Heckert: A Chip off the Ol' Block?

GM Candidate Tom Heckert's history with the Cleveland Browns goes back to his father, who was with the Cleveland Browns in the 1980s. Steve King explains...

If Tom Heckert, who interviewed for the job on Wednesday, is eventually hired as general manager of the Browns, then he will be about the same age as was his father, Tom Heckert Sr., when he joined the team as its Midwest area scout in 1982.

Heckert, currently in his ninth season as GM of the Philadelphia Eagles, is 42. His dad was 43 when he came to the Browns in 1982 to work under vice president of personnel Bill Davis for head coach Sam Rutigliano.

Another area scout with the Browns then was Dave Beckman, whose son, Tim, just finished his first year as head coach at the University of Toledo.

Just as is the case with the Beckmans, the younger Heckert is a quality football man, just like his father.

"The apple didn't fall very far from the tree in either case," Rutigliano said Friday from his home in Waite Hill in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. "Tom Heckert did a great job for us. He was intellectually honest, in that I mean he told you what you needed to hear, not what you wanted to hear. He told the truth. He wasn't afraid to go in there and kick the gorilla in the ankle, if that's what he had to do."

The elder Heckert is a native of Youngstown who stayed home to go to college, attending Youngstown State. Davis, also from Youngstown and a product of Rayen High School there and then Mount Union College in nearby Alliance, where he was a Little All-American quarterback, was the head coach at Austintown Fitch High School in the Youngstown suburbs when he hired Heckert as an assistant in 1961. Following a two-year stint in the Army, Heckert returned to Fitch in 1964 and stayed two seasons before becoming a graduate assistant at Kent State for two years (1966-67) while earning a master's degree in education.

Heckert became head coach at Maumee (Ohio) High School for two years before Davis asked him to join his staff at Adrian (Mich.) College for three years. It was when Heckert first got to Adrian that Tom Jr. was born.

Heckert was named head coach at Adrian in 1973 and athletic director in '77. In his last three seasons there before joining the Browns, his teams were 23-3-1, including a perfect 9-0 in 1980, the year the Kardiac Kids Browns went 11-5 and won the AFC Central title.

All through that period, and then during his dad's time with the Browns, football really began rubbing off on the young, impressionable Heckert.

"I was around the football field and football offices probably more than I was at home," Heckert, who is completing his 18th season in the NFL, said several years ago. "I was always there.

"After school, I'd watch his practices. We'd go to every game. When I was really young, he'd be upstairs in his office working and I'd just watch tape because it was there."

The elder Heckert ended up spending two decades in the NFL, including the final 13 years as a scout with the Miami Dolphins before retiring in 2004. Now living in Florida, the 71-year-old Heckert and Rutigliano have maintained their relationship over the years.

"Those guys who go out on the road, the scouts, are a different and special breed," Rutigliano said. "The good ones are the guys who take the extra step. They get out of the car one more time to check with a trainer or the strength and conditioning coach to get that last bit of information you may need on a player.

"Tom was that kind of guy. He was dedicated and committed. He worked hard and kept digging. He did the job better than you would do it yourself.

"From what I hear from people in the league I talk to, young Tom is that kind of guy, too. It's why he's been so successful in Philadelphia. It's no coincidence that the Eagles have been consistently good during Tom's time with them.

"I think he'd be a great hire for the Browns if (new team president) Mike Holmgren decides to go that route."

Looking at history, it's at least the right time of life for a Heckert to come to Cleveland.

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