How do NFL clubs find out about character?

The almost unbelievable ongoing story of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez leads many to ask how NFL clubs find out about character. It’s a long ongoing process and in reality you “hope” that the information you receive is solid information.

The year Hernandez was drafted, 2010, was my last draft in Chicago. If I recall, we did not have Hernandez on our “Board” and the reason for that was his personal character. In our pre-draft research we discovered that there were failed drug tests and there was a general feeling that Hernandez couldn’t be believed and trusted.

Hernandez had good “football character” but his personal character left something to be desired. During the interview process, he would not make eye contact with the interviewer and did not seem believable. When you asked him questions about his past and failed drug tests his answers were vague at best. He never confronted the “issues.”

Aaron HernandezICONAaron Hernandez seemingly had good “football character” but his personal character left something to be desired.

People around the Florida program said he lived on the edge and couldn’t be trusted. They didn’t like the people he hung around with and there were questions about his life back in Connecticut. I have read that unnamed GM’s have said that there were questions about his involvement with “gang type” people at home but I do not recall any talk about him being involved with “gangs.” In short there was a side of Aaron Hernandez that was very questionable and we had serious doubts as to wanting to get involved with him as a player. Too much risk…not enough reward.

How is the character check done?

Finding out about a prospect's character is not a one year study done by one scout. It’s an ongoing process and years in the making and done by many people. All clubs do not do their character research the same way. Some clubs put more emphasis on character than others. I can say that we put a huge emphasis on finding out ALL the information. After you gather the information, the decision makers (usually the GM, Head Coach and Scouting Director) determine if the club can “live” with a player who has concerns.

The area scout is the first person who does the character background on the players in the schools he is responsible for. I was not the type who kept changing a scout’s area. I kept the area scouts in the same area my whole time in Chicago. The reason being is that I wanted them to know their area inside out. In order to do that the scout has to develop strong relationships with people in and around the football program. This is not a short term process…it's years in the making. Good information comes from a scout’s familiarity with his area and strong relationships with people in that area.

A good area scout will start a file on young players in his area as soon as he “discovers” that they may be prospects. In some cases that may be in a player's freshman or sophomore year. If a player gets into trouble with the law or is suspended early in his career he has that information at hand. He can also do some checking with people on campus to find out “what” the problem was/is. If there are concerns about a prospect's life back home then he has to check with people who know the player in his home town. That could be a former teacher, guidance counselor or coach.

When a prospect is in his final year, the interview process starts with people directly involved with the program. This would include the pro liason on the coaching staff, his position coach, the equipment manager and trainer. A good scout will also talk to the academic advisor and campus police if there were some past problems. In short, leave no stone unturned.

The league does an outstanding job in getting arrest, conviction and traffic violations to each club. If there was some pertinent information that you got from the league that you didn’t know about, you can do more research.

At the Combine, All Star games and private workouts, coaches and staff can have sit downs with a player to find out if you can interact well. The player has to be a “fit” with the club.

Football Character and Personal Character

Many clubs have their scouts grade two types of character: Football character and personal character. Football character is a player’s passion for the game, his work ethic, his desire to be great, competitive nature and leadership. Personal character is how a person lives his life. Is he a good citizen? Is school important to him? Is he involved in the community? His family life and background. Who does he hang out with, etc.? If you find a prospect has good football character and questionable personal character the hope is that the strong football character will help the player succeed. Obviously the veteran makeup in the locker room plays into that. A locker room with strong veteran leadership can help guide a young player with “issues.” If the player has both poor football character and poor personal character he has no chance…he will fail. He may get by for a year or two because he has talent but it will eventually catch up with him.

Obviously, if the personal character issues are too severe to deal with then you have to pass on the player. The problem we have in the league today is that in some cases there are coaches or front office types who don’t look at the personal character information hard enough to make a good decision. They let the “talent” of the player affect their decision. In some cases it’s their ego saying “I can fix him.” But in reality it rarely happens. I’m hoping that the Hernandez case will make everyone involved in scouting look that much harder into character evaluation. The league and clubs don’t ever need to have a similar situation happen again.

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