INDIANAPOLIS – When Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay introduced Ryan Grigson as general manager on January 11, he lauded his new hire as a top personnel evaluator.
"Ryan's come in because he has a great knowledge, a great expertise in building a football program. That's the number one thing," said Irsay. "In this business, it's about, 'Can you get the best players? Can you get the best coaches and coordinate that effort to be the best football team?' That's the hardest thing to get. … The toughest thing is being able to have an edge there. That's where he gives us the edge."
The edge he provides continues tonight at 8:00 p.m. when the 77th Annual NFL Selection Meeting commences at the Radio City Music City Hall.
With Broadway's lights shining almost literally on the event at the revered New York venue, Grigson will be orchestrating the club's moves from the draft room at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Grigson joined the Colts from Philadelphia, where he was the director of player personnel for two seasons. Grigson joined the Eagles as a regional scout in 2004 before being promoted to director of college scouting in 2006. He had served with St. Louis as a national and area scout from 1999-2003.
St. Louis and Philadelphia teams with which Grigson served made the playoffs in nine of 13 seasons, eight times winning 10 or more games and capturing three of four NFC Championship game appearances. Additionally, St. Louis won Super Bowl XXXIV.
Grigson is a Purdue product from Highland, Indiana. He was a sixth-round choice of Cincinnati in 1995. Grigson's two-year playing career took him from Cincinnati to Detroit to Toronto of the CFL before he embarked on a scouting career that eventually led to Indianapolis.
His eye for talent was evident to Paul Alexander, now the Bengals' assistant head coach and offensive line coach. Alexander was Grigson's position coach in 1995.
"We drafted him from Purdue in the sixth round. We would sit in meetings in training camp preparing for opponents," said Alexander. "We would be watching, for example, the fourth quarter of the Colts game from the previous week. I would say, 'Who is number 63?' No one in the room knew, none of the veterans. All of the sudden, this Ryan Grigson says, 'Oh, that's Billy Smith, from Ohio Wesleyan. He didn't get drafted because he only ran 5.2 in the 40 and there were character concerns.' Everyone would look at him like, 'What are you talking about?' He knew every guy. It was unbelievable.
"Usually the pros take great pride in knowing the personnel, but Grigson knew everybody. I asked him afterwards, 'Why is that?' He said, 'I've always wanted to be a personnel man. Ever since I was a little kid, I always read Lindy's and whatever the magazines were and follow it. It was my hobby.' He said he wanted to be a scout when he was done playing. Obviously, he went from being a player to having a great career (in personnel).
"We've stayed in touch over the years. I must honestly say I respect his opinion on personnel perhaps more than any person I know. He's good. He's really good."
Intellect, grit and desire have marked Grigson's football career. Early in his Purdue career, a blow to the abdomen resulted in pancreatitis, kidney failure and pneumonia. Over a five-week hospital stay, Grigson lost 30 pounds. He returned to start 10 of 11 appearances as a junior. Grigson was a team captain his senior season, and he capped his career by opening 11 games. Then Head Coach Jim Colletto now cites Grigson for how he made himself a solid player through his work ethic, and Athletics Director Morgan Burke joins Irsay, Alexander and Colletto in a belief that Grigson will excel with the Colts.
"He's a guy who…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. He has a pleasant personality. He has strong Midwest roots.
"He's a straight-shooter, and I think people respect him for that. He does not blow his horn. He was never a guy who was trying to draw attention to himself. … Sometimes in life you find the guys like him appreciate the finer things (in personnel). 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. … 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. … I'm sure he will do a great job."
Grigson has overseen the football process for Indianapolis for three months, a period of time that included building a coaching staff and making roster decisions to meet the new league year. A number of familiar veterans have departed Indianapolis, while others have been made Colts through free agency or trades. Grigson and his staff now will use the draft to infuse the roster with perhaps 10 more new faces.
The Colts currently hold three compensatory picks in addition to choices in six of the seven rounds. Alexander believes Grigson will thrive because he has 'it.'
"He has the natural 'blink' skill," said Alexander. "Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book on 'Blink,' how talented people can look at something quickly and know immediately the quality of it. Ryan has that skill where he can tell a player almost immediately by looking at the guy. Some can pick horses. I've always known Ryan to be the type that can pick football players. He has that, plus he is a hard worker. It's his hobby. It's his passion. It's everything he has. You put those two things together and you're pretty much are who you are.
"I think he's a great evaluator of talent. He's able to see the big picture. I think the guys he has recommended for St. Louis and Philadelphia over the years have knocked it (the ball) out. I would anticipate that he will be astute enough to keep the players he believes are worthy and be able to bring in new players who he feels are worthy also."
Irsay agrees with the assessment, too.
"I believe Ryan has a big upside," said Irsay. "I talk about a great awareness, an intelligence, a vision. He has a great eye for personnel, and that's critical. In this business, the hardest thing to get is, 'How do you get an edge on evaluating players?'
"What I was really looking for was someone who has an upside. (I was) trying to identify someone who is on the rise, has skills and has the qualities you need to take that next step up. I feel very confident that it is Ryan."