An eye for talent

They say the NFL is becoming a young man's game, so Scot McCloughan has that much going for him. At the tender age of 33, he could pass for being even younger. But then he speaks, and you realize something right and bright is going on upstairs. The 49ers feel their latest key hire possesses football wisdom beyond his years, and they're banking on McCloughan's keen eye for identifying and evaluating talent to provide the players who will lead the rise of a moribund franchise.

Step right up, Mr. McCloughan. You have your work cut out for you.

None of this seemed to bother the fresh-faced, rose-cheeked McCloughan on Wednesday morning when the 49ers introduced him as their vice president of player personnel, in essence handing him the keys to their entire personnel department.

That's a big step up from McCloughan's previous job, which was director of college scouting for the Seattle Seahawks the past 4½ years. He spent the previous five years working in scouting with the Green Bay Packers, where he broke into the NFL.

But don't confuse McCloughan with some cherubic kid walking into a candy store. He knows what he's looking for, and he knows how to find the enduring treats among a group of prospects who on the surface all might look worthy of taking a bite.

Perhaps even more importantly, he knows his place in the ever-evolving restructuring of the San Francisco organization. Though he's replacing deposed general manager Terry Donahue in that structure, McCloughan has no illusions he'll have typical GM powers.

He's here to provide the lifeblood of the organization – the players who make the machine run.

"The reason I'm hired, the reason I'm here, is I'm a personnel guy," McCloughan said. "I've got to go find players – college and pro. I'm going to be a scout – a pro and college scout and get the job done."

And what about other duties, such as dealing with the salary cap, structuring contracts and dealing with similar issues previously overseen by Donahue? Well, McCloughan will rely on the help of others within the organization on those things.

"That's a work in progress for me," McCloughan said.

Finding talent, however, isn't.

Since McCloughan's first draft with the Seahawks in 2001, 32 of the 35 players selected by Seattle in the college lottery remain on the team, several of them as starters. The 49ers only wish they had it so good.

Maybe now they will after a series of misguided, unproductive drafts under Donahue.

"When it comes to personnel, I guess you could say Scot is a first-rounder," said 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who will bounce personnel ideas off McCloughan and share in the decision-making process with him in acquiring players. "Having been around (the NFL) all my life, I'm looking for someone like Scot that has the ability to identify (talent) properly. Whether it is a college or pro player, you're looking for the same kind of guys. Scott's ability to identify that – that is just a huge thing. Some guys talk about (having that ability). Scott has it."

In the end, that's what sold Nolan over the seven other candidates who interviewed with the 49ers for the job during the past week.

"His expertise, and I guess you could say (his) personality," Nolan said. "I like his command of what he does. He is very sure of what he does. I just like the way he is. He's willing to work at it. He doesn't say he has all the answers, but he's done very well. He's very confident and willing to take on more, and that is good, especially good in a guy that has had as much success as he has as a young guy."

Oh, yes. There is that issue of being a "young guy." McCloughan was the youngest of the eight candidates the team interviewed. Obviously, that wasn't a deterrent to him being selected over several more-established peers.

"I think the fact that the success and the experience that he's had in Seattle, I don't think age matters here," said former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf, who gave McCloughan his first NFL job. "He's a young man (who) will be able to withstand all of the pressures that go along with that job."

Those pressures already have begun. With the NFL Combine and free agency looming in the next month, McCloughan must hit the ground running in evaluating players already with the team to identify who should stay and who should go. Then the Niners must decide what established players they might want to pursue in free agency.

Then comes the all-important draft, which figures to be McCloughan's baby. No pressure, Scot. You only have the No. 1 overall pick in the entire draft, along with at least 10 other selections (and maybe more). Don't screw it up.

McCloughan says bring it on, just like the other aspects of his new job with the 49ers.

"A lot of people say it's pressure. But it's not pressure," McCloughan said. "You can really start going the right direction immediately. I'm just a piece of the puzzle that is going to do what I can do to make this organization go in the right direction. I'm a good communicator and I have no problem working with anybody."

McCloughan's previous boss will vouch for that.

"The 49ers have done themselves proud," Seattle VP/director of football operations Ted Thompson said. "Scot is an outstanding evaluator. He's got a great grasp of what it takes to succeed in the NFL and will do an outstanding job. We're all very proud of him."

The 49ers hope they soon can say the same.

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