LINCOLN, Neb. -- Billy Devaney wants to bring people together through the language of football.
On the job for nine weeks at Nebraska as executive director of player personnel, Devaney is not like others nationally in positions with similar titles. He’s not an aspiring assistant coach. He’s not looking for his next job in the business.
Devaney is 61, a seasoned scout and former general manager of the St. Louis Rams with three decades of experience in the NFL. He’s paid $300,000 annually.
His job with the Cornhuskers?
To connect the recruiting and evaluation branch of the program with coaching and player development.
“I keep calling it speaking the same language,” Devaney said Thursday during a break from individual meetings with each of approximately 120 players on the roster. “The point is, I need to get familiar with what the coaches are looking for right now -- and eventually, get the coaches and the people that are evaluating together and come up with common characteristics and what we’re looking for at each position.”
Devaney is talking to the players in the wake of spring practice alongside coach Mike Riley, associate athletic director for football operations Dan Van De Riet and and director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson.
If it seems like their job descriptions overlap, well, they do. That’s the point. The 62-year-old Riley created the spot for which Devaney was hired in February at the suggestion of athletic director Shawn Eichorst. It's a move to help increase efficiency within the operation while adding a valuable resource to help with evaluation of the current roster and recruiting prospects.
“I can equate it to the NFL structure right now,” Devaney said. “The best teams are the teams with the most stability. And the scouts, when they go out to look at players, they know exactly what the scheme is, what the physical characteristics are and the type of player that the coaches want.”
The NFL standard in creating such a model, Devaney said, are the Steelers and the Patriots.
In his early days at Nebraska, Devaney said he sees a smooth operation at work. But it can get better.
For instance, if Gunderson and his staff of on-campus recruiters completely understand the preferences of defensive line coach John Parrella and receivers coach Keith Williams, Devaney said, the Huskers will miss on fewer prospects.
Devaney tries to bring them together. And so far, he's encouraged by the progress.
“The commitment to winning here," he said, "that’s what’s refreshing.”
Devaney has spent most of the past two months evaluating the players on campus. Last week, he said, he watched film of spring practice with the Nebraska coaches to help formulate a depth chart.
Devaney expects to wear many hats. He can help Nebraska’s NFL prospects in their preparation for the pre-draft process. He plans to keep a close eye on practices and games, of course, to gain a deep understanding of Riley’s personnel.
But his passion is scouting. Once Devaney feels comfortable with his knowledge of the talent on hand, he’ll dive into high school tape. He’s already watched some, helping with judgments on borderline prospects and to bridge the aforementioned potential gaps between evaluation and areas of need on the roster.
In a significant change from watching college players as an NFL scout, Devaney said, many more variables exist in viewing high school tape.
One game against good competition, he said, is equal to more seven games against substandard opponents. The problem with evaluating high school prospects, he said, is that it’s often difficult to know the level of competition.
“[A prospect] may be playing against a sophomore who’s playing in the first varsity game of his career," Devaney said.
Still, great players are not difficult to spot.
“You’re looking for athletes,” Devaney said. “You’re looking for guys who can run. You’re looking for tough guys. That never changes on every level. For me, I can tell already the toughest part is just projection.”
Projecting, though, is where it gets fun -- and ultimately rewarding, as long as everyone in the program speaks the same language.