Football character matters. Players won't succeed if they can't commit to football, and this is no secret. But there are several ways in which you can weigh character, and former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo seems to think you should just draft high-character players. That sounds good, but you cannot make that your sole focus. If you do, you'll end up collecting hard-working but relatively talent-free players, and that can be a big drain on your football team. The Bears, of course, haven't been known for being a great drafting team, and I think that has something to do with it.
Of course, he rightly distinguishes between football character and off-field character, what he calls citizenship. You can be a complete waste of air off the field, and still commit to football. We all know plenty of stories about great players with terrible off-field problems. As long as it doesn't distract from football, someone like that can be great. You don't need to be a choir boy to be a good player: you just need to love football.
What makes this article written by Angelo fun, though, is the fact that he uses two players from his Buccaneer days to illustrate his point. Angelo was the Bucs' director of player personnel from 1987 to 2000, and he helped build those great late 1990s teams. Here's how he describes those players.
When I was In Tampa, we drafted a player who had also been drafted by baseball. Prior to drafting him in the 3rd round, we got him on the phone and made sure that if we drafted him that baseball would not be in the picture. He assured us that his first love was football and that it wouldn't be a problem, but all we had was his word. He was not fast or overly athletic, but he was a good player.
Once the player was on the team, the coaches at that time did not like him because of his lack of speed. There was a point when we were seriously entertaining cutting him. In fact, we even tried to make him a LB to see if we could get something out of him. He added 15 or 20 pounds and he looked bad and played worse at the experimental position. That staff got fired and we told the new staff what was said about him. They said they would work with him and see for themselves. That player had very high football character and it was a real credit to the player that he never lost hope or his will to be great. His name was John Lynch.
On the other side of football character, we drafted a LB out of the midwest with a high first round draft pick. He was a hold out and got paid substantial money. Between partying, buying new cars and water toys, we rarely saw any of the type of play we had seen in college. He couldn't learn his assignments and couldn't be trusted to play every down. The player was late for meetings, fined repeatedly and it went on and on. It was one bad thing after another. If it weren't for drafting him in the 1st round we would have cut him after his rookie year. He never got, but we sure did!
I can't really figure out who the second player was. The Bucs drafted three first-round linebackers during Angelo's tenure. The first was Broderick Thomas, who wasn't dominant but was still a pretty productive and solid player who lasted five years with the team. He played his college football at Nebraska, which would at least put him in the Midwest. The second was Keith McCants, who was awful during his time in Tampa, suffered injuries and had a much-publicized drug problem. He's since cleaned up his life, thankfully, but he does fit the profile. Except for one detail: he's from Alabama, not exactly the Midwest. Of course, the final first-round linebacker is Derrick Brooks. Hah.
In any case, I can't figure out whether he means Thomas or McCants. Thomas is from the Midwest, but he certainly played every down for two seasons, leading the team in tackles during that time. He was kind of terrible in his first year, at least. McCants fits every part of this description, and yet he's not from the Midwest.
So, who do you think he's talking about?