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The National Football Post’s Chalk Talk Seminar

As I mentioned several days ago, the impetus behind my trip to Indianapolis was a seminar I was attending, the National Football Post’s Chalk Talk Seminar.  The National Football Post is a website created and run by individuals who have all worked in some capacity in professional football and like ProFootballTalk.com several years ago, they are currently flying under the radar of casual fans.

As many that read this site know, I detest that so many football media outlets have started to lean towards hype and player promotion rather than covering the intricacies of the game.  NFP is the shining beacon for the hardcore fans that want to learn about the game from every angle, front office, coaching, scouting and player perspectives.

When I found out they were doing a seminar for those interested in breaking into the business at the scouting combine, I would have delivered a forearm shiver to Ndamukong Suh to get there, so I packed up the Civic and drove five hours South to the Circle City to get some NFL knowledge dropped on me from the guys at NFP.

Andrew Brandt opened up Chalk Talk with a brief meet and greet and then we got underway.  Andrew Brandt is the President of NFP, but prior to that, he was an agent, the GM of the Barcelona Dragons of the World League and the Vice President of the Green Bay Packers.  Brandt has logged over 20 years experience in his various professional football roles and in addition to his work with NFP he is a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.  Andrew also recently joined ESPN to break down the looming labor situation.

Brandt presented for two hours on a variety of topics ranging from how he got his start in the agent business, to literally throwing a football team together in a few months in Barcelona and his time with the Packers.  He moved onto some of the nitty gritty details about the CBA and the differences between the pre-2006 CBA and the one that’s about to expire.

Anecdotes, suggestions and behind the scenes explanations were sprinkled throughout the presentation as it was both instructional and informative.

Brandt then gave way to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune to discuss the media aspect of working in the NFL.  Biggs has been on the Chicago Bears beat for nine years, written for the Sporting News and is the NFC North representative for the Pro Football Writers of America.

Brad focused on the importance of relationship building with players, agents, coaches, GMs and other members of the media.  He also talked about the benefits and pitfalls of social media such as Twitter and the balancing act between print media and reporting on the internet.  Brad, like Andrew, shared behind the scenes stories to illustrate his comments and shed light on the life of a beat writer.  Biggs and I had a side discussion about every Lions fans’ favorite uncle, Tom “Uncle Killer” Kowalski of MLive.com and Booth Newspapers.

Jack Bechta, a straight shooting NFL agent for over 20 years, followed Biggs and Brandt.  Bechta became an agent on a whim and with hard work and a sound set of principles built himself into one of the most respected agents in the business.

Jack took a long hard road into the agent business and shared some of his invaluable experiences and the principles that have crafted him into the agent he is today.  Being an agent can appear to be flashy and glamorous, but Jack emphasized how much of an athlete’s career depends on his agent and how an agent can shape a player’s post career life.  He also helped tangibly define an agent’s role in the NFL and how building a career in pro football shares many if the same traits as starting an agency.

Jack’s presentation dovetailed perfectly with the next presenter, Matt Bowen, a seven-year NFL veteran, writer for NFP and a Jack Bechta client.  When people think of the NFL they think of the Peyton Mannings, the Tom Bradys and the Adrian Petersons.  In reality, the NFL is comprised of a small percentage of those guys and a significant percentage of Matt Bowens.

Matt experienced the highs of signing a multi-year contract with a signing bonus and a starting position, to the lows of multiple injuries and the pink slips that they eventually led to.  The NFL is always described as a cutthroat business, but those are just words that get thrown around.  Matt shared the experiences that lend credence to those words in a chilling and brutal fashion. 

Many fans have a hard time feeling sympathy for professional athletes because of the money and the fame that comes with the territory.  The truth of it is, the majority of NFL players make a few hundred thousand dollars for a few years and if they don’t manage themselves properly they are broke and jobless by the time they are 35.  Having NFL playing experience on your resume is great for picking up women, but doesn’t really help in a job interview in the real world.

Bowen also does some great X’s and O’s pieces on NFP that I highly recommend for anybody that wants to learn more about that aspect of the game.

The final speaker of the day was Greg Gabriel, a personnel scout for 29 years in the league, most recently as Director of Scouting for the Chicago Bears.  While Andrew Brandt provided a great perspective of the business side of the front office, Greg opened our eyes to the personnel side of the front office.

Greg spent most of his time fielding questions from draftniks like me, and sharing stories from all his years of scouting in the league.  Greg received a few questions asking for his opinion of how somebody else evaluated players but he usually respectfully declined to answer those questions. 

Greg was willing to share one story when I asked him if he felt if Matt Millen drafted bad players, or if he drafted players that didn’t fit the team.  Greg said that one of his close friends in the scouting business was talking to Millen at his first combine as GM of the Lions.  Millen told this guy that “You guys are nuts with these 15 hour days, I’ll show you how it’s really done.”  Greg said the prevailing opinion amongst personnel guys was that Millen didn’t put the same amount of time that everybody else did, and scouting can’t be done as a part time job.

The seminar was scheduled to end at 4:00, but we were literally asked to vacate the room because we ran over our time due to all the questions that we were asking.  Which brings me to the most eye opening aspect of the Chalk Talk seminar.  Five men with around 80 years of NFL experience spent the day sharing their knowledge and background to give us a look into the business.

The goal of the seminar was to help those of us in attendance lay the groundwork to get more involved in the industry and help up avoid the roadblocks and obstacles they faced.  The information that was given to us came from years on the road or in contract negotiations that shed light on what actually happens behind the closed doors in the Draft Room or at the negotiating table (or golf course.)  We heard stories about interactions with players, coaches, GMs, owners, media and scouts.  Some were common place day to day dealings and some were eye opening once in a lifetime type stories involving some of the biggest names in the business.

At the end of the day, we walked out of that room with a quantitative and detailed account of what it took these men to not only get into the industry, but remain successful in it.  I drove five hours down to central Indiana Thursday afternoon, and another two hours after a massive snow and ice storm Friday morning, to downtown Indianapolis for this seminar and it was well worth every minute of it.  While that may be extreme for some, it takes significantly less effort to jump over to www.nationalfootballpost.com and get pieces of that same knowledge on a daily basis.


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One Response to “The National Football Post’s Chalk Talk Seminar”

  1. Ee says:

    What a great article! It was written in a way worthy of it’s respectable subjects. While I’m obviously not a writer I envy you this experience you had and thank you for sharing it with us.

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