Patriots

Patriots

It seems we’ll never run out of Eagles-affiliated folks that are willing to air grievances regarding former head coach Chip Kelly.

Last week, a story on NJ Advance Media had a former member of the Eagles front office detailing how Kelly ran herd over the draft and alienated his scouting department.

An anecdote near the top of the story was meant to illustrate how unreasonable Kelly was.

“Right before that draft, the scouts set the board. Then Chip got a hold of it and totally turned it around. Scouts had no say at all in that draft. Anybody that Chip didn't want, that player's card got removed from the board and thrown in the trash. Those guys were never even in the discussion.

"Almost immediately, you had a lot of scouts looking around and wondering, 'Why am I even working? Why the hell are we even here?' We put all of this work in, put the information in and Chip changed everything and took whoever he wanted to take."

Reading it, I couldn’t help thinking that controlling the draft board and deciding who to select wasn’t only Kelly’s right but his responsibility. The same way it’s been in New England.

The biggest difference, seemingly, is that the Patriots’ scouting staff understands its role is to evaluate and gather intel and there it stops. They might be consulted. They might be asked to make a case. But the scouts – and other members of the coaching staff who are part of evaluations – aren’t living with the expectation that they are stacking the board.

 

It’s up to Bill Belichick and GM Nick Caserio make the calls because those two are intimately involved with overall roster decisions, team-building and financial forecasting. And they are the ones who need to be the trigger-pullers on the frequent draft-time gambles.  

To expand on Bill Parcells’ old draft metaphor about the head coach being able to shop for the groceries if he’s going to cook the dinner, everybody in the organization can’t be in the kitchen at the same time .

Not that the scouting staff should feel disrespected or voiceless, but the expectation – at least in New England – is that the scouts’ role generally doesn’t extend past evaluation and information.  

In Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback odyssey this morning, he spoke to Kelly – now the Niners coach – about a variety of topics.

King also drew the Patriots’ comparison with this anecdote.

“I’m reminded of 2011, when the Patriots had the first pick of day two, No. 33 overall,” King wrote. “The scouts, I’m told, were expecting the Patriots to pick one of two front-seven players, Jabaal Sheard or Brooks Reed. Instead, Belichick went with his gut, taking a tall corner with an injury history, Ras-I Dowling. He ended up being a bust. Sheard, particularly, and Reed haven’t been superstars, but they’ve had significantly better careers. Point is, you never heard a peep out of the Patriots, mostly because Belichick earned the right to pick whoever he wanted, with three Super Bowls at the time to his credit. And Kelly will get the skepticism until he wins.”

I was aware of the Sheard vs. Dowling debate which, with Sheard now on the team and an important contributor, has come full-circle.

As King said, there was some disappointment in the scouting department that Sheard was passed over because, while they don’t necessarily have a draft-day voice, they are going to have a rooting interest in seeing their evaluations taken to heart.

The flip-side of Sheard-Dowling came in 2013, though. The Patriots traded out of the first round, and their first selection was the 52nd overall. Belichick and Caserio used that pick to select Jamie Collins. Again, there was some disappointment among scouts that a player from a poor college program who hadn’t totally distinguished himself at one position was going to be the flagship pickup of the draft.

Collins has been outstanding.

There are two takeaways on this.

First, what King said – success quells organizational grumbling – is true but only to a point. Having well-defined job descriptions and hiring staff that willingly accepts their roles and the decision-making chain is fundamentally important than mere success. The process of building a team is going to be a mixed bag of personnel hits, misses and reboots. Resisting the urge to second-guess, backstab and say, “He shoulda listened to me…” is easier if you understood your role in the first place.

 

Second, when you look at the Patriots’ second-round selections over the years (as our Phil Perry did recently) you see there’s a helluva lot more going on than picking the best player. Calculated risks are taken. You might hit on a future Hall of Famer – Rob Gronkowski. You might hit on a Pro Bowl-level player – Collins. You might miss on an injury-riddled player like Dowling or Aaron Dobson or a guy who can crack the regular defense (Tavon Wilson).

The expectation from scouts that a head coach would defer to the board they “set” is more absurd than the vision of Kelly flipping cards into the trash.