It is Flashback Friday. Time to rewind the clock to that time when your Dallas Cowboys were the trendsetters, the emulated, the elite. I usually focus on players for this series, but this time, I want to take a different tact and remember one of the men who helped make the Cowboys America’s Team. He was the first, and perhaps to this very day, the greatest of all NFL scouts.
Mr. Gil Brandt.
If there was a Mount Rushmore for the men who imagined and built the Dallas Cowboys, it would inevitably include the visages of longtime coach Tom Landry, original GM Tex Schramm, original team owner Clint Murchison, and last, but not least, Vice President of Player Personnel (1960-1989) Gil Brandt.
Before he became the NFL’s greatest talent scout, Gil Brandt was a baby photographer, of all things. But he had a knack for discovering football that helped him land a part-time gig as scout for the Los Angeles Rams in ’50s, when Tex Schramm was GM of that team.
After Murchison hired Schramm to run his expansion team in Dallas, Schramm made two immediate hires: Tom Landry and Gil Brandt.
Remember, Brandt’s heyday as a scout predated not only the Internet, but the PC. Computers were scarce, in the developmental stages, and utilized by only a few of the bigger corporations. People still pounded out letters on typewriters. There was no YouTube. There weren’t even any fax machines.
These days, it is almost impossible for a truly gifted football player to fall through the cracks. But in Gil Brandt’s day, it happened with regularity.
Brandt was the first to introduce computer analysis to the world of NFL scouting. He was the first to think outside the gridiron and find football talent on basketball courts and track fields. Cornell Green, for instance, was a basketball star at Utah State. Brandt envisioned the undersized basketball player with the great hands and quickness as a defensive back. Green would play 13 seasons in Dallas, making five Pro Bowl teams and being named first-team All Pro three times.
Then there was Bob Hayes, the world record holder in the 100-yard dash and wearing the label then as “the world’s fastest man.” Hayes became such a threat as an NFL wideout, that defensive coaches devised a scheme known as zone coverage, because no one could run with him.
Brandt also excelled at finding undrafted talent in the rookie football pool. Drew Pearson, Cliff Harris, and Everson Wallas were all undrafted free agents. Pearson and Harris are in the Ring of Honor and ought to be in Canton. Walls became a Pro Bowl cornerback.
Jerry Jones is no Gil Brandt
The trouble with the inept Cowboys of the 21st century rests on the shoulders of the man who would just as soon dynamite the Cowboys Mount Rushmore and pretend it never existed. Jerry Jones fancies himself the equal of Murchison, Schramm, Landry and Brandt combined.
He fancies himself a football man. He thinks he has an eye for talent.
But even in this age of instant access, social media, ubiquitous phone cameras, YouTube, advanced metrics, and specialized coaching that reaches as far down as middle school, there is still something to be said for having that man in your organization with the knack for knowing a football player when he sees one.
Scouting still comes down to two distinct categories: Measurables and Intangibles.
Measurables are the things you can identify, record, quantify…
- Height and weight
- Speed and quickness
- Strength and stamina
- Intelligence (IQ)
Anybody can measure measurables.
Intangibles are the things you can sense about a player, but cannot prove or demonstrate it quantitatively. Things like…
- Team player
- Football IQ
Take the intelligence quotient, for example. A person may be brilliant, a real critical thinker, and yet lack a real football IQ. If I may skip to another sport for a local illustration, allow me to turn to the Dallas Mavericks and former point guard and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd. No one ever accused Kidd of natural brilliance, in the general sense of the word. No quantum physics or string theories from him. But the one thing he is universally recognized for is his basketball IQ. He understands the game as well as anyone who has ever played it. He was instinctual, sure. He was a phenomenally gifted athlete. But the thing that set him apart was his understanding of the game. He always knew the best thing to do in a given situation. He was always a step ahead of the competition.
It did not take a super scout to find Jason Kidd, because he had the physical package and was noticed long before he was out of high school.
But finding the intangibles in talents with less notoriety and less physical ability takes a real eye, a real instinct.
Gil Brandt had as good an eye for football talent as any man ever had.
In a 1983 interview with the News and Courier, Gil Brandt gave excellent insight into the way the Dallas Cowboys was constructed as an organization:
“From the very beginning, when we went to successful corporations like Delta Airlines and General Motors to see how they were run, we took a different approach. We felt there were things beyond football, so we looked outside the game for answers.”
Brandt said that team leadership developed basic theories on which they would build the Dallas Cowboys:
- The “secure coach” theory
- The “corporate stability” theory
- The “best athlete available” theory
- The “all things equal, we will take brains” theory
Since Jerry Jones has hired four coaches since 2000, and seven coaches since he bought the team in 1989, he obviously kicked theory one to the curb. Theory two hardly matters, since the “corporate” notion consists of Jerry and his boys, especially Stephen Jones. The “best athlete available” theory? Don’t think so. “We’ll take brains” theory? Remember how Jones was so giddy when he traded UP to snatch Morris Claiborne as the 6th overall pick in the 2012 draft?
Here is a report from ESPN that came out on April 3, 2012, before the draft:
Former LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, the highest-rated cornerback in the NFL draft, scored a 4 out of 50 on the Wonderlic test administered to prospects at the NFL scouting combine in February, sources confirmed to ESPN.
Pro Football Talk first reported Claiborne’s test score.
Claiborne’s score is the lowest known result by a draft prospect since Iowa State running back Darren Davis reportedly received a 4 in 2000…
So much for brains!
Could the Cowboys use a Gil Brandt today? Could Kim Jong Un use a better advisor?
Come to think of it, the Gil Brandt is still around and offering his expert insights on NFL.com. But I am sure he is way too gifted at spotting football talent to crawl into bed with football idiots like the Joneses.
So, that’s out.
I suppose there may never again be a Gil Brandt in the NFL. But, as a Cowboys fan, I thank God there once was. Jerry Jones should thank God for that, too, since Brandt helped build the brand that has made the Arkansas wildcatter a billionaire.
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Gil Brandt also drafted such luminaries as Sonny Gibbs, Sims Stokes, Tody Smith, Kevin Brooks, and Danny Noonan.
True, in 29 years of drafts, you're gonna miss on a few. But in the late 70s and the 80s, it seems there were fewer hits and a lot more misses (Rod Hill, anyone?). My point? "Put away the anointing oil", as Bill Parcells used to say.
Brandt was not infallible, but I agree that given a choice between him and Jerry in terms of making draft picks, I'd take Brandt any day.