Join Date: Apr 2008
The Far Sideline -- the story of an NFL scouting savant
The Far Sideline
Football savant SCOT McCLOUGHAN helped build two Super Bowl champions. Now in exile, will he get a shot to build a third?
...though he is well-known in NFL circles -- for his genius and his demons -- most sports fans don't know his name. I tell the farmer that the person I'm looking for just moved here, and he directs me back down the road. After a quarter mile or so, I see, at the end of a long driveway on a potato farm, the glow of a TV coming through the window of a dark room -- exactly the way a lifelong scout would want it.
"Hey, bud!" McCloughan says at the door. He has rosy cheeks and reddish-blond hair and a scar on his right hand from when he punched a window in joy after one of his players intercepted a pass. Considered by many to be football's best talent evaluator, McCloughan likes it out here. He runs a few miles every morning, through the woods and down to the banks of the Nooksack. He has a fiancée named Jess -- he met her years ago, but they got engaged only recently. They just returned from a week in Hawaii, the first fall vacation of McCloughan's professional life. He has a vegetable garden in the back yard. He's 43 years old and feels as if he's at the peak of his abilities. "Life is good," he says, making it easy to forget why he's on a farm in Ferndale, nowhere near an NFL front office.
THERE'S AN OLD JOKE in the NFL that everyone is either born-again or alcoholic. Scot McCloughan isn't born-again. And if the former 49ers general manager and onetime senior personnel executive with the Seahawks wants another shot at a front-office job, he is going to have to prove to NFL owners that he doesn't still have a drinking problem. They will be intrigued by McCloughan because he has all but mastered the ability to determine whether and how a college football player will fit into the NFL. They will have serious questions, too. His battles with alcohol are known in league circles, but it's an issue he has never discussed publicly. Now, considering a return to the game, he has me up to the farmhouse to spend a few days. "Write the truth," he says.
I'm expecting McCloughan to trot out the typical maxims and language of substance abuse and recovery. He has experienced a renaissance of sorts in Ferndale. Although he has become semi-famous around town for helping to bring the state of Washington its first Super Bowl this past February -- the lady at the cellphone store calls him a "hero" -- most of the town simply knows him as Scot. On Tuesday nights, he joins a few hundred other guys at a nearby church. Veterans, farmers, homeless locals. They eat and laugh and read spiritual passages. He has not always been proud of himself and his lifestyle, but right now, he seems especially comfortable in his own skin. "I had a drinking problem," he says. "I'm a good person. And I know how to run a team."
So, how to make sense of the fact that, shortly after I arrive, he sits in an overstuffed recliner in his living room to watch the Thursday night NFL game and opens a light beer?
JUST BEFORE 9 O'CLOCK the next morning, McCloughan is checking out college football players on video. He runs his own scouting business and says a handful of NFL teams pay him $75,000 each to evaluate players. He moved to Ferndale from Seattle because the open space reminded him of his hometown of Loveland, Colorado, but his farmhouse has the feel of a temporary residence, the marks of someone straddling worlds. Rented furniture, no pictures on the walls. On the floor are framed photos of his three children from a marriage that began to collapse when his life did. In one, son Caden, 15, leans into his dad's chest as confetti falls after last season's Super Bowl; in another, twin daughters Adison and Avery, 11. They live in Northern California with their mother, Scot's ex, Kelli. He talks to them every day, and before they hang up he asks them to pray.
He has two Super Bowl rings locked in a safe. Each of the three teams for which he has worked in his 20 years in the NFL -- the Packers, two stints with the Seahawks, and the 49ers -- has reached the Super Bowl during his tenure or shortly afterward. McCloughan had a part in drafting six players who were on the Pro Bowl roster last season, including Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis. His report on Russell Wilson for the Seahawks a few years ago read:
"Obviously we are really interested in passers with better height, but this guy may just be the exception to the rule. He has the 'it' factor."So does McCloughan. He has an "exceptional ... uncanny" gift, in the words of his mentor and former boss Ron Wolf. It's why he named his business Instinctive Scouting. This morning, he is consumed with an FBS middle linebacker projected by many to be a sixth- or seventh-rounder. But on a play in which the linebacker...
Back at the restaurant, the waitress stops by our table.
"Would you like another beer?" she asks.
"I'm good," he says. "I'm good."