Bears' Emery won't stray from scouting roots

New GM plans to log lots of time on road looking at college players

The Bears hired Phil Emery as general manager because he was an effective road scout.

During the college football season, he spent about 80 nights in hotels. Being a road scout is what he was. It's what he is. And it's what he will be.

Even as a general manager.

Emery's plan is to watch the Bears play Sunday and stay with the team through Wednesday. By Wednesday night or Thursday morning, he will be traveling to a college to watch practice or a game. He will be away from his team until Sunday, and he aims to see four college teams a week.

Most GMs today are content to sit in their offices and work the remote control, relying on game tape and a telephone. During the season, they are more concerned with keeping their fingers on the pulse of their teams than with finding ways to restock.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

But like fellow GMs Ted Thompson of the Packers, Scott Pioli of the Chiefs, Thomas Dimitroff of the Falcons and Kevin Colbert of the Steelers, Emery is old-school. He says he wants to "get his eyes on players."

Thompson, who has drafted as well as any current GM, looks at it militaristically, saying he likes to get "boots on the ground." He takes it to the extreme, usually hitting the road Monday night or Tuesday morning and not getting back with the Packers until Sunday.

"You can watch a lot of tape in the office, but there is a value in talking to coaches at the school, seeing the players in person and being there," he said. "I just get a better feel that way."

Colbert, who spends about as much time on the road as Emery plans to, sees it similarly.

"It's not that you don't trust your scouts, but you want to see a lot of the things they are telling you for yourself," Colbert said. "It reinforces the legwork they do. I always feel better after having done a lot of the same work they have."

By being there, GMs get easier access to information that often bubbles beneath the surface. In an age when some college coaches try to conceal the truth and when draft prospects go through interview rehearsals, being a fly on the wall can be invaluable.

A GM has myriad responsibilities in today's NFL. He has to counsel the head coach. Withstand ownership. Manage the roster. Deal with injuries. Oversee contracts and the salary cap. Handle administrative duties. Interact with the media.

But ultimately, player procurement is how GMs are graded.

Said Thompson: "(Former Packers GM) Ron Wolf told me a long time ago, 'You are a scout. That's the most important thing you do. Don't lose sight of it.' "

Giants GM Jerry Reese said he does not go out as much as he used to, but he still logs a fair share of time on the road. If he leaves Thursday to attend a night game, he likes to spend Friday in the office before taking off again for a Saturday game.

"Even though scouting is in my blood, being around the team is much more important because so many things happen," Reese said. "I like to be there. The head coach likes for me to be there, the trainer likes for me to be there. The owner. There is always something that comes into my office almost every day, so it's tough to get out."

If a GM does elect to spend a day in, say, Norman, Okla., or Madison, Wis., it doesn't mean he'll be out of touch with what's going on back in the office.

"It's not like it used to be," Thompson said. "Back then, you'd be at Iowa and the team would have to call the athletic department and have the secretary come down to look for you. Now there are texts, emails and cell phones. You are never disconnected."

Colbert and Thompson said they have people in the office they trust to do what needs to be done. And they usually can set things up before they leave so the surprises are minimal.

Colbert will rearrange his schedule and cancel a trip if an issue demands his attention in Pittsburgh. But once he leaves, he doesn't sweat it.

"I can keep track of what's happening in the office if I'm on the road more easily than I can keep track of what's happening on the road from my office," Colbert said.

GMs such as Colbert and Emery are in their element away from home. And their teams may be better for it.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter@danpompei
CHICAGO

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