The Titanic Wake of Scot Mccloughan

The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers face off this week in a battle that almost nobody cares about. Just two years removed from staging one of the best NFC Championship games in history, both can point to the departure of one man, the same man, as the start of their descent. Seth Wickersham of ESPN called Scot McCloughan, “the NFL’s best talent scout,” in a feature story earlier this year. McCloughan was self-employed at the time, and has since been hired by the Washington Redskins to be their General Manager. If history serves as a guide, Redskins fans should expect a Super Bowl run in the coming years, and a crash thereafter if McCloughan leaves.

The Midas Touch

Teams that have McCloughan on the payroll go to the Super Bowl. People can debate how much he had to do with it, but the fact itself is indisputable. 

Green Bay Packers (1994-1999)

McCloughan was hired as a regional scout for the Green Bay Packers by Ron Wolf in 1994. Wolf was brought on as General Manager in 1992, and hired Mike Holmgren as their coach. The pair helped turn around what had been a 6-10 team in 1990 and a 4-12 team in 1991 into a 9-7 team in their first year, followed up by another 9-7 finish in 1994. Coincidence or not, the franchise had their first season with more than 10 wins (11-5) in 29 years the year after McCloughan joined. The went to their first Super Bowl since 1967 the following year, and won it. They made it back a second time and lost in 1997.

Seattle Seahawks (2000-2004)

Holmgren left the Packers in 1999 to become GM and Head Coach of the Seahawks. He tried to keep the existing front office mostly in place, and it led to a horrible draft that included DE Lamar King in the first round and WR Karsten Bailey in the third. Holmgren talks about how that was one of his first learning experiences as top dog, and corrected it the next year by bringing in “his guys,” which included McCloughan as Director of College Scouting.
The Seahawks drafts while McCloughan were there included:
  • RB Shaun Alexander
  • WR Darrell Jackson
  • WR Koren Robinson
  • G Steve Hutchinson
  • CB Ken Lucas
  • FB Heath Evans
  • G/T Floyd Womack
  • TE Jerramy Stevens
  • RB Maurice Morris
  • DT Rocky Bernard
  • TE Ryan Hannam
  • CB Marcus Trufant
  • S Ken Hamlin
  • DT Marcus Tubbs
  • S Michael Boulware
  • T Sean Locklear
  • WR D.J. Hackett
  • DT Craig Terrill
Many of those players would play pivotal roles on the first Seahawks team to ever reach the Super Bowl in 2005. 

San Francisco 49ers (2005-2009)

McCloughan was recognized for his great scouting and hired by the San Francisco 49ers first as VP of Player Personnel, and then as General Manager. He once again joined a franchise that had been experiencing a long drought of success, and immediately infused it with talent.
His drafts from 2005-2009 included:
  • QB Alex Smith
  • RB Frank Gore
  • T Adam Synder
  • TE Vernon Davis
  • DE Manny Lawson
  • DE/LB Parys Haralson
  • TE Delanie Walker
  • LB Patrick Willis
  • T Joe Staley
  • DE Ray McDonald
  • S Dashon Goldson
  • CB Tarrell Brown
  • WR Michael Crabtree
He was fired just a few weeks before the 2010 NFL draft. He deserves at least partial credit for setting up a draft board that would eventually yield: T Anthony Davis, G Mike Iupati, and LB NaVorro Bowman, even if Trent Baalke called out their names. 
The 49ers record was 2-14 the year before McCloughan joined. His talent for finding player talent did not transfer to identifying coaching talent. Many in the NFL believed he had assembled the most talented roster in the NFL. Jim Harbaugh proved that to be true when he joined a year after McCloughan was fired from San Francisco and led his roster to three straight NFC Championship games and the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1994. 

Seattle Seahawks (2010-2013)

Seahawks General Manager John Schneider knew McCloughan from their days with the Packers, and brought his friend aboard as Senior Personnel Executive, which was basically code for Schneider’s right-hand man on player evaluations. He did not join the team until after the 2010 draft, so Schneider gets full credit for a haul that included:
  • T Russell Okung
  • S Earl Thomas
  • WR Golden Tate
  • CB Walter Thurmond
  • S Kam Chancellor
  • TE Anthony McCoy
McCloughan was in place for the next two drafts that stacked what had been the NFL’s worst roster. Names from those drafts include:
  • LB K.J. Wright
  • CB Richard Sherman
  • CB Byron Maxwell
  • LB Malcolm Smith
  • LB Bruce Irvin
  • LB Bobby Wagner
  • QB Russell Wilson
  • DT Jaye Howard
  • CB Jeremy Lane
  • G J.R. Sweezy
Seattle would go on to win their first Super Bowl in 2013 and make it within a yard of winning back-to-back championships. McCloughan was let go in 2013 for the same reason he was let go in San Francisco. He has an alcohol problem. 

The aftermath

McCloughan has had four jobs in the NFL before his current role with the Redskins. At each stop, he joined a struggling team, and was at least partially responsible for sending that team to a Super Bowl. Arguably, he was the lone link among all three Seahawks Super Bowl appearances. 
It took the Packers ten years to get back to the Super Bowl after he left. The Seahawks drafted three players who made the Pro Bowl and two who became All-Pros during his tenure, and have not drafted any since. San Francisco drafted seven Pro Bowl players during McCloughan’s tenure, and if you throw out the 2010 draft that was at least partially his responsibility, they have drafted two Pro Bowlers in the five drafts since. 
Green Bay was far from in shambles after McCloughan’s departure, but he was also less influential there. Seattle had a series of forgettable drafts after he left in 2005, and eroded into one of the worst rosters in football before Schneider and Pete Carroll arrived. Trent Baalke inherited the most talented roster in the NFL, and has overseen its dismantling. 
San Francisco is highly unlikely to make the playoffs this year, and the Seahawks are wavering on the edge. Schneider is a terrific GM who proved his eye for scouting with the 2010 draft that setup the foundation for their Super Bowl run. Even he would probably admit that the organization would be stronger if McCloughan was sober and part of it.
It is probably not a coincidence that a Redskins franchise that was in shambles heading into this season is enjoying a return to relevance, and now matches the Seahawks record at 4-5. McCloughan knows talent. On the surface, he appears to be irreplaceable. Three teams have tried. None has a lot to show for it. 

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