With the 2017 NFL Draft now over, Chris Ballard is already hard at work making changes to his scouting and personnel staffs.
This has led to a number of reported moves. It’s been reported that Ed Dodds and Rex Hogan are joining the Colts as co-VPs of Player Personnel, that Morocco Brown is joining the Colts as their Director of College Scouting, and that Brian Decker is joining the team as their Player Personnel Strategist.
Though none of these moves are official yet, Chris Ballard did confirm two of the hires yesterday in an interview with 1070 the Fan’s Dan Dakich: Brian Decker and Rex Hogan. Those were the two moves that Ballard was asked about, and the GM explained what those two guys offer. This doesn’t mean that the other moves aren’t happening, but Ballard was simply only asked about Decker and Hogan.
The most interesting part was about what Brian Decker brings to the Colts. It’s a different move than usual, as Decker - a former Green Beret who helped improve the process of selecting them and then worked for the Cleveland Browns - is joining the Colts to help them evaluate the person. There’s plenty of evaluation about talent throughout the NFL, but the Colts hope Decker can help them be better evaluators of people and character.
It’s a move that takes a different step forward than what teams are typically used to.
“Yes, and look, so I got to know Brian,” Ballard told Dakich, “I’d read the article on ESPN, I know Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, and they both had been, ‘hey man, this guy’s really good, he’s really good at what he does,’ and so I called and arranged a meeting and we met, we’ve met a few times before, and just his vision and helping define - you know, we talk about grit and we talk about certain characteristics that we want in players, but do we really know what we’re looking for? And he’s going to help put that process together and what it means to be a Colt and define what it is to be a Colt and help us make better decisions when we’re picking players off the board.”
Ballard confirmed that Decker was just hired a few days ago and therefore had no role in this year’s draft, but the reasoning for the hire makes perfect sense. The Colts place a big emphasis on intangibles, on grit, and on locker room impact. We know that Ballard doesn’t just want to write off every player with a character concern as undraftable, but is there a way to help improve and better the process of evaluating those guys? The Colts and Brian Decker think so.
What will he offer the Colts?
“So here’s one of the biggest things that I take from Brian,” Ballard explained, “because he’s a process guy and look, when you make decisions you can’t just make them and shoot from the hip and make decisions. So when we’re looking at [players], he’s not going to look at the talent base, he’s going to look at the character base and then help us make decisions on what we can handle. So there was a couple guys in this draft who had character red flags, and look, we forget, guys are young and they make mistakes. To me is when you bring a guy into your building that has some problems, you’ve got to be able to manage them and help them get better. And there’s certain characteristics that each guy has that they can [have] the ability to overcome, so basic intelligence, their ability, they’ve overcome something in life, all those things he’s really good [at], and he did it for the military. He helped define their process of how they were finding officers and I think he can do it in our league also.”
So, for example, when the Colts are looking to sign a player Ballard confirmed that the player will have to meet with Brian Decker. So essentially, his job is going to be trying to gather together all of the background information possible on the player and then formulate opinions based on the process that he’s developed over the years - and that, at least in the military, has been proven to work. That’s what his job will be with the Colts.
“That’s right,” Ballard said. “So what we’ll do, so when the scout goes on the road, I mean really a scout, they become investigative reporters when they’re on the road. I mean, they’re digging for every [thing], I mean I always tell our guys we want to get it as close to the hole as we can, because you never really know until you live with a guy, until you get him in the building and you live every day with that player or that person or anybody you hire, you don’t know. So you’ve done all this research and you’ve talked to every source you can talk to and you’ve got every story about a player, but trying to get it as close to the hole as we can, and that’s what Brian will help us do. He’ll help our scouts ask the right questions when they’re on the road to help dig out information, and then he’ll take that information and use it going forward to help formulate, ‘hey, these are the guys.’ So look, all we’re doing is [asking] what’s the risk level when we take a guy? And when we take a guy that has some risk, we’ve got to be able to make it work. And what risks are worth it and what ones are not?”
That led into a discussion with some similar themes that we’ve heard from Ballard before about the importance of having a plan for the players they bring in. Basically, Ballard always feels some sort of responsibility when a player doesn’t work out because normally it’s not because of talent, it’s because of some other issue. So whenever a player is brought in the team must have a plan for how to use him and how to help him keep improving, whether as a player or as a person. Perhaps the hire of Brian Decker will help them in formulating those plans.
The conversation then shifted focus to Rex Hogan, who was previously the Jets’ Senior Director of College Scouting but before that spent 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears - working with Chris Ballard. So why hire Hogan?
“Because he’s very good at his job,” Ballard said. “So we had a lot of success in Chicago and Rex had a big part of that. And then when he got put in a little managerial role as their college scouting director in New York it kind of gave him more authority. But he’s an outstanding evaluator of talent, and he’s great with people. He’s got a lot of great connections. Rex was at Notre Dame at one time as kind of their assistant director of football ops, so he’s got great connections with coaches throughout the country. He was with Urban Meyer at Utah. So he’s got a broad-based rolodex of people that he knows, and look, you can’t ever have enough talented people in the building with you, and I want these guys to be able to grow, and a lot of the reason they wanted to be on board is because they know their opinion matters and their voice matters. And getting Rex was also pretty big for us.”
Of course, there’s normally a flip side to hiring people to the front office staff: those hires are usually replacing people who were fired. That’s also the case with the Colts, and Ballard did make a few firings that preceded these hirings. That’s the tough part.
“It’s hard,” Ballard said. “It’s very hard, because they put their time and sweat into this business too and into this organization, and I had a lot of respect for the guys that were here, but when you’re doing business a certain way you like to have people in the building that have kind of your same mindset and know how you think. And that’s why the changes had to be made. Hey, nothing against their talent level, those are very talented people, and they’ll still have success in this league, but [we] needed some more like-minded [people], with my mindset, going forward as we build this thing.”
It should be noted that what Ballard has done with the Colts is not abnormal. GMs typically make changes to their scouting staffs after the draft, especially new GMs. So it’s not abnormal, but it’s still tough.
If the way people talk about the guys the Colts have hired (or reportedly hired) are any indication, though, Ballard is well on his way to improving Indy’s front office. I find it very interesting to listen to him talk about what Brian Decker and Rex Hogan bring to the team, and hopefully it gives us a little bit better of an understanding of what they’ll be doing with the Colts.