By Joan Tupponce
This Hanover County native has two Super Bowl rings without having stepped on the field to play as a pro. That’s what instinct will produce.
In late summer of 2008, Baltimore Ravens scout Joe Douglas had been watching football practice at Villanova when he decided to slip down to the University of Delaware to catch another practice there.
What he caught was quarterback Joe Flacco. Douglas hadn’t seen him play live, only on tape. “After his first five throws, I was like wow. I knew he had the ability. I could picture him in a Ravens jersey.”
Douglas called his supervisor from his car, and his recommendation “went up the chain. It got traction,” he says. At the time, Baltimore was in dire need of a quarterback who could lead the team. “I happened to be the first guy to put my eyes on Joe. I was fortunate to get in there early to see him play.”
The Ravens drafted Flacco in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft. In 2012, he led the team to a Super Bowl win and was the game’s most valuable player.
During Douglas’ 15 years with the Ravens, he played an integral role in scouting players such as Flacco and guards Ben Grubbs and Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda. He has two Super Bowl rings — the first from 2000. “In 2000, I was just happy to be a part of it,” Douglas says. “The 2012 ring is very special.”
His work with Baltimore has given him a prestigious reputation in the NFL. And that’s what caught the eye of Howie Roseman, executive vice president of football operations with the Philadelphia Eagles. Roseman brought Douglas into the Eagles’ fold this May. “He has respect in the league,” Roseman says. “He’s a family man, and he’s all about the team and being loyal. He’s always been on the radar.”
Douglas’ success and his “unbelievable record as an evaluator” were the perfect fit for the Eagles, Roseman adds. “Bringing that kind of person in is a no-brainer for us.”
OLD CHURCH ROOTS
A strapping 6-foot-2-inch guy, Douglas has an easy smile and an understated air. But don’t be fooled by his teddy-bear demeanor. He means business. This decisive draft guru — a former University of Richmond football standout — can make or break a team. And right now Philadelphia is betting on this instinctive change agent’s winning record.
The Eagles want to bring the Super Bowl trophy to Philadelphia, something the team has never done. They last appeared in the Super Bowl in 2005, when they lost by three points to New England. They placed second in the NFC East last season with a 7-9 record. They want a fresh start, and that’s what Douglas hopes to give them as vice president of player personnel.
“It’s all exciting,” says Douglas, who was back home in Hanover County, visiting family in Old Church during a June break. “We’ll be creating a foundation.”
Douglas will work with Roseman and team CEO Jeffrey Lurie on a daily basis. He will oversee the personnel department, which is responsible for the college draft and pro scouting. “It’s going to be a lot of learning,” he says.
“One of my first memories of football was my dad and my uncle cheering when John Riggins scored on a fourth-and-1 run during Super Bowl XVII in 1982.” —Joe Douglas
His love of the game started in childhood. “One of my first memories of football was my dad and my uncle cheering when John Riggins [of the Washington Redskins] scored on a fourth-and-1 run during Super Bowl XVII in 1982,” he says. “I was only six. I’ve always been an avid football fan. I wanted to study it, watch it all the time.”
When he was 8, he saw his older cousin Douglas Dean play football and told his parents that he too wanted to play. First came peewee football in New Kent and then Little League Jr. football in Mechanicsville. He then made the team at Stonewall Jackson Middle School.
He was a football standout at Lee Davis High School, playing tackle on both offense and defense. He made All State his junior and senior years as offensive lineman. He also competed in track and field in shot put and discus. “He was always a big boy, but he was smart, strong and fast,” Dean remembers. “He could outrun me in high school, and he had maybe 100 pounds on me.”
Douglas had a penchant for winning, no matter what the game. “He played John Madden football all the time,” says his dad, Joel. “He was a video game freak. He’d play Star Wars, Pac Man and Mike Tyson boxing. He would be in pools of sweat on the floor but he wouldn’t quit. I would have to stop him from playing.”
It comes as no surprise that Douglas is extremely competitive, especially in football. “I am not an outwardly screaming kind of guy, but I do whatever it takes to win the game,” he says.
That’s the same type of drive the former NFL football scout looks for in his players — people who hate to lose more than they enjoy winning. “I look for that desire to win. That mental toughness,” he says. “The NFL will humble everybody. You have to be able to pick yourself up when the going gets tough. I’m looking for guys that love football, that make great teammates and that hate to lose.”
Douglas played offensive tackle at University of Richmond from 1995 through 1998. He started 45 consecutive games and was an All Atlantic 10 honoree in 1998.
Realizing he wasn’t a “numbers guy” after taking some college business courses, he decided to major in speech communication and minor in sports administration, which includes everything from sports marketing to athletic training. Admittedly shy, Douglas had no trouble standing in front of his church group and talking. “That wasn’t as difficult for me as making small talk at a party,” he says.
His introspective nature is now a valued asset when he’s sizing up players. It allows him to be super-observant. “I always paid attention to people,” he says. “I could get a good read on people.” He honed that skill when he was a scout with the Ravens. Phil Savage, who served as director of college scouting for the team, used to tell Douglas that, more often than not, the first impression is usually the right impression. “I believe there is something to that,” Douglas says.
Douglas refined his communication skills during the summer before his senior year at Richmond by working as an intern in Washington, D.C., with former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga.
“He was a Vietnam vet, and my dad was a Vietnam vet,” Douglas says. “I did a project on the senator’s campaign for a political community course, and he offered me an internship.”
He realized his senior year that it was unlikely he would play football professionally, so he decided to pursue a scouting career with the NFL. Eager to get his career started, he handed out his résumé to all the pro scouts in town for the spring draft in 1999.
BREAKING INTO THE FIELD
After college graduation, he interviewed for scout positions with the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets and the New England Patriots, but he didn’t land a job. He found work a few months later in Baltimore as one of the football players in a film, the sports comedy “The Replacements,” starring Keanu Reeves. “We did two months worth of practice and play with no cameras and then two months of shooting,” he says, adding that he was one of the bad guys who flipped over Reeves’ truck. “It was interesting and unique.”
Once he was back in Richmond, he transitioned to the role of volunteer assistant coach for the Richmond Spiders. He also kept in contact with the Ravens. The following spring a new draft position opened up, and this time he scored. He started with the Ravens in June 2000 as a personnel assistant. “The first three years I was learning how things were done, how the organization runs in every aspect,” he says. “I worked from the ground up.”
He first oversaw scouting for the Northeast for the club, then the East Coast followed by the Southeast. He was the team’s national scout from 2012 to 2015.Working as a scout, Douglas was on the road up to 200 days a year. He found out how hard that can be on a family after marrying his wife, Shannon, in 2003.
The two met through a college friend and now have two daughters and a son —Addison, 10; Tommy, 8; and Leighton, 5. Juggling family obligations when he’s on the road is difficult, but his current position will allow him more family time. “It’s still a tough aspect of the job,” he says of traveling. “It takes the right kind of woman to put up with that, but Shannon is tough.”
Douglas left the Ravens in the summer of 2015 to join the Chicago Bears as director of college scouting. “It was a unique opportunity at the time to head up your own department,” he says. “General Manager Ryan Pace is a great person, and it was great to work with those guys.”
He wasn’t looking for a job when Pace mentioned the Eagles were interested in hiring him. “Philadelphia came out of the blue,” Douglas says. “Ryan told me ‘This is a good opportunity. You will be the No. 1 talent evaluator there.’”
Douglas interviewed with Roseman on May 5 and was in Philly working on May 10, just a few weeks after the close of the draft. He is working to have a process in place before next April’s draft rolls around. “We will be building our draft based on the next 11 months,” he says, noting he’s already compiling a database. “It’s important everyone speaks the same language about the players.”
He also will be evaluating this year’s team and working on the 2017 roster. He plans to attend every game, both home and away, making assessments after each matchup ends. “Players get hurt. You have to have a ready list,” he says. “After the game you come up with a game plan with what we need.”
Starting with an NFL team like the Ravens and having success early on creates expectations, he says. “Over the years you see how much work it is and how hard it is to sustain success. When you have the chance to go back and win again it’s so much sweeter, especially when you have more of your fingerprint on the team.”
He’s now looking forward to working with Roseman on player negotiations. “We have the opportunity to involve him in everything we are doing on and off the field,” says Roseman. “We want to utilize his strengths.”
Douglas loves it when an athlete he places on a team evolves into a great player who can bring the team a championship. “I know when we have brought in a good guy when a veteran player comes up to me and says something positive about that rookie. That gets me excited.”
The Eagles open at home on Sunday, Sept. 11, against the Cleveland Browns. Douglas will be on the sidelines. His goal is the same every year: to hold up the Super Bowl trophy at the end of the season, this time in Philadelphia. “Only one team in 32 gets to do that, and that’s all that matters,” he says.
His dad isn’t concerned about his son getting too heady over his position. “He’s a good kid.”
Douglas keeps it in perspective. “I really think you are where you came from,” he says. “If I ever carried myself like a bigshot, my dad and my family would let me have it.”