MIAMI — Joe Schoen almost didn’t land his first NFL job because he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a team scout.
Now evaluating players — first college and now all of professional football — is a deeply-rooted passion.
"I want to build a championship football team,“ said Schoen, an Elkhart native who is now the director of player personnel with the Miami Dolphins. ”I want to find as many good football players as I can, evaluate all the intangibles we can bring to our lockerroom.
"That’s the ultimate goal. That’s what motivates me. That’s the exciting part.
It wasn’t exactly exciting at first as he waded into the pro ranks.
"My first interview, I didn’t know if I wanted to scout,” Schoen said in 2001 while he was in the running for a position with the Carolina Panthers. “The man interviewing me said, ’I want somebody who wants to scout.’ Luckily I did still get the job.”
During his 12 years in the NFL — the last five with Miami in its college scouting team after seven years with Carolina — Schoen logged countless hours and endless miles observing college players and assessing levels of on-field skill. He also tried to look deeper to sense the level of desire and competitive motor in each player.
Sometimes you hit a home run. Sometimes you swing and miss.
"There are times," Schoen said, "that you don’t miss on the talent, you miss on the kid."
In his new role, Schoen now will weigh the pros and cons of athletes from the other side of the table while keeping close tabs on the available personnel on other NFL team.
"We’ll go to Canada, we’ll go to the Arena football,” Schoen said. “We’ll look under every rock, every place possible and we do that year round.”
There are the rookie camps, the team OTA’s (organized team activivities) and the full-on summer training camps. Once the process starts and franchise cuts are slowly made later this summer, Schoen focus becomes even more amplified.
Then there’s the 2015 NFL Draft.
"We’re already looking next year’s college prospects, who’s going to be out there, seeing the top college players,” Schoen said. “There’s a lot of pro tape out there. We know everyone employed by NFL teams.
"You have to keep your head on a swivel.”
Life lessons, Schoen said, are everywhere. He learned them well, he said, from a collection of coaches near and dear to his heart — Steve Johnson, Dan Randolph and Phil Teegarden from his Memorial High School years, and Nick Mourouzis, DePauw University’s all-time winningest football coach.
"If you learn how to work as hard as you can and then you’ll know no difference. That’s always resonated with me,“ Schoen said.
And through his mentors, Schoen said he learned to trust his own instincts even if others weren’t as sure of him. He remembered a college player assessment that helped shape his current mindset.
"I liked a player and a superior didn’t, so I lowered my (evaluation) grade,” Schoen recalled. “The lesson I learned there was always go with your opinion ... be wrong with your opinion rather than be wrong with someone else’s.
"Sometimes you find athletes who aren’t as talented, but who you know will outwork others ... the intangibles. You’re not going to be right on everybody. You just have to stand by your convictions.”