Jeff Ireland, the assistant general manager/college scouting director for the New Orleans Saints, was the featured guest on Tuesday's Black and Blue Report podcast. He was interviewed by John DeShazier, senior writer for NewOrleansSaints.com.
Q: Now last year, Jeff, we were just welcoming you to the Saints and now I guess we have to ask about your acclimation to New Orleans. We know you're a guy who knows something about tropical weather. You were in Miami for six years as the GM there but how's your acclimation to New Orleans been so far?
You know, it's been great. What you find in New Orleans is great people and great food. My family and I moved down here officially over the summer and got acclimated to the schools and it's been an outstanding transition not only for myself, but for my family as well.
*It looks like you happened to beat the bad the bad weather out of town. You were in Indianapolis and it's all about to break loose here in New Orleans. They're talking about tornado type winds and a lot of rain. Of course, you're used to that from having been in Miami but you kind of beat it out of town this time. *
Well, it appears I have. I've never actually seen my kids' school get cancelled for tornadic activity and apparently this morning my kids' school was cancelled just about storms in the area. It's a first for me.
Yeah, we get a little bit of that here in South Louisiana. I guess we'll transition to football here. Now you obviously joined the Saints prior to the Senior Bowl last year so you didn't have as much time I guess to dive into the process. What has it been like for you this offseason in terms of evaluations and in light because you joined the team a little later year but you've had a full season to kind of implement the things you like?
Yeah, you know this has been a normal year for me in terms of college scouting, obviously getting to know our team, getting to know how our coaches coach, the type of things that Sean (Payton) and Mickey (Loomis) are looking for and just getting a feel for the types of people they want in the building, the types of players they want schematically. It's been a normal year for me in that regard. Sean and I and Mickey all kind of share the same desire for the makeup of the person that we want in the building so that's a fairly seamless transition. For me, just being able to get on the road, see these kids first-hand, like I have for 20 years, it's been a normal process for me. We just finished up about two weeks of meetings and we're real prepared. If the draft was tomorrow, I think we'd do a pretty good job. It's been good, it's been real good, thanks.
*Mickey said you offered some differences, some nuances in terms of scouting. I guess can you pin-point those? Is it is a process where, I mean not everybody is a cookie cutter obviously and certainly their philosophies might have been a little bit different yours. What are the nuances that you offer? Because he seems to be a guy who likes a difference in opinion in the room. *
Well, there is no doubt you know look, we come from different parts of team-building. He's come from the executive side, the salary cap side and I come strictly from player personnel side. We come together to make one decision but how we get that decision may be a little bit different. I cut the board down to a minimal amount of players where maybe in the past they've had a few more players on the board. I want to get down to certain specifics of how players fit and the vision for what we have for them. Just kind of how we get to a decision on a player is maybe just a little bit different and that seems to have kind of resonated around the building. I think Sean enjoys the process. We make sure that we say it out loud, we don't just take a scout's opinion on it. We're all involved in the vision for the player and I think that's carried over to a pretty positive feel about how we go about taking players.
You were a general manager in Miami for six years. How is this role with the Saints different from that role? Or is it close to being the same?
No, it's completely different. Look, whenever you've been in that position there's a great appreciation for the kind of executive that Mickey Loomis is and all the things that you know that he's dealing with. Until you've been in that position you don't know all the things that land on a general manager's plate so the ability to delegate, the ability to make tough decisions, my hats off to Mickey. He's done an outstanding job. My job right now, there are a lot of similarities to certain parts of the year, you know I ran the meetings in Miami in terms of the scouting process. I ran February meetings and I was very involved in that process so that for me is the same but my focus on these meetings is a lot greater than I was able to focus on in Miami. Just because that's my job right now. I'm not the general manager, Mickey is, and so my focus is 100 percent on the college draft, on finding these players. It's totally in tune with what we need and the kind of players that we're looking for so I'm not focused on the other parts of the team that maybe Mickey is because that's not my job right now. My job is to focus on the draft and I assist in free agency, I assist in meetings, I sit in all staff meetings so it is what it is. It's a little bit different for sure.
When you say you focus on the players, what kind of player makes a Saint? What kind of draft pick makes a Saints player?
I don't know if I'm the specific person that needs to answer that question. I mean I don't think I'm out of place saying, "hey look we want big, tough, smart guys for our football team." We want players that we as a collective group have a vision for and it's a specific vision, it's first down, second down, it's third down, it's fourth down. I mean it's a vision for every down that a player is going to play and we all have to be on the same page about how that player is going to help our football team. I think that's how you cut the players down and cut the draft board down to a certain amount of players because if all of us aren't on the same page maybe that player is not for us. I think that's where I help the process.
Now Jeff, you and the staff, you guys go to the Senior Bowl also, now you're at the Combine, just explain to us the differences between the two, the Senior Bowl and the Combine. Obviously it's a collection of information where you can build your dossier on a player but is one a little bit more helpful than the other? Or are the both just pretty much tools that you can use in the evaluation process?
I think the latter. They're both tools. The one big difference is one evaluation process is actually playing the game of football and the other is actually just running around doing drills that may mimic football. That's the biggest difference. The collection of data is pretty much the same, you're still interviewing players, and you're going to use the same process that you use at the Senior Bowl at the Combine in terms of the mental testing, the test that we'll give the players. Some of the things that we ask them to do at the Senior Bowl we're going some of these kids to do the same thing at the Combine. It's just ramped up times twenty at the Combine because now we've got 60 full interviews, we'll have another 100 players that we'll talk to personally as a coaching staff. It's just ramped up, like I said, times 20.
Is that pretty much the most valuable part of it, the interview process? Because again as you say, you don't get these guys in actual football action. You obviously have film to go off of but not like the Senior Bowl where they're actually going out working against one another. How critical does the interview process become at the Combine?
Well, it can't dominate your opinion of the player but it certainly helps build a painted picture of what it is that you're going to be getting in the door. I think that's the whole thing about these things, the Combine, the Senior Bowl, they can't dominate your opinion of the player. They need to be a piece of the equation. The interview is certainly a part of it because this is the first time in some cases that we've been able to talk to these players one on one. In some cases it's going to be for 15 minutes so we've got to do a good job of getting them talking, getting them telling us about themselves really quickly. Then we'll go to the pro day and that's another process and then we might bring them in to New Orleans and that's another part of the process. There's still a lot of work left to do to complete the equation. We know what kind of football players they are, we've seen all the tape, and we've evaluated all that. That's why we do that leading up to the Combine. We try to put the draft board together before we get to the Combine so we don't make decisions based on players running around in shorts or players that interview well or interview poorly so we know what kind of football they are. This helps the final picture. In other words, you're just putting color to it in this equation.
Are there any positions in this draft that appear to be stronger than others?
I think you could look at there are some defensive positions that are strong. I think there's some offensive line that looks strong. I just think overall this is a pretty deep draft. I know in certain years I've had, you go through the February meetings and have a certain amount of players on the board and that stays consistent for years on years on years and yet this year it seemed like I had twenty or thirty more players on the board just from a depth standpoint. You know that this year's depth is probably a little better than maybe some years.
Last year the rookie class, obviously you've got to wait a few years before you can really put a good value judgment on them, but are you guys pretty pleased with the contributions they were able to make as rookies and hopefully progressing from there?
We are. I'm very thrilled to see what they were able to accomplish. I think you can look pretty much throughout the players that were able to play and some even the players that may have got injured and didn't get a chance to play. I think the arrow is certainly still up on all of them and I'm very pleased with the type of makeup that each of those players brought to the locker-room. That was a focus and whenever you can go in, have one year under your belt and you can still say that guy is exactly the guy that we thought we were going to bring in the building. That's a good thing because that's not always the case. I think we did a good job last year of identifying the type of people we wanted to bring in and identifying the players that we did bring in and knowing exactly what we're going to get.