NFL Nation: James Harris
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.”
Earlier in the week, Sports Faith International made him one of four inductees to the Sports Faith Hall of Fame, joining Brian Piccolo, Gale Sayers, Dominoes Pizza founder and former Detroit Tigers owner Tom Monaghan and John Gagliardi, college football's all-time leader in coaching victories.
Bidwill was named Thursday as winner of the Fritz Pollard Alliance's Paul "Tank" Younger Award for promoting "diversity and equality of job opportunity in the coaching, front office and scouting staffs" of NFL teams.
Past winners include Dan Rooney, Rick Smith, Ozzie Newsome, James Harris, Bill Walsh, Tony Dungy, Frank Gilliam and Bobby Mitchell.
"When you look back over the years, going back to his time in St. Louis, Mr. Bidwill has a long history of hiring minorities to administrative and authoritative positions," Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten said in a news release. "He has really helped level the playing field and that is what this award is all about."
The Fritz Pollard Alliance plans to present the award to Bidwill at the NFL combine Friday.
It should have here, so I apologize to you, to Garrard and to JDR for not finding and getting to it more promptly and hope we can do a better late than never.
Friday on "The Pete Prisco Show" in Jacksonville, Del Rio spoke again about Garrard.
And asked if Garrard was certain to be under center for the opening snaps of 2010, this was the answer:
“We’ll always keep our option open in terms of being able to add talent. I think the likelihood of somebody coming in here that’s better than David Garrard and take a snap from center this year, I think that’s unlikely to happen. You just have to look at available players, and the likelihood of one of those players… I don’t think that Sean Payton is going to do a player-for-player swap.
"I think you have to be realistic about how you’re able to upgrade positions in this league. David is a good player and we’re very fortunate that we have him. There are teams that don’t have a quarterback as good as David Garrard, I’ll tell you that right now. And I’m going to support the guy we have.”
A few more pertinent snippets:
“I think he’s a good player, I think we can win with him, I think we have to be really good around him. I think that there are few elite quarterbacks in the league like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and some of those guys that are able to carry their teams and we don’t ask David to do that and I don’t think it would be fair to ask David to do that.”
JDR also said “I think he’s a good, solid player” not a “great” one. “I hope he becomes that, It would be great for me, it would be great for us as a football team. …I think we have other more pressing issues.”
Here’s part one of the interview. Move up to roughly the 5:20 mark to get started.
Here’s part two.
If Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen is somehow available at No. 10 or 11 when the Jaguars draft, I think they’d have to take him if they like him. If not I still think they’d be wise to draft a quarterback to begin to develop as an alternative.
Because while they can win with Garrard, it’s going to be hard for them to be great around him. The more direct route to postseason success is to find one of those elite quarterbacks and the Jags' collective head should be on a swivel to find someone who has more potential to become one than Garrard does.
For a column on the Jaguars' offensive line you’ll see Thursday, I spoke with left guard Vince Manuwai and also had a chance to ask him about Garrard.
He was a bit roundabout, but basically said the $60 million contract Garrard got after the Jaguars went two rounds into the playoffs in 2007 changed expectations.
“I know the money that they pay him now people want a quarterback who sits in the pocket and is a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning,” Manuwai said. “So David never had to live up to those expectations, but now it’s getting tougher because of the money that’s involved, I guess.”
“People want 3,500 yards passing, 4,000 yards passing, you know? Or over 20 touchdown passes. It’s definitely tough on Dave trying to do what he wants to do but also trying to make people happy.”
That’s why, no matter how much deposed personnel chief James “Shack” Harris and Del Rio thought Garrard was the guy, overshooting on the contract actually served no one football-wise.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.
The previous regime traded with division rival Tennessee to get Western Michigan linebacker Jason Babin with a second first-round pick in 2004 and he never became what they envisioned. The first-rounder from the next year, Florida State defensive tackle Travis Johnson, wasn’t good either. Johnson flashed some but wasn’t long-term help. Wide receiver David Anderson (seventh round from Colorado State in 2006) is a quality slot receiver, and probably the team’s best late-round pick.
The Colts traded up in 2007 to take Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh 42nd overall. He was the man to replace Tarik Glenn when he surprised the team by retiring the same year. But Ugoh lost his starting job in 2009 and was often inactive. Two third-rounders from the same draft also faded: cornerback Dante Hughes from Cal didn’t make it out of camp in 2009 and Ohio State defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock quit football in 2008. Late-round finds abound: Howard safety Antoine Bethea (sixth round) is a Pro Bowl talent; Mount Union receiver Pierre Garcon (sixth round, 2008) just had a breakout season; punter/kickoff man Pat McAfee from West Virginia (seventh round, 2009) is a consistent performer. And Indianapolis does consistently well with undrafted rookies, such as safety Melvin Bullitt and cornerback Jacob Lacey.
First-round busts have been a major reason the Jaguars haven’t broken through as a consistent contender: receivers R. Jay Soward of USC in 2000, Reggie Williams from Washington in 2004 and Matt Jones from Arkansas in 2005 are gone and safety Reggie Nelson (Florida, 2007) and defensive end Derrick Harvey (Florida, 2008) rank as major underachievers. Late-round gems? Purdue guard Uche Nwaneri was a 2007 fifth-rounder and has started a lot of games and Florida’s Bobby McCray was a good defensive end for a seventh-rounder in 2004. James Harris was ousted as the personnel chief and the team seems on a better track under Gene Smith, who was named GM about a year ago.
Any list of recent high-ranking failures has to start with first-round cornerback Pacman Jones, sixth overall from West Virginia in 2005. He was probably the best defensive football player there, but the Titans failed miserably in researching his personality. Other busts who hurt them: Ben Troupe (second-round tight end from Florida in 2004), Andre Woolfolk (first-round cornerback from Oklahoma in 2003) and Tyrone Calico (second-round receiver in 2003). Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was an All-Pro in 2008 and heads any list of recent late-round gems. He was a seventh-rounder from Samford in 2006. Tight end Bo Scaife was a sixth-rounder from Texas in 2005 and promising defensive end Jacob Ford from Central Arkansas was a sixth-rounder in 2007.
Team needs: Many after 0-16. But here's one stab at the top three: Quarterback, offensive tackle, middle linebacker.
|Tom Hauck/Getty Images|
|Is Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford too risky for the No. 1 pick?|
Plan B: Assuming they can't trade down, the safest pick is probably Curry. He is a top playmaker and would step in right away at middle linebacker. But Curry played on the outside in college and would need to make an adjustment. Smith, or possibly Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, might offer the best long-term fit for the Lions. Jeff Backus would move to left guard and the Lions would have accomplished the important goal of upgrading their offensive line. Stafford could ultimately be their choice, but only if they are convinced that his accuracy and consistency issues in college are correctable.
Scouts Inc. take: "It's hard for me to see them taking Aaron Curry after they traded for Julian Peterson to play on the strong side. I know Curry could play middle linebacker, but I don't see him being the best player in the draft as a middle linebacker. That's what you have to weigh. If I were Detroit, I'd figure out a way to draft Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. [Lions coach] Jim Schwartz could make Raji into the next Albert Haynesworth in his defense. You don't take Raji at No. 1, but maybe they can maneuver things somehow. That would be huge for them." -- Jeremy Green, Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Martin Mayhew is entering his first draft as the Lions' general manager after eight years as an assistant in the Lions' front office. Mayhew is taking guidance from senior personnel executive James "Shack" Harris but has responsibility for all draft-day decisions.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Take this for all that it's worth: On the first full day of the 2009 scouting combine, five key decision-makers went to dinner with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford. The two-hour affair at a local steakhouse included:
- General manager Martin Mayhew
- President Tom Lewand
- Senior personnel executive James "Shack" Harris
- Coach Jim Schwartz
- Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan
Stafford entered the combine as the consensus top pick of the draft, and the Lions are evaluating whether to take him, go the safer route with an offensive tackle or trade out of the position.
Stafford is scheduled to speak with reporters here at the combine on Friday. We'll bring you his thoughts as soon as we can.
For now, let's take a romp through the rest of the division:
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com reports the Lions will release or trade quarterback Jon Kitna before he is due a $1 million roster bonus next month. Schwartz was vague on the issue Thursday.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that it's possible the Bears could draft an offensive lineman with left tackle traits to play on the right side.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald looks at the top tackles in the draft: Alabama's Andre Smith, Baylor's Jason Smith, Ole Miss' Michael Oher and Virginia's Eugene Monroe.
- Schwartz and Pittsburgh director of football operations Kevin Colbert both noted the difficulty of making the kind of switch to a 3-4 defense that Green Bay is planning. Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal has details.
- Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf loves to spend money in free agency, but there might not be enough targets available for his cash, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Former Vikings fullback Thomas Tapeh is likely to work out with Seattle next month, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
• The Kansas City Star reports that another big name, Bill Parcells, is out of the mix for the Chiefs' head-coaching job.
It has been a week since new general manager Scott Pioli fired Herm Edwards as coach. There have not been any reported interviews. That lends to the speculation that the Chiefs are waiting to interview Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley after Sunday's Super Bowl.
• Denver quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall are in Tampa for some Super Bowl festivities. Cutler said it is horrible not be in the postseason mix and Marshall boasts that it is just a matter of time before Denver gets to the Super Bowl. The Broncos certainly have talent on offense but if this team is going to the Super Bowl, it will need to address massive issues on defense.
• San Diego backup running back Darren Sproles, who has maintained he wants to return to San Diego, said he will test the free-agent market. It will be interesting to see if Sproles will garner starter's money. Also a major return threat, Sproles has proved to be an excellent change-of-pace back but at 5-foot-6, 181 pounds, he may have difficulty being a 20-25 carry-a-game tailback. If Sproles gets a huge offer, San Diego may be hard-pressed to match it.
• The Oakland Tribune reports that Al Saunders will likely not be the team's offensive coordinator. And yes, another day apparently will pass without the team announcing whether interim coach Tom Cable will get the job on a permanent basis.
• With Detroit homing in on former Jacksonville assistant James Harris, it means former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist will likely not end up in Detroit. Sundquist was also a finalist to be the general manager in Kansas City.
The future of the St. Louis Rams' head-coaching position -- and thus, that of Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier -- remained clouded in intrigue Saturday morning. But there were indications things could clear up as soon as Saturday afternoon and certainly by Monday.
Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and his wife were set to spend Friday night in St. Louis but both Garrett and general manager Billy Devaney said no offer has been made. Here's a link to the story from Jim Thomas and Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It's hard to imagine that Garrett isn't the top choice at this point, considering he already had his finalist interview with owner Chip Rosenbloom. But there has been no official announcement.
Here's one oddity to keep in mind if Garrett gets the Rams job: Frazier would become the first Vikings defensive coordinator to return for a third consecutive season since Foge Fazio in 1998.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- New Detroit coach Jim Schwartz met with the Lions' 13 assistant coaches who remain under contract, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. Schwartz did not release them from their contracts but said they were free to interview for other positions.
- The Lions' next order of business is to hire a personnel executive to assist general manager Martin Mayhew, according to David Birkett of the Oakland Press. The executive is expected to be a talent evaluator and could be a big name. Possibilities include former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage, former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist and former Jacksonville vice president James Harris.
- Green Bay is expected to interview longtime NFL assistant Dom Capers sometime this weekend for its open defensive coordinator job, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Capers' name first surfaced as a candidate Friday.
- New Chicago defensive line coach Rod Marinelli gave an interview to Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. His assessment of the Bears' talent level: "There's very good talent. Tommie [Harris] is special. That's what you've got to have at the 'under tackle,' and you've got good ends here and a couple guys that can go in and play that nose position."
Good morning folks.
We've reached the time of year where when I read the coverage and there won't be something on every team every day.
I always invite you to point me to links in the mailbag. But on a day like today where I find nothing on the Texans or Colts, I'm just going to say so and share what I do find. Over time I expect it will balance out.
All is quiet.
All is quiet
James "Shack" Harris is a candidate for the GM post in Cleveland, says Vito Stellino.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams goes to the Saints.
Jim Schwartz leaves for the Lions, writes Jim Wyatt.
ESPN.com's NFC North guru Kevin Seifert did an entire Schwartz edition of his roundup this morning. Find it here.
The Titans season in review from The Tennessean.
David Climer thinks Kerry Collins has leverage.
Gregg Williams didn't wait on a potential opportunity to reunite with Jeff Fisher, taking the defensive coordinator job in New Orleans, according to Mike Triplett. I feel certain Fisher told Williams he would head in a different direction if Schwartz left, which he did in short order.
A late look at George Breatherton's musings on Chris Johnson's injury.
Merry Christmas Eve. AFC South headlines to go with cookies and milk...
The Texans want to avoid a losing season, says John McClain.
Steve Slaton and Matt Forte make for quite a rookie running back matchup, writes McClain.
Andre Johnson is looking for a big finish, according to McClain.
Clint Session is making a mark, says Phillip B. Wilson.
Jim Sorgi hopes to play well in front of his young son, writes Mike Chappell.
Bill Polian's weekly radio show transcribed by colts.com.
James Harris leaves as Jacksonville's GM. Vito Stellino gives us details.
Gene Frenette says the Jaguars' busts forced this departure.
A Q&A with Gerald Sensabaugh.
Players were sad about the news regarding Harris, says Stellino.
Cole Pepper said the Harris move had to happen.
The Titans are deciding who should play and how much, writes Terry McCormick.
Five things Jim Wyatt knows heading into Titans-Colts.
Michael Silver says the Titans prove draft grades are bogus.
Ex-Titan Derrick Mason is playing through pain, says Dave Ginsburg.
In a move that was no surprise, the Jaguars began their offseason revamping Tuesday when James "Shack" Harris resigned as the team's GM and owner Wayne Weaver promoted from within to fill the vice president of player personnel post, naming Gene Smith.
As the Jaguars' season went south, the end for Harris was a foregone conclusion. He and head coach Jack Del Rio endured a power struggle that was resolved in 2007 and went in Del Rio's direction as he named David Garrard the starting quarterback over Byron Leftwich and convinced the organization to part ways with Leftwich. Del Rio got a contract extension after the Jaguars advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs last year, and the deal is costly enough to ensure Del Rio at least one more season.
While Harris did not have autonomy on draft picks -- the Jaguars always talked of consensus -- his title put his name on the picks, which started with Leftwich. The team did well with players like cornerback Rashean Mathis, guard Vince Manuwai, fullback Greg Jones and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. But the overall draft record during Harris' term has to rate as average and the veterans added for this season -- receiver Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson and cornerback Drayton Florence -- count as busts.
Smith is a change, but will it be the dramatic one the team needs and can he win when he finds himself at odds with Del Rio considering how Weaver has backed the coach?
|Darryl Norenberg/Getty Images|
|In 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first black quarterback in the modern era to start a game.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Forty years have passed -- a long time, but not a lifetime.
What a big moment it was then. Now it's a weekly occurrence in multiple NFL stadiums.
A black quarterback starting in the NFL is no big deal these days. A couple generations have grown up with Doug Williams and Warren Moon and Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick running offenses.
But when Marlin Briscoe broke the Denver Broncos huddle and surveyed the Cincinnati Bengals defense as he walked to the line of scrimmage Oct. 6, 1968, he became the first black quarterback in the modern era to start a game.
"It's come a long way," Briscoe said from his home in Long Beach, Calif. "They thought a black man could not think, throw and lead at that level."
Now the United States could be on the verge of electing its first black president.
Willie Thrower was the first black quarterback to get into an NFL game in 1953, but stereotypes and small-mindedness prevented coaches from providing a real opportunity until Lou Saban, partially out of desperation, handed the job to Briscoe.
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