AFC South: Steve Walters
As the draft approaches, I wonder how often scouts mumble the variation: “Scouts scout, coaches coach.”
Not long ago, the Tennessee Titans had a somewhat distinct division of power along those lines.
Former GM Floyd Reese respected Jeff Fisher’s staff. But Reese believed it was his job to assess the talent and to provide it to be coached up.
There were exceptions, of course. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak was the primary force behind the selection of left tackle Michael Roos in 2005, for example.
The scouts I know respect the opinion of a position coach like Munchak.
How could they not appreciate the track record of a Hall of Fame player in developing quality linemen? Still, in a general scout-assistant matchup where the credentials are more even, scouts should hold the trump card, don’t you agree?
One scout I spoke to this week pointed to nine months of work including all those live visits against four to six weeks of study done primarily with tape.
If a GM needs to lean one way or the other, this scout said he should lean with the scout. And on his team, he said that’s usually the way it goes.
Most often, Reese was making the call with the support of his scouting staff. Position coach input was a relatively small ingredient.
And so, when some of Reese’s players didn’t match expectations, a semi-traditional tug of war commenced: Position coaches might gripe about the talent they were -- or were not -- given; the personnel department could grumble about how coaches were not bringing out a player’s best.
Now the man who replaced Reese in 2007, Mike Reinfeldt, strives for harmony and consent and has drafted several players in part because of large endorsements from assistant coaches with mixed degrees of success.
- Secondary coach Marcus Robertson liked Ryan Mouton, who struggled as a rookie in 2009.
- Defensive line coach Jim Washburn wanted Jason Jones and William Hayes in 2008, and they still rate as works in progress.
- Former running backs coach Sherman Smith endorsed Chris Henry in 2007, and Henry busted and is gone.
I can see some value in a more old-school approach to how things should work. It was often unhealthy to have “Reese guys” and “Fisher guys” on the Oilers and Titans. But a position coach didn’t have any more stake in Player A than he did in Player B and it felt like a system of checks and balances was in place.
Washburn helped turn late-round picks by Reese like Robaire Smith (sixth round, 2000) and Carlos Hall (seventh, 2002) into productive players. More recently, he’s given his blessing to the team’s choice of Jones and Hayes under Reinfeldt .
Might the hard-nosed Washburn, even subconsciously, be inclined to give Jones and Hayes a bit more leeway than a guy previously forced on him despite his protests? Might he, even subconsciously, be rooting for them a bit more, because he stuck his neck out for them?
My initial answer to those questions was that I expected he would, and that such things be detrimental. But in hashing it out with a scout and a former coach, I am no longer as staunch in my opinion.
I do still think it’s an interesting question to consider.
My scout told me the additional accountability that comes with a position coach endorsement is a good thing. Maybe a coach would want to stick with such a player a snap, a series, a game or a season too long, but the cross-checking and co-sign from a GM and his scouts provides the necessary context and cover for such scenarios.
You can take the accountability idea in many different directions, though.
If there is a scouting-coaching split, it’s easier to trace an evaluation mistake back to where it happened. On the consensus side, the saying goes that it’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares about who gets the credit. What about the blame?
Ultimately, an owner should want to know who is nailing assessments and who is botching them.
Walters said when an assistant feels he got what he asked for, he is conscious of having endorsed a guy.
“If you stand on the table for a guy and say, ‘I really think this is the guy and these are the reasons why’ and you can build a case for the guy, your opinion may push it over the top for a guy that you want,” he said. “And if you get that guy you’re certainly a little bit on the line for him because they’re going to remember what you said.
“If they just say ‘Here are your guys, like them or not,’ whether you had any input into them or not…”
His voice trailed off and he left that one hanging.
I’d be inclined to finish it: “Well that’s a different deal.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
It can be too easy to go with the position coach of the first-round pick as the guy who's got to do good work to help a draftee have some instant impact.
But the Titans are returning 11 of 12 starters on offense and defense and adding an explosive playmaker on offense was a priority. Enter Kenny Britt out of Rutgers with pick No. 30.
Wide receiver coaches for the Titans are regularly subject to criticism, but I think it's tough to pin the lack of development of players at the position on them. After all, we've seen Alan Lowry, Steve Walters, Ray Sherman and now Fred Graves all hold the job. Have all five of them been bad at polishing young talent into AFL-caliber weapons?
I argue the failures at the spot fall more on Jeff Fisher for philosophically de-emphasizing the position and the front office for what they've provided those assistants to work with in that environment.
Graves has been given a first-round talent now. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger raved about how Britt comes into the league already able to get off press coverage, something most rookies struggle to figure out.
Graves is occasionally unconventional -- his guys regularly catch bricks to work on their hands.
If Britt's able to contribute early, Graves will get some of the credit. If Britt's not one of the team's top three receivers early on, Graves will get a share of the blame.