After reclamation project with Bucs, Angelo and Ruskell reunited with Bears
SEAN JENSEN ON THE NFL DRAFT April 27, 2011 11:32PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
When he was promoted to general manager midway through the 1994 season, Rich McKay faced the same daunting task his father did 18 years earlier with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
John McKay, who didn’t lead the expansion Bucs to their first victory until their 27th game and to their first postseason appearance until their fourth season, could build
His son wasn’t afforded that luxury.
Owner Hugh Culverhouse died of cancer in August 1994, and McKay, who was promoted from vice president to GM, was ordered to overhaul the personnel department.
‘‘We hadn’t won, and it was their fault,’’ said McKay, now the Atlanta Falcons’ president. ‘‘But from an outsider perspective, I didn’t think that was the case.’’
As he learned about his employees, McKay was impressed with his scouts, which included Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell.
Both hired in 1987 — Angelo as director of player personnel and Ruskell as a regional scout — they survived the dysfunction that plagued the Bucs during a decadelong funk.
Coaches and scouts weren’t on the same page, the team operated on a shoestring budget and there were persistent rumors the Bucs were for sale. Most notably, the facilities were deplorable, with an outdoor weight room that blasted music at 6 a.m. every day and forced staffers to yell in meetings.
‘‘Whatever you may hear about that building,’’ McKay said, ‘‘it was worse than that. It was a strange
Ruskell said scouts always heard that the hammer might drop at any moment, and the oft-traveled Bill Parcells was among the candidates mentioned.
‘‘Several times, we thought we were on our last leg,’’ Ruskell said. ‘‘I give Jerry credit for holding all that together and speaking up for us.’’
Over 15 seasons, Angelo and Ruskell helped overhaul the way the Bucs scouted college and pro players and selected a handful of Pro Bowl players that pushed the team from the NFL’s worst to the NFL’s best shortly after their departure.
‘‘We didn’t know if what we were doing was right or wrong, but we were going 100 miles an hour,’’
Angelo said. “Half the time, we got knocked on our tails. But we got up, and we always found humor through the tough times.
‘‘I would say this: You have to learn from your mistakes. But equally important, you have to survive them. And we did.’’
McKay’s first charge was to change the culture, remove the woe-is-me sentiment.
For instance, in the 1986 draft, the Bucs selected running back Bo Jackson with the first overall pick. But he refused to go there and opted to play baseball instead.
‘‘You couldn’t predict what decision they were going to make, but you could probably predict it wasn’t going to work out well,’’ McKay said of the Bucs’ moves when he was an outside counsel. ‘‘I don’t want to say it was a complete dysfunction, but it wasn’t far off.’’
So McKay traveled with the scouts to watch how they operated, and he empowered them to think outside the box. The staff didn’t worry about blame and credit, solicited the input of coaches and emphasized football and personal character.
Ruskell, who was promoted to college scouting director, wanted team representatives who made campus visits to deviate from the norm. Not only did he want them talking with a prospect’s position coach, he also wanted them talking with an equipment manager, an academic adviser or a dining-hall attendant.
‘‘We canvassed the whole campus to talk to the people who ran into the guys when they weren’t trying to
impress anybody,’’ Ruskell said. ‘‘How were they treating those
people? . . . We became detectives.’’
The Bucs’ approach was tested in 1995, when they had the 12th overall pick. They did a lot of research on Warren Sapp, a supremely gifted
defensive tackle who had tested positive for marijuana and cocaine at the NFL combine.
The team picked him, and Sapp keyed the Bucs’ famed Tampa 2
defense for nine seasons.
While they’ve endured their lumps, the members of the Bears’ personnel department drafted and signed key pieces on a roster that reached Super Bowl XLI. Last year, though, Angelo elected to make some changes, relieving pro personnel director Bobby DePaul and
college scouting director Greg
Gabriel of their duties. He didn’t have much of a history with DePaul, and he had worked less than two years with Gabriel when they were with the New York Giants.
So it wasn’t a surprise when
Angelo hired Ruskell — who had
replaced him as director of player personnel with the Bucs — to take over that position with the Bears.
In addition to his long working
relationship with Angelo, Ruskell reveled in a string of successes: a
Super Bowl victory with the Bucs, a division title in his only season with the Falcons and three NFC West titles, including an NFC championship, in five seasons with the
But Ruskell was ousted late in what would be a 5-11 season in 2009, as many of the Seahawks’ draft picks floundered.
He had a couple of options, but Ruskell said the Bears were the best fit because, in addition to Angelo, he also had worked with coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli with the Bucs.
‘‘It was like coming home, really,’’ Ruskell said. ‘‘I don’t know that I could have gone to a better spot and been more comfortable.’’
Given all they’ve been through together, the personnel men who worked in Tampa — including current Bucs GM Mark Dominik and Tennessee Titans vice president Ruston Webster — are still close, so McKay isn’t surprised that Angelo and Ruskell have reunited.
‘‘They are two of my best friends in the league, and they’re very good at what they do,’’ McKay said. ‘‘Passion is at the top of both of their charts, if you will.
‘‘That’s only good for the Bears.’’