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Senior Bowl caters annual Scout School to former NFL players

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MOBILE, Ala. -- Jamaal Fudge first put the count at 15, then at 20. It took some time to remember them all.

He was adding up the number of jobs he's had since his four-year NFL career ended after the 2009 season. Since then, he's tried on all kinds of hats:

-- Playing in the Canadian Football League and Arena League.

-- Taking a job as a personal trainer.

-- Substitute teacher.

-- Lawn-mowing service.

-- Non-profit work.

-- Home Depot ... twice.

He's worked hard to stay involved with football. He volunteered with the Atlanta Falcons' community relations office, driving equipment for the NFL's Play 60 initiative to elementary schools around Atlanta. He arranged cleat donations by the Jaguars and distributed them to high schools in Jacksonville, Florida, his hometown. And early this month, he was in Mobile, at the annual Senior Bowl Scout School, pursuing an idea he wishes he'd thought of a long time ago: becoming an NFL scout.

Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy decided to populate the two-day Scout School, which began six years ago under Nagy's predecessor, Phil Savage, mostly with former NFL players. Becoming a scout would seem to be a common next step for retiring NFL players, but it's not -- speakers and students agreed on that at the seminar led by Nagy, who spent 18 years as a scout before taking his current post for the nation's marquee college all-star game.

In fact, addressing the shortage of former players and minorities going into scouting was part of Nagy's motivation for procuring a room full of ex-pros. At the end of last season, after Reggie McKenzie was fired in Oakland and Ozzie Newsome retired in Baltimore, only two of the league's 32 general manager (or primary football executive) jobs belonged to minorities: Chris Grier in Miami and Doug Williams in Washington. And only seven minorities held the position of director of college scouting out of the 32 clubs.

"In my time in the league, I always felt like there weren't enough former players and minorities in the profession, so I wanted to use the Senior Bowl platform to help that in any way we could," Nagy told me after the seminar. "Hopefully we'll create a pipeline and some opportunities to give guys some hands-on experience."

Why don't more NFL playing careers dovetail into scouting? The question draws a tangle of different answers that help explain why there's been a wide pathway to scouting for those who've never played a down in the NFL.

Buffalo Bills director of player personnel Dan Morgan took a scouting intern position with the Seattle Seahawks after his playing days ended in 2009. He was highly attracted to the profession but initially had to perform more menial tasks before breaking in full-time.

"I drove players to the airport. I did all the things a lower-level guy would do for other people on staff," said the former Panthers linebacker during a recent phone interview. "And even after you break in, you're sitting in the office and evaluating players and doing work behind the scenes that gets no glorification, and players are used to being in the spotlight. It's not for everyone."

Scouting staffs aren't around NFL players much, so those relationships don't develop nearly as well as players and coaches build bonds. Scouting staffs are divided into college scouts, who spend vast amounts of time on the road in the fall building evaluations of draft prospects, and the pro scouts, who log long office hours doing advance work on future opponents and maintaining evaluations on potential targets for trades or signings. As a result, players naturally gravitate more toward coaching when trying to transition to a second career in football.

Dolphins assistant GM Marvin Allen worked outside of football for four years after his playing career ended in 1992, before catching on as a scout in 1996. He's noticed a disconnect for some players when it comes to understanding the job and all that goes into it.

"I've talked to former players and former teammates, and a lot of them don't know what it is. They think you just show up to (college) games on Saturdays," Allen said. "They don't know about all the travel. They don't want to be away from their families for two weeks at a time. You also have to remember there are only so many jobs out there, and clubs don't always have an opening. You have 32 clubs with five to eight scouts. Sometimes I think players are impatient and want it to happen right now, and if it doesn't, they can get discouraged and move onto something else instead of staying with it."

Another thing that can turn off players: Entry-level scouting positions don't pay particularly well. Pay scales for scouts vary from club to club, but backsliding from a seven-figure player's salary to mid-five-figure money as a scout can be a tough ask.

"Depending on how long they played and what family obligations they have, and whether they set aside enough money, they might not be in a position to take an entry-level job that doesn't pay enough to support everybody," said NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player and scout and one of the speakers Nagy brought in for the Scout School. "You might have to have a partner who is willing to maybe work while you're trying to get a second career up and going. There are a lot of factors in play."

Along with Brooks, Nagy enlisted Chiefs director of pro personnel Tim Terry, longtime NFL assistant coach and Senior Bowl senior vice president of operations Sylvester Croom, and Dan Hatman of the Scouting Academy, an educational program for people aspiring to get into scouting, to lead discussions at the Scout School.

The former players who attended arrived from all kinds of post-career journeys.

Terrence Metcalf, the father of Seattle Seahawks 2019 second-round draft pick D.K. Metcalf, played seven seasons on the Chicago Bears' offensive line. Currently the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Pearl River (Miss.) Community College, he took an interest in NFL scouting after watching D.K. go through the draft process in the spring.

Drew Henson, who played pro baseball before a brief career as an NFL backup quarterback, attended Scout School as well. With the advantage of having been a scout for the New York Yankees, he's now looking to switch his scouting career from baseball to football. His father was a football coach, but player evaluation has always intrigued him more than coaching.

"I've always wanted to get into the football side," said Henson during a break between Scout School sessions. "My father was a college football coach. But I've always been more attracted to the scouting side, the evaluation part of it, and putting puzzle pieces together, than the coaching side. I've been a baseball scout and coach, but on a day-to-day basis, this (football scouting) is what I would enjoy most."

Working in a support-staff role at the college level -- as a recruiting coordinator or analyst, for instance -- is the way people without an NFL career on their resume break into scouting, according to Nagy. Most of them initially work a year or two in a role known as a scouting assistant, essentially a training ground, before becoming a full-time scout.

NFL teams could have anywhere from one to four scouting assistant positions, and Morgan noted that plenty of talented scouts who never stepped on an NFL field as a player have gone that route. Nagy believes plenty of ex-players could skip that step and immediately provide quality work as a full-time scout. Nagy broke into scouting with a former pro running back in Reggie Cobb, who died in April at age 50. Cobb played for four NFL teams over seven seasons, and Nagy said Cobb's instincts for scouting were clear when they met.

"God rest his soul, to this day, when I scout running backs, I hear Reggie's voice from that first year, talking about how the two most critical things for running backs are vision and burst," Nagy said. "He always said long speed is overrated at that position -- I hear his voice every time I sit down to (scout) a running back."

Cobb finished his playing career in 1997 but didn't catch on as a scout until 2001 with the Washington Redskins. That's a four-year gap, and Brooks said overcoming a stint out of the league can be challenging. Brooks knew he wanted to become a scout before his playing days even ended, and he was able to jump straight in "while my name was still hot," he said.

For Fudge, the gap has reached 10 years.

Last year, he submitted an application for the Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, a program named after former NFL executives Bill Nunn and John Wooten that introduces former players to the scouting profession. He didn't hear back, and this year, he missed the deadline. That's on him, he said.

"When I missed that, I knew I wasn't going to miss this (Scout School)," Fudge said. "I want to break into the business any way I can."

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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