Tony Dungy Explains Why Character Matters in NFL Draft and How Teams Evaluate

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterApril 10, 2014

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Preparing for the NFL draft is similar to the biggest job interview of a young man's life. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that in an era when large corporations scan social media to weed out otherwise qualified candidates and some top financial firms are using decades-old SAT scores to help them make decisions, the NFL is as careful as other multibillion-dollar businesses in picking its latest crop of employees. 

Character assessments prior to the draft may be nothing new, but as the NFL ramps up the process with new character profiles and a renewed emphasis on workplace conduct, former NFL head coach Tony Dungy sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss a variety of topics, but much of our talk centered around why and how teams assess character before the draft. 

Dungy is a big proponent of trumpeting men and women of good character. It's one of the reasons he was making the media rounds to talk about his "Always There Award" for the unsung heroes of high school football in SEC football states. 

He says the unsung heroes in high school football are more than just the coaches and administrators.

"The people who really make it run are the volunteers—I think of the student equipment manager or the mom who brings the pregame meal every Friday because she wants to do it. There’s a number of people like that in every high school."

In the college and professional football ranks, Dungy has used his experience to mentor plenty of young men, from players like Michael Vick and LeGarrette Blount to coaches like Mike Locksley and Chip Kelly

At coaching stops in Tampa and in Indianapolis, Dungy says that scouts were instructed to find out as much as possible about a prospect's character and include it in the overall report. Under Dungy, scouts even gave prospects a letter grade for character right alongside grades for athleticism and talent. 

Matt Rourke

Dungy admits there were plenty of players with B's or C's for their grade in character, but the team still felt comfortable drafting them. However, he said that any prospect with enough red flags would preclude scouts from "standing up on the table" for them. 

Outside of the scouting process, Dungy also pointed to the help that teams get from NFL security and local police agencies in order to find out the most about a player's past. Yet, it was always important for scouts to interview people around the player—trainers, coaches, etc. 

I've written about the cottage industry around draft investigation before, so Dungy's modus operandi is nothing too different from what I've heard from other teams, but the former coach and current NBC Sports analyst did highlight one inventive way of finding out who the proverbial "good guys" were. 

While interviewing players prior to the draft, Dungy said that he would ask them which of their teammates they would bring with them to their pro team. He said that many would be surprised at the star players that weren't mentioned. 

In the end, Dungy said that sometimes it was as simple—and subjective—as getting a gut feeling about the player, basically answering the question: "Is this someone we want in our organization?"

Every evaluator has different ways to obtain that gut feeling. On Twitter recently, former NFL scout John Middlekauff pointed out that players who were dealing with character concerns were foolish to wear suits to meet with teams. 

In a way, it seems almost counterintuitive, but it's actually not a rarity in scouting circles. I compare it to my first time covering the NFL combine in 2008. I showed up wearing a shirt and tie while the experienced journalists were in T-shirts and jeans. The established journalist who sat next to me was wearing sweatpants! No one wears a suit in an NFL facility, so players who show up dressed to the nines stick out like a sore thumb. 

Dungy, too, had heard of the concern, but he said that it wasn't universal.

"All of those things come and go. You can tell when a guy is clean-cut, and that’s just who he is. I can remember as a younger coach coming in and earrings were frowned upon and players would take them out to meet with coaches. We got past that."

Dave Martin

Dungy also had the unique timing of doing this interview on the day when AJ McCarron's wedding-based reality show was announced. Dungy said that players with things like that had to answer a set of questions.

"Is he going to fit in the locker room? Is he going to work hard? Is he putting team desires ahead of his own personal desires?"

One of the best ways, it turns out, to answer questions about a player is also the simplest: talking to the player himself. When face-to-face with a player with a public and checkered past, Dungy said it was always his goal to ask what the prospect had learned from his mistakes and how he has moved past them and grown from them. 

Still, whether a player learned from his transgressions or not, Dungy said there was an entire section of the draft board dedicated to players who would not be drafted by the team—a decision made by the coaching staff, scouting department and ownership. 

"We acknowledged their talent and knew someone would draft them around where we had them, but we would not draft them based on whatever issue we had."

This year, like every other year in draft history, there will be players shuffled up and down boards based on that aforementioned gut feeling and whether those teams want those players in their respective locker rooms. 

For those evaluators, like Dungy, who place an emphasis on character, this part of the process might be the most important and the most subjective. If it's done right, however, a coach could find himself, like Dungy some day, headed to the Hall of Fame. 


Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. 

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