Washington Redskins: Alex Santos

Hurricane Katrina forced detours for scouts and executives throughout the South. It messed up travel plans, kept them from going to certain place, and left them headed for one place in particular: Vanderbilt University. It became a hub, of sorts, for those wanting to scout SEC players.

They’d pick the brain of Alex Santos, then a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt, wanting to know about this player or that team. Eventually one long-time scout told Santos that he should consider switching career paths.

So he did.

“Here I am, eight years later,” Santos said.

Yes, here he is – the Redskins' new director of pro personnel. The Redskins gave him that title more than a week ago, replacing Morocco Brown, who accepted a new job in Cleveland. Santos spent the past six years as an NFL scout under Brown, a former teammate of his at North Carolina State. And three years ago he felt he was ready for more, that he could handle a promotion like the one he just received.

“We all get to a certain point in life, you want to take that next step,” Santos said. “I wouldn’t say a light went on, but it was something I wanted to do. I didn’t have a timeline or a date set, but the opportunity presented itself. I’m super thankful and appreciative for them to have faith in me.”

The word appreciative came up time and again during a 14-minute interview with Santos last week. He’s not in this for the publicity and would prefer not doing interviews (though he is described as affable and a unifier by someone who worked with him in the past). Santos knows it’s a cliché, but his only focus is doing whatever it takes to help the Redskins win.

For now, that means getting players. The Redskins have finished last seven of the past 10 years, including four of the past five. So there’s work to be done. Santos didn’t want to reveal specifics about what he might change, saying only that “we’ll tweak some things and add to some things that already have been done. ... You put your spin on it.”

Nor is he suddenly awed by the added pressure he’ll face with the promotion. He’ll report to team president and general manager Bruce Allen as well as director of player personnel Scott Campbell.

“It’s exciting,” Santos said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge, embracing the challenge. But it’s something when we talk about presenting information to superiors, that’s something we [as a staff] all do together. Doing it as a group will put us in situations to present Scott and Bruce with the best information possible.”

Santos was a four-year starter at guard for North Carolina State. His first coaching stop was as an assistant at Eastside High School in New Jersey. He joined the Redskins in 2006 as a pro personnel assistant and became a pro scout two years later.

He said he’s learned important lessons along the way.

“Willingness to learn, open to ideas,” he said. “[When] young guys come up to you and present certain things to you about particular ways to do something or about a player, be receptive to it, be open to it. Obviously it’s all on me to make a decision, but being open and receptive to ideas, being willing to learn and definitely not being of the mindset that you know it all."

What he once thought he knew is that his future was in coaching. That changed thanks to Katrina. It helped that Vanderbilt’s quarterback that season was Jay Cutler, so the school was a good place to stop for scouts and executives.

“We had a high traffic volume of scouts come in, general managers came in,” Santos said.

One veteran scout, after talking with Santos, asked if he’d ever considered this end of the industry.

“I hadn’t really thought about doing it,” he said. “I wanted to coach. You don’t want to go back and forth. ... I went into it head first. When the Redskins had a position, I was able to get consideration and it all worked out. Eight years later this is the role I’m in now.”
  • I have no idea what Alex Santos will do in his current role, but his promotion to director of pro personnel as Morocco Brown's replacement made sense. He’d been in the scouting department since 2006 and had a strong reputation in the building. I do know of some others around the league who would have been interested in the job who had more experience (but in one case their situation changed so it became irrelevant).
  • One person who worked with Santos considered him an opinionated talent evaluator with an affable personality, able to unify and with excellent people skills. Plus, and this can’t be underscored, there’s a willingness to grind.
  • Yes, the Redskins have had an awful lot of stability in the front office for a team that has finished last five of the past six seasons.
  • Does that record mean those behind the scenes have failed? Well, you win as an organization. But the tough part to always know: How much are the reports being listened to?
  • I know of at least one player in recent years who was not written up favorably by the defensive coaches – and I mean all of them – and others but were still brought in because one person wanted them. He was OK at best. Another player, safety O.J. Atogwe, was signed because he had played under coordinator Jim Haslett. Was that a scouting mistake? Doubt it. Scouts I spoke with in other organizations felt Atogwe was done at least a year earlier.
  • That doesn’t mean everything that happened in the past was the coaches' fault. It’s too easy now to blame everything on Mike Shanahan. He did have the power, though. However, what it means is that I can’t dismiss a promotion from within only on the basis of the team has been bad for a while so therefore it's a bad move.
  • And, yes, I’m sure some would have preferred a fresh set of eyes in the front office. Just because.
  • Neither Doug Williams nor A.J. Smith was going to get this job, by the way. The hours are a killer – 100-hour weeks for a job that is No. 3 in power in the front office and, in terms of the organization would be even lower because they’d be behind a head coach, too. It’s a job best given to those on the way up. If Smith, for example, wants to get another general manager’s position, he won’t get there being a No. 3 in charge. His résumé as a GM already is built. Smith’s focus this offseason was more on the draft than anything else; Santos’ job will be more about pro scouting.
  • Regardless of who they brought in, though, the power rests with general manager (and, don’t forget, team president) Bruce Allen and then director of player personnel Scott Campbell. I don’t know if a new, young hotshot would have made a dent, certainly not more than the coach Allen hired or the coaches he retained. The fresh set of eyes, for better or worse, belong to Allen and coach Jay Gruden. Allen has new power; Gruden offers a different way of doing things than Shanahan.
  • Is that good or bad? Don’t know; they haven’t gone through a season with this setup so for now anything is a guess. For now you can paint it however you want, depending on your level of faith or cynicism.
  • Nor do I know what sort of job Santos will do. It’s always easy to measure a team because there’s a won-loss record, but it’s tougher behind the scenes. Then it becomes more like politics in terms of who gets credit or where blame is focused. Front-office type when things go bad: “We got him the players. They need to coach them better.” Coach: “They needed to get me better players.”
  • The pressure here remains on Allen. He has to prove he’s capable of building a winning organization with power he’s never had in the past. It’s hard to trust a lot of what the Redskins do because they haven’t won consistently in a long time. Until they do, everything will be (justifiably) viewed cynically. For those wanting that perception to change, there’s one way out: win. Of course, that's been said for too long now.
The Redskins didn't look far to replace Morocco Brown, turning to someone who made sense all along.

Washington promoted Alex Santos to director of pro personnel, nearly two weeks after Brown left to join the Cleveland Browns. Santos joined the Redskins' personnel department in 2006, spending the past six years as a pro scout under Brown. He helped evaluate NFL and CFL personnel and also served as an advance scout.

Santos worked his way up, starting as an assistant football coach in high school prior to serving as a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt in 2005. He started at guard for four seasons at North Carolina State.

Brown held the pro personnel title since 2008 and was third on the Redskins' chain of command in the front office -- behind general manager Bruce Allen and director of player personnel Scott Campbell. Brown took a job that makes him the No. 2 man in Cleveland, behind GM Ray Farmer.
The job requires discipline and a desire to work long hours and watch endless amounts of tape. And then keep pushing to the next day. When the Redskins replace Morocco Brown as the director of pro personnel, they’ll need to find someone willing to handle such a role.

Brown has agreed to become Cleveland’s vice president of player personnel, making him the No. 2 person behind general manager Ray Farmer. In Washington, he was third in command.

Redskins general manager Bruce Allen told the Washington Post at the one-day owners meetings in Atlanta that they have known this was a possibility and would start interviewing candidates next week. While Doug Williams is a personnel executive and A.J. Smith is a senior executive with Washington, it’s uncertain if either would even want the job because of the heavy demands. Smith was more focused on the draft than on pro scouting this past offseason. Alex Santos, who has been a pro scout the past six years for Washington, could be on the list.

But what, exactly, will they do? During the 2012 season, I spoke with Brown about his job for my email newsletter for the Washington Examiner. I’ll lay it out the same way it was for the newsletter, giving you a sense of their week -- and why it’s important to have someone willing to grind.

Busiest day: “Is Monday. You have the game, guys get MRIs, you find out who’s injured so you want to get in and figure that out and once you figure the positional needs, you get your list which we've watched all players who are on the street as well as watching guys on other teams. You have to have your list ready. Bruce [Allen] will let me know what’s on the injury front and I’ll come up with the list, call their agents, get the flights set up. Those details take time and eat your day up. There’s a sense of urgency when someone gets hurt. Then I’ll bring them in and set up a workout. Then you've got to watch the game. It takes a while to study it. On top of that I have to have the [advance book for the next opponent] turned in by today. I give a book to all the coaches and meet with them. It’s hectic.”

The advance book: “You start watching the team we’re going to play two weeks before we play them. Then you write up every player on the team, you’ll give an overview like the defensive and offensive strengths and weaknesses and what the philosophy is scheme-wise. Just to prep the coaches because they haven’t studied the team yet. They have to have a game plan by Tuesday. You present them with the book, the injuries, what happened at the game. You want to know who was injured, what were the big plays, the momentum-changers. No one will know that unless you’re at the game. You put it in the book, put your spin on it. You start that two weeks ahead of time.”

More advance: “Doing the advance takes the life out of you. Because it’s so much work and you have to know that team. We have to sit and meet with the coaches. You go off the top of your head saying what the team does and what we need to do to win. On Monday you pass the book out. Tuesday you meet with the coaches in the morning. Wednesday we’ll meet with some of the players and talk to them. You’re spent.”

Watching tape: “I’m constantly watching tape. I’m watching tape of the upcoming free agents this year, watching tape in the beginning of the year on everyone on every practice squad. There are thousands of street free agents. We catalog them, however far back you want to go based on you. I draw the line at two years. You always need to be cognizant of who’s out there. You’re always grinding on tape. We don’t draw names out of a hat. You have to show tape. The guy has to be a player on tape.”

Inquiries: “You do background research, call around and find out about the guy. You call the league and get something from them, did he get in trouble? What’s the deal with this guy? Sometimes they will be in trouble and you bring them in anyway to talk to them, see how they are in their mind.”

His help: “I have three assistants and they’re doing their teams. I do all the teams in our division. You build a library and a catalog of the players. Like Dez Bryant. I know who he is, but you have to be on top of it and make sure you put the right grade on him. That’s the biggest thing. I’ll assign them teams and they write up their teams throughout the course of the year. They follow their teams closely. We’ll put in our system the injuries, if someone gets in trouble. We’re tracking all that stuff. By the end of the year we won’t be finished, but you want to have written up each team in the league.”

Planning ahead: “Now’s the time of year it will start coming sooner rather than later. I want to get way ahead. Coach is inquisitive about everything. He might ask something now and you have to know. I start getting here earlier or leave later to get ahead of the curve. Something always comes up. Then we have to call the CFL, see who the top guy is, get the film sent in, watch those four or five guys and see if they can help us. It consumes a ton of time. You don’t want to miss Cameron Wake coming out of the CFL. Agents call a lot, sometimes players do. You have a guy who looks through all that stuff.”

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