The Great Unknown
Draft's power broker operates anonymously in Florida
Posted: Monday March 31, 2008 11:18AM; Updated: Thursday April 10, 2008 11:50AM
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- New England owner Robert Kraft, hustling to a meeting this morning at the annual NFL meetings at this mecca of wealth, stopped in his tracks when he saw a former Patriots employee off the lobby of The Breakers hotel. Kraft stuck out his hand and warmly shook Thomas Dimitroff's.
"I hate to lose good men,'' Kraft said.
"Thank you, Mr. Kraft,'' said Dimitroff.
Dimitroff, according to those who know him best, is a very good man, a classic football lifer at the ripe old age of 42. (He looks like he's 22, by the way, with a mustache trying very hard to grow, and the Don King hair thing going.) He is two other things: the power broker in the 2008 NFL draft and totally anonymous at these meetings. What do you expect from a guy Patriots hid under a rock as their director of college scouting?
But you're going to get to know him soon. A man with a league-high five picks in the first 70 of the April 28 draft (3, 34, 37, 48, 68) doesn't stay anonymous for very long.
First, my apologies for getting the column up a little later than usual this morning. Because these meetings aren't going to have much news coming out of them -- unless you count how many inches of hair can flow out of the back of players' helmets -- I thought I'd take advantage of an 8 a.m. meeting with Dimitroff today to tell you a little bit about him and how he plans to rebuild the Falcons. I'll have some stuff from the meetings down lower, but I'm not trying to fool you. Nothing of any substance is going to happen here, except for an interesting defensive wrinkle that I'll address later in the column.
I was in a dinner group with Dimitroff once in New England, and I remember something vivid about him from that night at the Capital Grille in Providence: He was bright-eyed, not a big mouth, quietly but strongly opinionated, and when he spoke, something smart usually came out of his mouth. I made a mental note that night that I thought he'd someday be a general manager in the league. And so I asked him this morning: What do you take from New England coach Bill Belichick and VP of player personnel Scott Pioli into your new job?
"Bill and Scott had this philosophy, and you've heard it,'' said Dimitroff, who seems to delight in walking the halls here very far under the radar. " 'Do your job.' It falls in line with their team concept, and I think it works very well as an organizational philosophy. If everybody does what they do to the best of their ability without worrying about anybody else, we're going to get the job done collectively.
"The second thing I take from New England is system-specific scouting. You grade players for your own team, not for the how others in the league might see them. It doesn't matter if we have a player graded as a first-rounder and some other team has him in the sixth. You have to have the courage of your convictions and know you might have different needs with different kinds of players than other teams.
"The thing about Bill and Scott that I admired about their relationship is how honest they could be in their discussions about players. If they were at loggerheads on a player, they'd move on to another player, because they trusted each other's opinion so much. And I appreciated how they'd use different ways to build their team. Just when you think you've got them figured out -- you know, the 'Patriot Way' -- they'd pull something you wouldn't expect.''
"Like the Randy Moss deal?'' I asked.
"Yeah,'' he said. "Like building their team whatever way it took to win. Being flexible. Being adaptable. There are some guys in the business who say, 'These are my draft picks, and we're staying right where we are and we're making the picks.' You might think that breeds confidence in the organization. But what I think it does is breed hesitation.''
Hesitation to change when change is the right thing, he meant.
Dimitroff will have final say with the Falcons on draft day. He's been meeting extensively with a guy he's just getting to know, rookie coach Mike Smith, and coming to a meeting of their minds about the kind of players they want to build the Falcons with. "But we're not going to be about one guy coming in as the omnipotent general manager,'' he said. "No one's going to be wielding the big stick and beating people over the head with it. Mike and I have had many long days discussing how to build the team, and what kind of players to build it with. I think we both like the same kind of player. I was raised by a father [former college coach and NFL player and scout Tom Dimitroff] who coached at Miami of Ohio and believed in competitive, hard-nosed players with passion who liked to fly around.''
I said to him it must be a daunting task. In the scouting business, you dream of the coach you'll hire someday, and you think how you'd run a draft, and here he is, a rookie GM, hiring a coach he didn't know and being the power-broker in a draft three months after being introduced to an organization. I told him it must be like a quarterback being drafted in April and being told, "You're starting opening day and you're going to be the leader of all these guys you've never met before.''
"Good analogy,'' he said. "But daunting? No. The whole daunting word ... I don't feel that way. We're excited about building our team with the kind of players we believe in. When I've thought about the whole 'controlling the draft' thing, it's unfathomable. But I'm no longer under Bill and Scott. I've been around football my whole life, and it's prepared me for this.''
Dimitroff didn't tip his hand much, and his visage didn't change when I told him a friend of his had told me he was sold on drafting LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey third overall if he was there. Nor did it change when I said he had to come out of this draft with his quarterback of the future ... didn't he?
"We have not stacked our board yet, so it's hard to say what we'll do yet,'' he said. "I should say we have had several different stacks. We're still sifting through all the reports and the tape on the top guys -- Glenn Dorsey, Chris Long, Jake Long, Matt Ryan, Vernon Gholston. I don't mean to sound evasive, but those decisions are ones we just haven't made.''
Atlanta has holes all over the team -- particularly in the front seven, at corner and at quarterback. I think they'll take the best available defensive lineman or Ryan at No. 3. If it's Dorsey, then they may have to package a couple of picks to move up a few spots to get Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, probably late in the first round. I think Dimitroff will be as open as the Patriots have always been to trades (46 in eight Belichick/Pioli seasons), and I'd guess if they get the defensive lineman and quarterback and still have a two left, they'll try to move it for a 2009 first-round pick.
"Mike and I have discussed those scenarios extensively,'' he said. "Many, many of them. We would not be against doing it [trading for a future first-round pick] if the opportunity presented itself.''
Dimitroff has lots of decisions left to make. He's only got the near- and long-term future of an NFL franchise on his shoulders.