Teams do a lot of restructuring of their scouting departments every year after the NFL draft. New general managers often bring in new directors of college scouting, while general managers on the hot seat change directors of college scouting to show they are distancing themselves from past mistakes in the draft. Some director spots are also filled after the former director departs for a general manager position. Teams that are looking for an elite scout to head up their college scouting should be targeting Houston Texans scout Mike Martin.
There just aren't scouts around the NFL who have produced for their teams what Martin has. When the Texans made Rick Smith their general manager after the 2006 NFL Draft, he quickly hired Martin away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where Martin had been a productive scout for many years. The decision paid off huge for Houston as Martin has delivered elite talent to lead the Texans into the postseason. WalterFootball.com spoke with Grambling State head coach Doug Williams who was one of the top scouts in the Bucs organization when Martin worked in Tampa Bay about his former colleague.
"There is no doubt in my mind [Martin] has a great eye for talent," said Williams. "Mike does a good job of looking at guys and describing them and writing them up exactly the way they are. Some guys are athletes that just play. Mike was an athlete that could look at it from a talent standpoint of other players."
The Texans did the scouting equivalent to winning the Super Bowl in 2009 when they signed an undrafted running back named Arian Foster. Martin was a big fan of Foster and gave him a high grade. After Foster went undrafted, Martin successfully lobbied Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak to get the green light to pursue the University of Tennessee running back.
Foster was pursued heavily by the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Martin and the Texans convinced Foster to bring his talents to Houston. Houston cut Foster after his first training camp and stashed him on the practice squad until mid-November. He then ran for over 100 yards against the Patriots in his first pro start. Foster emerged as one of the best backs in the NFL over 2010-12 and now carries the Texans' offense.
Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was a young assistant in Tampa Bay when Martin first arrived as a scouting assistant. Morris told WalterFootball.com how Martin became a valuable voice.
"Well, first off, when he came in there, he was a young guy figuring it out," said Morris. "The greatest thing he did when I was coaching there was he would meet with me and Mike Tomlin and we would figure out ways to get better. [Martin] would watch tape with us and see what we were looking for in players. He did a great job with all that stuff. We gave him a nickname and called him a young Kanye West because he was so hungry. From that point on he scratched his way up and became an area scout. I was fortunate enough to work with him. With a scout you're not as worried about if he is right or wrong, but you're more worried about whether the guy has an opinion and one that you can value. You take that away and then can make your own decision. [Martin] was one of the guys that helped in that process and he's reached the point where he's ready to go [move up]."
Many scouts pursue moves like the one Martin assisted the Texans in making for Foster for their entire careers only to come up empty. Former Buccaneers and Titans defensive tackle Jovan Haye said that with the politics inside a team, it takes a special scout to push for undrafted players as potential difference-makers and many scouts aren't willing to risk their reputations.
"I think what makes [Martin] special is he is willing to go out on a line. Anytime you can push for a guy, you're putting your credibility on the line and you have to be confident. He doesn't lack confidence, and of course, he does his homework," said Haye. "It is easy to see a first-round draft pick, but when you go around and chose late-round draft picks, undrafted players, guys that were cut and people say their career is probably done; it takes special person with an eye for talent. He clearly has that. He's confident and does his homework. You don't put your credibility on the line if you don't do your homework.
"And he's always been a friend back from when we played together (at Vanderbilt). I think if things didn't work out I'd still feel like I had someone in my corner. I've said it for years don't be surprised if one day if he's a VP or GM. I've seen guys over my years of playing come up, especially coaches going from holding up the cards and doing all the dirty work, to becoming a head coach - Gus Bradly for example. I was in Tampa with Gus and I knew he'd end up a head coach before long. I look at Mike Martin the same way. He's worked hard and people appreciate him. People recognize him and they need to give credit where credit is due. If they do, before long he'll be a GM."
Another pillar for the Texans' roster is left tackle Duane Brown. Martin scouted him out of Virginia Tech in 2008. While others saw flaws, Martin saw a future franchise left tackle. Houston was fortunate to land Brown with the 26th pick in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Landing a pro bowl left tackle late in the first round is not an easy feat. Current Purdue offensive coordinator John Shoop explained how Martin was able to see a franchise left tackle.
"I think sometimes discovering talent isn't necessarily the hardest thing to do, but knowing the kind of coaches and people that form your organization to mesh with the talent is really the test," said Shoop. "Mike just really digs in and asks a lot of personal questions. He asks a lot of questions on how these players are motivated. A lot of questions on how much they love football, how they're coached and what kind of coaching they respond to.
"I think anybody can turn on the film and see that son of a gun can throw the ball, or that guy is fast, but a lot of really talented players have gone places where they're not a good fit and it didn't work out. As much as anything, scouts need to be able to say that is a super player, but he may not be a fit for us, or say other people don't like this guy as much, but he really fits what we're trying to do. I think as much as anything scouts need to know the coaches that are on their staff now, and know what they're working towards. Mike can just see which guys are a good fit."
Martin was also instrumental in helping to land another steal for Houston. Before moving on to Houston, he had gotten to know Shoop when he was the Buccaneers quarterbacks coach in 2004. Shoop also had stints with the Bears, Raiders and Panthers. Shoop was the offensive coordinator at North Carolina in 2010 when the Tar Heels were led by quarterback T.J. Yates. Shoop was a big fan of Houston quarterback Matt Schaub coming out of the University of Virginia and ran a lot of the Texans' system in North Carolina.
Martin and the Texans saw a unique opportunity to land a quarterback prospect who already had a working knowledge of the team's offense. Houston was happy with Matt Schaub as its starting quarterback, but was looking for depth behind him. The Texans's selected Yates in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
"Well, I think the whole franchise in Houston - the whole organization - looks for players that are the right fit," said Shoop. "Mike does that, and he did it with T.J. T.J. is smart and plays the game so cerebrally and Matt Schaub does as well.
"Mike has always been like that. We worked together in Tampa. We got to know each other. Mike does a ton of hard work trying to find out if a person would be a good fit and have success in the organization. I think when all the coaches got to know T.J., they saw he knew a lot of the language from the offense he ran in college. The pros had similarities. Mike's legwork proved that he would be a good fit. He's as hard a working scout as there is. A lot of scouts came through when I was at North Carolina. He's as thorough and as hard working as any I've been around."
Yates was thrust into the lineup in his rookie season when both Schaub and backup Matt Leinart were lost for the season. Yates, excelled completing 61 percent of his passes for 949 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He led the Texans to their first ever postseason victory. Yates is now considered by many to be one of the more capable backups in the NFL.
Other players who Martin scouted for the Texans to draft include Auburn running back Ben Tate. He ran for 116 yards on 24 carries in his NFL debut. Tate had just under 1,000 yards in 2011.
Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson was another player Houston selected from Martin's territory. Jackson had some early struggles but was vastly improved in 2012. Broncos ace return specialist Trindon Holliday was another player who Martin helped push for in Houston.
"When you get a guy that has a strong opinion - whether it is right, wrong or indifferent - it is valuable to a head coach or a general manager," said Morris. "You tend to lean on those guys because you know they know exactly what you're looking for. When you feel that way about people, you start to trust them a little bit more. That happened with Mike going to Houston and on his whole road up. I've always tried to talk about him because he is one of those guys I have a lot of respect for seeing him as a young guy and work his way up."
Martin scouted Cadillac Williams out of Auburn while still at Tampa Bay. Prior to Williams, Martin was part of the scouting staff that suggested trading for Thomas Jones. Part of what helps Martin is building relationships with the players. Many scouts don't spend the time getting to know players.
"There is no doubt about that. It comes easy to Mike because he's such a good guy, but he really does work at cultivating relationships," Shoop said. "Even if you don't have a player on your team, I talk to Mike regularly about players we play against. Others don't do that. He calls asks how did you prepare to play this guy; did you recruit him; things like that. It is kind of like high school recruiting. I tell our coaches don't just go in a high school when they have a player, go visit when they don't as well and ask them about some of their opponents. Mike really does some of the same things that college coaches do in recruiting and fosters that relationship building."
From a player's perspective, Haye said that those relationships can make a big difference when players are trying to decide to which team they want to play for.
"You have to build relationships," said Haye. "My situation is different; maybe Arian's is different. But there are guys that have had a choice on where they wanted to go and he was able to convince them to go to them. It comes down to relationships. If you have your mind set I want to go to team A, but then Mike Martin convinced me I could see myself going to team B because of a relationship I developed with him.
"Everything Mike said he was doing for me was confirmed by Monte Kiffin. I always believed him, but to hear from a coach's mouth that he went to war for you everyday. I've always given Mike the credit. I didn't do it. Isn't my doing or my play, it took him convincing the coaches to take a chance on this guy."
Martin played a key role in the signing Haye off Cleveland's practice squad. Haye became an effective three-technique defensive tackle during Monte Kiffin's final two seasons in Tampa Bay.
"I got released by Carolina and went to Cleveland. I was on their 53 for a week and then they put me on their practice squad. I was there for seven weeks," said Haye. "Mike and I were always good friends, so I would always call him. He would always tell me to hang on and I won't be there long. It was hard being there by myself. I'd talk with my grandma, mom and dad almost every day. Mike was comforting. Mike worked with the Bucs at the time. He told me they were definitely interested. When I get cut, Cleveland put in a claim before Tampa was able to get me.
"Mike always took the time to talk to me through the ordeal and let me know he was working hard to get claim me off the practice squad. He wouldn't claim credit for it, but if it wasn't for him I don't know if I would've been mentally strong enough to go through that and I don't think I would've gotten down to Tampa."
There are a lot of teams that could be looking for new directors of college scouting this May. That group includes the Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars. Martin would be a great hire for any of those teams. After all, they all could use the next Arian Foster.
"I think Mike Martin should get an opportunity to be one of the young up-and-coming executives in the NFL," said Doug Williams. "I think all he needs is an opportunity. You won't find a scout that will work harder. He really knows talent. When he left Tampa for Houston, they gave him a little more responsibility, and I think Houston got the best of that situation."
Losing Martin was a big blow to the Bucs' ability to find talent; Morris' tenure as head coach in Tampa Bay was plagued by a roster that lacked thr talent to compete on Sundays. After working with a lot of scouts as a pro position coach, college coordinator and pro head coach, Morris sees a scouting talent to lead an NFL franchise.
"It really is about the knowledge of the guy," said Morris. "[Martin] has the battle that we all had to fight about being a young guy, but once you get him in front of a person and the right audience, he has the ability to talk and express his views on scouting and how to build a team. He's definitely ready to be a director of college scouting or director of pro, because he knows so many people from his college scouting, and GM isn't too far around the corner after that. I just think he's special. He's got a great charisma about him, he works hard and does things the right way."
Speaking with some other contacts from around the league yielded some some other top candidates to be considered for director of college scouting positions. They include: Kansas City Chiefs scout Dom Green, Tampa Bay Buccaneers national scout Brian Hudspeath, New England Patriots scout Frantzy Jourdain, Green Bay Packers scout Jon-Eric Sullivan, St. Louis Rams national scout Brad Holmes and Pittsburgh Steelers pro coordinator Brandon Hunt. These scouts, like Martin, just need an opportunity.
"From time in the league and the people I've known and some of the scouts that have become directors, there is no doubt in my mind that Mike Martin equals or tops them," said Williams. "Like I say, it is all about an opportunity. If he doesn't get that opportunity, we'll never know. The key is somebody has to step up and give Mike that chance to prove that he is better than others that are in that position."