Want to Become an NFL General Manager? Here’s Ten Potential Career Paths

how to become an NFL general managerIn the multi-billion dollar NFL industrial machine the search for talent reaches far and wide.

Heard of Tiffin University? NFL scouts and executives have. That’s where they found 2-time Super Bowl Champion wide receiver Nate Washington.

New England Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler showcased his skills at Division II West Alabama, while Dave Krieg the 19-year veteran quarterback who is in the top 15 of most all-time passing categories, went to Milton College in Wisconsin, which closed its doors in 1982 just two years after he graduated.

The same is true of the personnel decision-makers in the NFL, there are more current general managers hailing from Universities named John Carroll and Guelph as there are from Alabama, USC or Notre Dame.

Finding talent doesn’t follow a consistent formula.

Want to Become an NFL General Manager? Here's Ten Potential Career Paths #sportsbiz Click To Tweet

General managers in the NFL are responsible for roster construction, personnel choices, leading the draft, free agency and selecting and managing head coaches and support staff. It’s a huge job. Some do it (much) better than others.

Show the skill, tireless work ethic and a dogged pursuit of perfection and you stand a chance at making it in the NFL. All you need is a chance, right?

If this is the path you seek, it is often best to chart the path traveled by those before you and see what steps they took to reach the pinnacle of their profession. And while you might not be able to mirror it exactly, you can glean some insight into the right steps to take, or the persistence necessary to follow your goal with a singular focus, no matter the pitfalls and false starts put before you.

Previously, we broke down the career path of General Managers in the NBA and MLB, now we chart the career path of 10 current General Managers in the NFL. If you want to become an NFL General Manager, this knowledge is a great starting point.

Thomas Dimitroff – Atlanta Falcons General Manager

Hometown: Dimitroff was born in Barberton, Ohio in July 1966 but grew up primarily in Canada where his father was a coach with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the CFL. Before you go thinking, “being the son of a coach gave Dimitroff a leg-up”, check out his career notes below.

College: University of Guelph. Dimitroff majored in History and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1990. He also played defensive back on the Guelph football team and was a captain for his junior and senior year.

First Job in Football: Dimitroff first taste of the professional scouting world came as Canadian Scouting Coordinator for the Saskatchewan RoughRiders of the CFL.

Football Career Path:

  • Saskatchewan RoughRiders – Canadian scouting Coordinator (1990-1991)
  • World League of American Football – NFL Scout (1992)
  • Kansas City Chiefs – Part-time Scout (1993)
  • Detroit Lions – Area Scout (1994-1997)
  • Cleveland Browns – College Scout (1998-2001)
  • New England Patriots – National Scout (2002) Director of College Scouting (2003-2007)
  • Atlanta Falcons – General Manager (2008-present)

Career Notes: What you don’t see in Dimitroff’s NFL career path are the steps between the World League of American Football and joining the Kansas City Chiefs in a part-time role.

After the WLAF folded, Dimitroff wasn’t ready to give up on his football dream but didn’t have many opportunities. He ended up travelling to Japan for a year to help a friend coach a corporate American Football team. After that, he headed back to the States without an NFL job offer, living with his parents and unsure of his next move.  He took a job on the Cleveland Browns grounds crew, willing to do whatever it took to be in the NFL. He caught the eye of then scout Scott Pioli, and then Browns head coach Bill Belichick.

Plenty of opportunity to give up and jump into a comfortable role in a different industry, but when it’s in your blood that just isn’t an option.

Jerry Reese – New York Giants Senior VP and General Manager

Hometown: Tiptonville, Tennessee

College: Reese attended the University of Tennessee – Martin, where he played defensive back on the UT-Martin football team and was named team MVP following his senior season.

Jerry reese how to become an nfl general manager

Jerry Reese, New York Giants Senior VP, General Manager

Reese graduated with a degree in health and physical education, later earning his Master’s in education administration and supervision.

First Job in Football: After graduating Reese stayed in football as a graduate assistant at UT-Martin, eventually becoming a full-time secondary coach from 1988-1993. From there Reese joined the New York Giants scouting department in 1994 and has been a part of the organization ever since.

Football Career Path:

  • UT-Martin – Assistant Coach (1986–1993)
  • New York Giants – College Scout (1994–1997)
  • New York Giants – Pro Scout (1997–2004)
  • New York Giants – Director of Player Personnel (2004–2007)
  • New York Giants – General Manager (2007–present)

Career Notes: Reese was just the third African-American general manager in league history after Baltimore Ravens Ozzie Newsome and the Houston Texans Rick Smith.

Jerry Reese, the 3rd African-American GM in NFL, was named Giants GM on MLK jr. day Click To Tweet

The UT-Martin graduate was named Giants GM on Martin Luther King Jr. day in 2007, “I thought about that a lot and it was absolutely perfect timing for this to happen,” Reese said. “I don’t mean to sound cliché, but I really feel it’s my time to carry the torch. There are many people who went before me who really suffered through this process, and now it’s my time. I’m going to be successful – I have to be successful on a lot of levels.”

Tom Telesco – Los Angeles Chargers General Manager

Hometown: Buffalo, New York

College: Telesco attended the football factory of John Carroll University majoring in Business Management and playing wide receiver on the 1994 Ohio Athletic Conference team.

Tom Telesco how to become an NFL general manager

Tom Telesco, Los Angeles Charger General Manager

I am not being sarcastic by calling John Carroll a football factory, as Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio, former Redskins LB London Fletcher, longtime NFL offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Telesco are all alumni of the small Ohio University.

That’s a lot of NFL talent from a school with less than 4,000 students.

First Job in Football: Before the first job began the first internship. Telesco was aggressive in pursuing his goals of working in the NFL, interning with the hometown Buffalo Bills from 1991-1994.

Football Career Path:

  • Buffalo Bills – Summer Intern (1991-1994)
  • Carolina Panthers – Scouting Assistant (1995-1996) Area Scout (1997)
  • Indianapolis Colts – Area Scout (1998-2000),
  • Indianapolis Colts – Pro Scout (2001-2003)
  • Indianapolis Colts – Director of Pro Scouting (2004-2005)
  • Indianapolis Colts – Director of Player Personnel (2006-2011)
  • Los Angeles Chargers – General Manager (2012-Present)

Career Notes: Proving who you know can be an important success metric, Telesco also attended John Carroll and played on the football team with Chris and Brian Polian, sons of Hall of Fame NFL executive Bill Polian.

We can neither confirm nor deny that this influenced his chances and later development with the Indianapolis Colts.

Ryan Pace – Chicago Bears General Manager

Hometown: Flower Mound, Texas

College: Pace attended Eastern Illinois University where he earned a degree in Marketing. He was a member of the Eastern Illinois football team, playing defensive end and being named a team captain his senior year.

Ryan pace how to become an NFL general manager

Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears General Manager

First Job in Football: After graduating with a Marketing degree from Eastern Illinois, Pace was hired by the New Orleans Saints as an operations assistant.

His main responsibility was assisting in the coordination of all operations on game days, training camp and with the Louisiana Superdome.

Football Career Path:

  • New Orleans Saints – Operations assistant (2001)
  • New Orleans Saints – Scouting assistant (2002-2003)
  • New Orleans Saints – Professional personnel scout (2004–2006)
  • New Orleans Saints – Director of professional scouting (2007–2012)
  • New Orleans Saints – Director of player personnel (2013–2014)
  • Chicago Bears – General Manager (2015-present)

Career Notes: Are you seeing a theme so far? Most NFL General Managers have played some form of football in college, and many were team captains. Playing at a Division 1 powerhouse isn’t a prerequisite, but playing at some level seems to be.

Pace played at Eastern Illinois, and was a team captain his senior year.

John Dorsey – Kansas City Chiefs General Manager

Hometown: Leonardtown, Maryland

College: Dorsey attended the University of Connecticut earning a degree in Economics and Political Science.

john dorsey how to become an nfl general manager

John Dorsey, Kansas City Chiefs General Manager

He was a 4-year starter at linebacker for the Huskies and was drafted in the 4th round of the 1984 draft by the Green Bay Packers, playing in the NFL from 1984-1989.

First Job in Football: After a knee injury in the 1990 pre-season ended Dorsey’s playing career, the next logical career step was into the scouting community. Former Packers Chairman Bob Harlan believed in Dorsey and offered him a position in the scouting department with the Packers.

Football Career Path:

  • Green Bay Packers – Scout (1991-1996)
  • Green Bay Packers – Director of College Scouting (1997-1998)
  • Seattle Seahawks – Director of Player Personnel (1999)
  • Green Bay Packers – Director of College Scouting (2000-2011)
  • Green Bay Packers – Director of Football Operations (2012)
  • Kansas City Chiefs – General Manager (2013- Present)

Career Notes: Once during training camp Dorsey gave a quiz to the members of the team communication, video, digital, public relations and photography departments.

The quiz consisted of 156 names connected to the team, including the 90 players on the current roster, some legendary Chiefs and everyone on the football operations staff. The quiz takers had 15 minutes to name where all 156 names attended college.

Scot McCloughan – Washington Redskins General Manager

Hometown: Born in Alameda, California but grew up primarily in Loveland, Colorado

Scot McCloughan how to become an NFL general manager

Scot McCloughan, Washington Redskins General Manager

College: McCloughan attended Wichita State where he played baseball and was twice drafted in the MLB draft, by the New York Mets in the 10th round of the 1989 draft, and by the Toronto Blue Jays again in the 10th round this time in the 1992 draft.

First Job in Football: McCloughan came from a football family, his father Kent McCloughan was a defensive back with the Oakland Raiders in the 1960s, while his brother Dave also played defensive back in the NFL after being a third round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 1991 NFL Draft.

These relationships helped Scot land his first job in the NFL, as Green Bay Packers GM Ron Wolf, who knew Kent McCloughan from his days with the Raiders, offered Scot a scouting job.

Football Career Path:

  • Green Bay Packers – Regional Scout (1994-1999)
  • Seattle Seahawks – Director of College Scouting (2000-2004)
  • San Francisco 49ers – Vice President of Player Personnel (2005-2007)
  • San Francisco 49ers – General Manager (2008-2009)
  • Seattle Seahawks – Senior Personnel Executive (2010-2013)
  • Washington Redskins – General Manager (2015-present)

Career Notes: One of the best articles I’ve ever read was this long form piece by Seth Wickersham of ESPN the Magazine. The article deftly navigated McCloughan’s struggle with alcoholism and how it has derailed his career at times.

It’s an extremely worthwhile read.

Kevin Colbert – Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

College: Colbert attended Robert Morris University where he graduated with a degree in Sports Management.

kevin colbert how to become an nfl general manager

Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager

He didn’t play football in college, in fact, after completing his degree he became a graduate assistant for the basketball team at RMU, and later became the head coach of the baseball team!

First Job in Football: Colbert switched over to football permanently in 1984, joining the BLESTO scouting organization which was at the time based in Pittsburgh.

Football Career Path:

  • BLESTO Scout (1984)
  • Miami Dolphins – College Scout (1985-1989)
  • Detroit Lions – Pro Scouting Director (1990-1999)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers – Director of Football Operations (2000-2010)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers – General Manager (2010-2016)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers – Vice President and General Manager (2016-present)

Career Notes: The Pittsburgh Steelers were founded in 1933, and Kevin Colbert is the first general manager in the teams history.

Kevin Colbert is the first General Manager in Pittsburgh Steelers history Click To Tweet

Prior to Colbert taking the title in 2010, executives in charge held the title of Director of Football Operations, not General Manager. Semantics, but still interesting.

Steve Keim – Arizona Cardinals General Manager

Hometown: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

College: Keim played left guard at North Carolina State, starting 36 consecutive games, named to two All-ACC teams and a team captain his senior year.

Steve Keim how to become an nfl general manager

Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals General Manager

After graduating Keim joined the Miami Dolphins for one year and played another in the CFL for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Football Career Path:

  • Arizona Cardinals – College Scout (1999-2005)
  • Arizona Cardinals – Director of College Scouting (2006-2007)
  • Arizona Cardinals – Director of Player Personnel (2008-2011)
  • Arizona Cardinals – Vice President, Player Personnel (2012)
  • Arizona Cardinals – General Manager (2013-present)

Career Notes: During his first 24 months as General Manager, Keim executed 410 roster moves. In 2014 alone Keim made 217 roster moves, putting duct tape on a wounded team who had 21 injured players miss 109 total games due to injury. His wheeling and dealing worked, the team finished 11-5, tying the franchise mark for wins in a season.

John Schneider – Seattle Seahawks General Manager

Hometown: De Pere, Wisconsin

College: Schneider attended the University of St. Thomas, obtaining his degree in History and Secondary Education while playing on the University football team his freshman year, before injuries forced him to retire.

john schneider how to become an nfl general manager

John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks General Manager

First Job in Football: During his junior year at St. Thomas, Schneider sent a letter to Green Bay Packer executive Ron Wolf asking if he could work as a scout.

That initiative helped land him an internship in the scouting department and started a long, fruitful, relationship with the Packers.

Football Career Path:

  • Green Bay Packers – Scout (1993-1996)
  • Kansas City Chiefs – Director of Pro Personnel (1997-1999)
  • Seattle Seahawks – Director of Player Personnel (2000)
  • Washington Redskins – Vice President of Player Personnel (2001)
  • Green Bay Packers – Personnel Analyst to General Manager (2002-2007)
  • Green Bay Packers – Director of Football Operations (2008-2009)
  • Seattle Seahawks – Executive Vice President/General Manager (2010-present)

Career Notes: Schneider does a spot-on impression of Jon Gruden, it’s uncanny.

More importantly, he was the driving force behind the Seahawks drafting Russell Wilson, in fact head coach Pete Carroll says Schneider wanted to draft him in the second round, but had to sweat it out until the 3rd.

Ted Thompson – Green Bay Packers Executive VP, General Manager & Director of Football Operations

Hometown: Atlanta, Texas

College: Thompson graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1975 with a degree in Business Administration.

Ted Thompson how to become an nfl general manager

Ted Thompson, Green Bay Packers Executive VP, General Manager and Director of Football Operations

He played linebacker on the SMU football team, totaling 7 interceptions over his career and being named a team captain his senior year. After going undrafted in the 1975 draft, Thompson signed with the Houston Oilers and played in the league for 10 years.

First Job in Football: If you’ve read this far into this article, you’ll realize Packers executive Ron Wolf had an eye for talent that reached off the field and into the front office. It was Wolf who hired Thompson as a scout eight years after his playing career was finished.

Football Career Path:

  • Green Bay Packers – Assistant Director of Pro Personnel (1992)
  • Green Bay Packers – Director of Pro Personnel (1993-1997)
  • Green Bay Packers – Director of Player Personnel (1997-1999)
  • Seattle Seahawks – Vice President of Football Operations (2000-2004)
  • Green Bay Packers – General Manager (2005-present)

Career Notes: According to reports from NFL Insider Ian Rapoport, Thompson plans to step down at the end of the 2017 season. The rumor is he’ll be replaced by current director of football operations Eliot Wolf…you guessed it the son of Ron Wolf. We’ll have to see if the eye for NFL talent passes through generations genetically.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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Comments

  1. Lawrence Anderson says:

    I feel I can be helpful in scouting and coaching an NFL team because I know talent and I get the best out of each individual. I got the God given talent to succeed and help a NFL Team preferring the New Orleans Saints. NFL assistance Dave Laggard say either you have or not, I have it.

  2. Justin Markus says:

    Great article! As a college football player currently pursuing this career path, I found this to be very insightful.

  3. Josh Patrick says:

    Hi Brian my name is Josh and a junior in high school. I’ve read your sports media articles and have been really interested in doing this, the only thing is I don’t know where to start. Is there any classes I should take in college? If you any tips for helping me that would be much appreciated!

    • Josh – first off congratulations for identifying your passion at an early age. Couple of questions so I can properly answer you — you’re commenting on an article about becoming an NFL general manager…but your comment says your interest lies in sports media. Two very different career paths, which I would have very different answers for… so please follow up and let me know what it is you are interested in pursuing, a career in sports media, or a career in an NFL front office? -Brian

      • Josh Patrick says:

        I’m interested in sports media, I know this isn’t an article about it but I just commented on this when it first came out to get a quicker reply but yes I am interested in sports media.

  4. Connor Searle says:

    Hey, Brian. I’m a senior in high school and plan on getting a master’s degree in Sport Management at my state’s flagship university. I’m definitely interested in obtaining some type of top-level position within a professional sport team such as GM. I noticed almost everyone in this article played college football, and I do not have the desire nor the skills to do the same. I do have a deep passion for all sports, however. Should I just stay focused and set my goal on getting an entry-level position (scout, scouting assistant, college scout, etc.)? Would love any advice. Thanks!

    • Focus on getting in the door in scouting and work your way up — most of these guys got their first scouting job because of their playing history, but that isn’t what made them GMs. They became GMs because they were great scouts, smart business people and team builders…all oyou need is a chance to prove yourself! Brian

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