To Thomas' greater education, he came under a regime at Los Angeles that was ahead of its time in personnel handling. "They were enlightened about scouting," Thomas said one recent afternoon, sitting at poolside at his South Miami home. Thomas, at last, has done some settling down. He has taken a pretty blonde wife, Judi, and they have a daughter. Paige, age 1�, and a mortgage, and Joe is learning life from both sides, too. The Dolphins are members of BLESTO-VIIF, and that cuts down on Joe's paperwork and. to a lesser degree, his need to be on the road so much.
When he wasn't coaching. Thomas scouted for the Rams. He found Carroll Dale in a cloud-of-dust offense at VPI, noted that Dale had good hands despite being unexposed to the forward pass, and was pleased when the Rams signed him. although Dale did not become a star until he went to Green Bay five years later. In 1957 Thomas moved on to Toronto of the Canadian League.
"There the coaches did all the scouting, what little there was of it. There were no lists. Reconnaissance was haphazard. When the season was over, we just spread out." Thomas soon despaired of Canada. "I was afraid I would get lost there." Pete Rozelle recommended him for the Minnesota personnel job. He jumped. "It was a new challenge, and really what I had been working toward without knowing it." Two days after he touched down in Minneapolis, Joe was off on his 92-college tour.
Thomas settled back to explain how he had succeeded at Minnesota by really trying. He called it the "artichoke method," now proven successful at Miami as well, and this is the way it goes:
"You build from the inside. At the core is the heart of the team: the tender young rookies, the ones you get in the draft. You build under the veterans, and then you keep peeling them off, like the leaves of an artichoke, until you're down to the heart, to the guys who are really going to help you once they're ready. Don't let anybody kid you. You don't get much to start with in an expansion draft. Depth is an illusory thing. Not many teams really have depth. The players the other teams are forced to put up for grabs aren't going to be of the highest caliber. By the fourth year at Minnesota, we only had one player left from the original expansion draft. Grady Alderman, and he had been a rookie at Detroit when we took him. Same with Miami, After live years the only active player left is Norm Evans, our regular right tackle. So I've never been big on claiming. These are exceptions, but good football players aren't usually found on waiver lists.
"The timetable for winning is five years. You better win after five years if you want to stay around. The building order is this: one, the draft. You have to do your best job there. Two, trades, Three, free agents and claims. George Allen has had success doing it in reverse order, by trading mainly, but many others have tried with no success. Pittsburgh, for one. My feeling is you can lose balance by trading away too many high draft choices because you won't have the young players coming along when you need them.
"I'd use the same approach rebuilding a veteran club, a club that has been losing. Immediately you think 'future.' You can't trade enough to fill all the needs, and a veteran club that's down is usually a collection of factions anyway. Trading will probably bring you more factions. Better oil" to start with a spring cleaning, build into the core with good young talent."
The trade for Warfield may have been Thomas' masterstroke. It began simply enough. Miami needed a wide receiver. But the simple things in Thomas" business can be the most complex. Scouting, for example, was more difficult when college teams used a wider variety of systems than the pros. "The system can make the difference," says Thomas. " Van Brocklin was a fifth-string quarterback at Oregon until they switched to the T. Then he became a regular. For years we drafted quarterbacks to play defense because they were the best athletes coming out of one-platoon football. You might draft four or five quarterbacks a year. Ed Sharockman and Chuck Lamson were quarterbacks. Sonny Randle was playing both ways at Virginia, but he wasn't hardnosed enough for defense. He said, 'Hide me. coach." The coach said, 'We've tried, but they always find you.' St. Louis drafted him as an offensive receiver, period.
"It's easier to find the right guys now because schools have been using prostyle offenses and defenses. Two platoon. Specialists. Everything laid out for you. But watch out for the trends. Many college coaches have now gone to the Wishbone T, with the triple option. More will follow. The quarterback has to run in the triple option. The best passer on the team therefore might not be the No. 1 quarterback. We'll have to look harder to find him."
There was no hard looking for Warfield, of course: he was right there starring for the Browns. But a cycle was working in Thomas' favor, and he knew it. "At that moment." he says, "there were only one or two good wide receivers coming out of college football. Ken Burrough and Walker Gillette were the best. I wasn't interested. I wanted someone who was not just a prospect but a proven quantity. We had good receivers but we needed a legitimate deep threat. A guy with speed, a 4.6, with moves, and a guy who could catch. But I wasn't interested in a deep threat. I wanted the best deep threat."