such a high demand and low supply of NFL scouting jobs.
Note from Tim: Great example of how critical networking is in every industry, period. John had a good background, but there are tons of very capable players and coaches who never break into the NFL. There are lots of people who know football, and know scouting, but they never figure out how to be an NFL scout. John did, and he got his chance because he built professional relationships throughout his student/player career.
How to be an NFL Scout
What sort of advice do you have for someone who wants to know how to be an NFL scout (areas to study/work, ways to approach the organization, etc.)?
Have a ‘football’ background. It sounds obvious, but it’s true. When we are looking to hire young scouts we almost always choose people who played, coached or were involved with a team in some aspect in college. It’s not mandatory but it’s almost mandatory. Secondly, I’d say to be tireless in your pursuit of the job. I sent out over 200 cover letters and résumés to NFL people and teams and received less than 10 phone calls or letters back. I just kept working and trying to find a way that I could break into the field.
What’s the most important skill set in your job?
I think my competitiveness probably drives me most and pushes me in other areas. I work in a high pressure, results driven business with a high amount of public opinion involved. The desire for my organization to win drives my work ethic, my communication, and the entire decision-making process.
So, having a football background – especially a playing background – is pretty critical to getting a scouting job (can’t say I’m shocked). Does this have to be at the college or Division 1 level, or is there hope for those at all levels?
The playing experience does not need to be at the D-1 level and, in fact, most personnel people in the NFL played at a lower level that D-1. Scouting requires a high level of football knowledge and understanding. I think you’d find that a lot of the Division 2 and 3 players actually have a higher football IQ than the D-1 players; however, they simply to do not have the size, speed and overall physical ability that is required to play at the D-1 level. I do think playing at a D-1 program can help get you an interview and in some cases into a low level job but that’s about it.
You mentioned coaching as another potential way in – can you elaborate? If someone is asking how to be an NFL scout, but isn’t likely to become a player, how should they structure their coaching career to maximize their odds of becoming a scout?
I always tell people who are asking about how to be an NFL scout that any involvement you can have in football will only help your cause. There are only 32 NFL teams in the world and only about 15 scouting positions in each organization. A lot of scouts got their start in the NFL in a department other than the personnel department because jobs are so limited. Coaching and scouting are the two areas of an organization that most directly deal with the players and the team. While they don’t parallel each other, a lot of aspects do crossover and so you stress that on a résumé to show football experience.
If you can’t play in college the next best thing is to be involved with the football program at your school. More than likely it would be as a student manager, at least initially. I know of some cases where student managers grew either into graduate assistants (coaching) or began evaluating recruiting tape (scouting). Being a part of a college football program will help you understand how football teams operate on a day-to-day basis.
One additional point on how to be an NFL scout:
It’s important to stress on your résumé and cover letter that you want to work in personnel. Having experience in other areas of football is good but you should always have your eye on personnel if that’s what you want to do and make sure that the people who hire scouts know that. I get a lot of resumés from people that say they will work in any capacity (i.e. scouting, coaching, salary cap, etc.), which to me says, ‘I just want to work in the NFL” or “I don’t know what I want to do yet but I’ll figure it out when I get there.” We are going to hire scouts, so make sure there’s no doubt what your resume says before you submit it.
What’s the best part about your job? Are there perks worth mentioning?
I get this a lot when people ask about how to be an NFL scout. The biggest perk is simply that I love what I do and I enjoy going to work every day. The secondary perks are great though as well, the biggest one that I enjoy is working for an organization that the entire city of Cleveland seems to care about and want to know about every day. It provides a great amount of excitement, and when we’re doing well, a great amount of satisfaction. The excitement of a city and the pride everyone feels when a team is doing well is something that drives me everyday.