INDIANAPOLIS – Morgan Burke has been the athletics director at Purdue University for 19 years.
During that time Burke has seen hundreds of athletes depart from West Lafayette to pursue life’s works.
Too many to count lose the address and never return. One who kept the address fresh was Ryan Grigson, and he was a near-annual visitor to the campus and to Burke as he built his football career.
Grigson played for the Boilermakers from 1991-94, and being a frequent visitor to the campus on football-related ventures since then allowed Burke to keep tabs on a player who helped distinguish the program in a positive manner.
Upon the naming of Grigson as the general manager of the Colts, Burke reflected on a former player who worked hard to forge a career in football.
“He’s a guy who even after he moved on and finished his (playing) career was always interested in the scouting and evaluation,” said Burke. “Routinely, he would be back every year to watch practices, and it gave us a chance to catch up. He had been in St. Louis and Philadelphia and he had a keen eye for talent. It was fun to sit and ask him how he thought some of our guys might do.”
Burke has seen all types of athletes during his distinguished tenure. Overseeing numerous sports has allowed him to observe all manners of comportment, and Grigson’s style is one which Burke likes.
“He has a pleasant personality,” said Burke. “He has strong Midwest roots. I think he’s a guy that you get what you see. I don’t think there is any fluff or phoniness in Ryan. He’s a straight-shooter, and I think people respect him for that. He does not blow his horn.”
Grigson was a freshman tight end with the Boilermakers, catching touchdown passes against Michigan State and arch-rival Indiana. He moved to tackle as a sophomore and played on the line for the rest of his career, including in a captain’s role as a senior.
Grigson distinguished himself on and off the field for his work ethic and leadership, but he never considered drawing attention to himself other than for his on-field play.
“He was never a guy who was trying to draw attention to himself. Maybe that’s the plight of an offensive lineman, you labor in the trenches,” said Burke. “He blocked for an outstanding fullback, Mike Alstott, who had a lengthy career with Tampa Bay. They were an effective line. It was a time when Purdue was trying to regain its bearings a bit in football. These guys worked their tails off, probably didn’t have as much success as they wanted.”
Success was not attained as much as Grigson or his teammates and coaches wanted. Purdue was 4-7 in each of his first two seasons. The Boilermakers slid to 1-10 in 1993, Grigson’s junior year. He was determined to make his final season better. Along with co-captains running back Mike Alstott and linebacker Matt Kinsbury, he helped guide Purdue to a 5-4-2 mark in 1994, including a 3-3-2 mark in the Big Ten.
Grigson was sixth-round pick by Cincinnati in 1995. He was with Detroit in 1995 and 1996 before his playing career ended in the Canadian Football League in 1997. Grigson’s intent was to stay in the game for years. His ethic made him that way, and those in West Lafayette noticed.
“Sometimes in life you find the guys like him appreciate the finer things (in personnel),” said Burke. “How many great managers do you have in baseball who were not all-star players? I think there’s an analogy there. I think Ryan was a student of the game. He’s continued to be a student of the game and be instrumental in developing the two franchises he’s been with.
“I think he wanted to play at the next level. He had an opportunity in training camp, but didn’t have a lengthy NFL career. When you start as he did at the bottom of the ladder like he did, he was probably struggling to get people to hire him to get into the business. It’s been 16 years since he graduated. He’s busted his tail and put himself in a position to help a great franchise as they look forward to the next chapter in their history.”
Burke is convinced Grigson will thrive with the Colts. Seeing Grigson become a finished product during each visit back helped draw Burke to that conclusion.
“I’m sure he will do a great job,” said Burke. “I always enjoyed him when he came back for practice. We’d spend half an hour or 45 minutes talking. You could tell each year he was gaining confidence and had a keen eye for talent. That’s the name of the game.
“He is a bright guy. He is thorough. You know how some guys are always attracting attention to themselves? He’s not that guy. He is the kind of guy who is going to listen to you. He’ll be engaged in a conversation, but he’s not going to control it. Some guys are built to be captains of the ship and sometimes they can be abrasive. That’s not Ryan. Ryan will come in and figure out what’s working and what’s not. If you’re an offensive lineman (like he was), you get satisfaction in your running backs and quarterbacks making plays. I think a good general manager gets satisfaction in what a head coach and the players do. He understands that.
“Obviously, Mr. Irsay has seen something in Ryan to bring him on board. It’s fun to have a Purdue guy down there (in Indianapolis)."