Sometimes it pays to be bad.
Actually, the payoff isn't as beneficial as being good, but there is one advantage to having a bad season in the NFL, besides just the high draft choice awarded the following year. Teams with the worst record are the first ones considered to coach one of the two college all-star squads at the Senior Bowl.
While it requires more work than coaches from the other NFL teams that kick up their feet in the stands and have leisurely conversations while watching the practices down on the fields in Mobile, Ala., this week, the Senior Bowl coaching staffs get extended, first-hand experience working with the prospects. Every team has the chance to interview any of the roughly 100 players that filter through Mobile this week, but coaches for the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins essentially go through a week of training camp with the players on the North and South squads, respectively.
"I think it gives us a tremendous advantage in comparison to when you're sitting in the stands trying to evaluate guys and then you're coming back and evaluating tape," said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who expects to have 10 picks in April's draft. "To be this close to them, to actually instruct them the way that we would instruct them if they were in Minnesota with us and then to see how they respond and then to be around them in the cafeteria and meetings, it's a tremendous advantage."
The Vikings and Redskins started the process with team meetings with their squads on Sunday night. Players were officially weighed and measured on a stage in front of NFL scouts, coaches and media on Monday morning and then hit the practice fields to put into action what they had learned in the previous 24 hours during classroom sessions.
The classroom and practice sessions will continue during the ensuing days this week, with the evenings mostly consumed by other NFL teams interviewing the potential draft picks. But only the coaches from the Vikings and Redskins are able to see how the prospects react in the classroom settings and around other players away from the practice fields.
"They watch these guys in meeting rooms, at the training table when they're eating. They want to see how passionate they are with football and about the game of football and if they really want to play," said Kevin McDermond, the public relations director for the Senior Bowl.
"… If you're around the host hotel and after practice, you see the interviews that scouts do, but (the North and South coaching staffs) get one-on-one. They get to see how they interact off the field. They get to see how passionate they are and what their football IQ is. They say it's invaluable. There's examples all the time of guys that fall in love with Senior Bowlers here and then go on to draft them."
Perhaps most prominently, that happened in 2005 with Auburn running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. Coached by Jon Gruden at the Senior Bowl, Williams went No. 5 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coached by Gruden.
Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals selected quarterback Andy Dalton in the second round of the draft after coaching him at the Senior Bowl. Dalton went on to start all 16 games, throwing for 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The Bengals' familiarity with Dalton at the Senior Bowl had a lot to do with that selection.
"It's a huge advantage," McDermond said.
Just to be sure that the Senior Bowl coaches have an opportunity to get to know players from the other squad, the coaching staffs will visit with players from the other team for one night, but at that point they aren't talking game plan as much as simply familiarizing themselves with the personality and intellect of the individual players.
"You really feel like you know them," Frazier said of coaching the prospects. "When it comes time to make that pick, you have a better feel of what you're getting, as opposed to maybe watching tape and interviewing them for 15 minutes at the (NFL Scouting Combine)."
The coaching staffs are selected by the NFL, with draft order and coaching stability on the worst teams both taken into consideration. The Indianapolis Colts hold the top pick in the draft, but with general manager Bill Polian and eventually head coach Jim Caldwell both fired, they weren't in a position to have a coaching staff together this week in Mobile. The same held true with the St. Louis Rams, who hold the second pick in the draft but fired head coach Steve Spagnuolo after the season.
"The NFL makes the decision. They tell us Washington and Minnesota are coming. We take that and we say, ‘Alright, Minnesota is coaching the North, Washington is coaching the South,'" McDermond said.
In this case, there was really no specific reason for matching the coaching staffs with the North or South. In past years, certain staffs have requested one team or another because of familiarity or maybe even a perceived talent advantage with one squad.
No matter the assignment, it seems having the ability to spend extra time with the prospects is viewed as a distinct advantage.
"When Mike Singletary was (head coach of) the Niners, he was begging to coach it," McDermond said. "So they do call the league office and say, ‘Hey, we want in.'"
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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