Scot McCloughan’s use of Material Circumstances

By: Kyle Douty

Not often in sports that the general manager of a professional team is celebrated, a favorite, or in some cases even known in the minds of fans. However, the success through a multitude of winning draft picks of one particular NFL general manager has earned the recognition from the NFL community along with fans. Since 2005, Scot McCloughan has had upper management positions with three different NFL teams. From 2005 to 2009, he was the General Manager and VP of Player Personnel with the San Francisco Forty Niners. From 2010 to 2013, was hired as the Senior Personnel Executive with the Seattle Seahawks. After some off the field struggles, McCloughan became the General Manager for the Washington Redskins in January of 2015. At each stop, McCloughan was able to succeed when it comes to one of the most challenging things to do in sports, draft.

From 1998 to 2007, 54 percent of NFL first round picks were considered to be a “hit” while only 46 percent were considered a “bust.” The percentage of a “hit” in the first round is alarming low because the players selected in the first round are assumed to be automatic starters at the least, and perennial pro bowlers at most. Because drafting players that go on to lead great careers is so challenging, rarely do general managers find consistent success, even more rarely, do they find consistent success in rounds later than the first.

McCloughan has been one general manager that has found successful players in all rounds of the draft. During his tenure with the Forty-Niners, McCloughan found a third round future pro bowl running back in Frank Gore who went on to be the franchise’s leading rusher along with second place for the teams amount of rushing touchdowns. The expert general manager would go on to draft many more superstars over the next four years including Patrick Willis, Joe Stanley, and Michael Crabtree.

Not only did McCloughan’s success not end in San Francisco, but he went on to have better luck in the draft with the Seattle Seahawks building a roster that would go on to win a Super Bowl. That Super Bowl winning team included multiple players like hand-picked through the draft by McCloughan. First round players drafted during that span included names like Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, and Bruce Irvin. Surprisingly, McCloughan found even bigger names and better players later in those drafts with third round pick Russell Wilson, fifth round pick Kam Chancellor, sixth round pick Byron Maxwell, and especially fifth round pick Richard Sherman. Quickly the Seahawks become one of the league’s most dominant teams with a roster mostly built by the draft.

Since coming to Washington, McCloughan has already been successful in the one draft he has operated. In his first draft with the team in 2015, McCloughan picked a player in each of the first three rounds that would go on to be starters for the Redskins at some point during the following season with Brandon Scherff, Preston Smith, and Matt Jones. The biggest aspect to the expert general manager’s knack for finding great players is simply what he calls the “it factor.” This “it factor” surprisingly gets mainly amounted to what many people could consider class and socioeconomic status.

Material Circumstances can be defined as, “the economic conditions underlying the society. To understand social events, one must have a grasp of the material circumstances and the historical circumstances of which they occur.” Material circumstances describe the idea that the circumstances you are born into are what’s going to make you better or not. Scot McCloughan uses material circumstances when analyzing potential future NFL players.

When asked in a recent interview by BleacherReport about how he picks players and finds that “it factor,” he replied in an interesting fashion.

“I’m so big with my college scouts and my pro scouts about finding out who the person is. We’ll find out the talent level, but let’s figure out who the person is.”

The interview proceeded where McCloughan elaborated with specific instances.

“It’s like Bruce Irvin, who we took when I was in Seattle. He lived in his car for six months in high school. I mean, OK, he misses a sack, or we lose a game. For him, that’s not going to affect him the same way as it affects somebody else. … A guy like Frank Gore, growing up with 10 people in a three-bedroom house, having to fight for everything he got. The stuff he has been through.”

Class becomes one of the only common factors of these players that had the special “it factor.” The guys that either had to live out of their car for six months or grow up with a multitude of people in a small house come from a poor socioeconomic background that can be classified into lower class. In regards to material circumstances, McCloughan uses historical situation to analyze how an athlete such as one from an inner city youth background was able to get out of their situation even though they faced much adversity.

“It’s the fact that this is who they are, and that’s what they have been all their life… they will do whatever it takes to survive.”

The division of class has become a problem in modern society where even politics contain clear divides between the rich and the poor. However, just because what McCloughan looks for is almost always going to be associated with an individual from a lower class background does not mean that it perpetuates an ongoing issue in society.

Scot McCloughan is one of the more successful general managers in the league. He has put together a roster that would go on to win a Super Bowl. His tactics for evaluating how good a player might be are definitely unique, however they are an integral part of how he drafts successful players over and over again. Despite class inequality presenting itself as a huge issue, McCloughan’s tactics look to create a winning football team, and do not further push a larger scale problem.

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