Sunday, August 15, 2004

Like father, like son

Tobins anchor Bengals scouting efforts

By Mark Curnutte
Enquirer staff writer

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Marvin Lewis reads several reports on college prospects the Bengals might consider drafting or signing as free agents.

And without looking at the signature, he can tell which of the club's scouts wrote the ones that often carry the same grade.

Duke Tobin and his dad, Bill Tobin.

"Occasionally, they'll disagree," Lewis says. "You see a lot of the base fundamentals of hard playing."

Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, scout Earl Biederman, and scouting consultant Bill Tobin.
• Bengals, scouting consultant, 2003-current
• Lions, 2001-02, executive director of player personnel, 2001-02
• Colts, 1994-97, vice president and director of football operations
• Bears, 1975-93, last eight years as vice president of player personnel
• Packers, 1971-74, scout
• University of Missouri, 1960-62, running back

• Bengals, 1999-current, scouting department, director of player personnel since 2002
• Colts, 1994-99, scout
• Player, Orlando and Memphis of Arena Football League
• University of Illinois (1988-89), University of Colorado (1991-92), quarterback (member of both Big Ten and Big 12 championship teams)

• Packers, 2004, special assistant coach
• Lions, 2001, defensive coordinator
• Cardinals, 1996-2000, head coach
• Colts, 1994-95, defensive coordinator
• Bears, 1986-92, defensive coordinator (In Vince's first season with the Bears, they allowed just 187 points over 16 games)
• University of Missouri, 1962-64, defensive back

Bill Tobin, 63, one of the NFL's most respected and successful player personnel executives, joined the Bengals in January 2003. He carries the title of scouting consultant but does more than simply offer advice. Living in Florida, he oversees college scouting in the fertile southeast states and provides crosscheck reports on several other players. He wrote reports on nine of the team's 11 draft picks, including first-rounder Chris Perry of Michigan, in 2004.

"I feel my situation now is I load the powder and keep it dry," Bill Tobin says. "I don't pull the trigger any more."

Duke Tobin, 33, is in his sixth year with the Bengals and his third as director of player personnel.

"He has a good feel on the talent," Lewis says of the younger Tobin. "He works extremely, extremely hard and is very thorough in all his work. So when you ask him a question, you know you're getting an educated answer."

Proud of his father and admittedly shaped by his football philosophy, Duke nonetheless is carving his own identity in the pro and college football ranks.

"If I can work the rest of my career for the Cincinnati Bengals, that would be great," Duke Tobin says. "I have no ambition to chase the dollar. I would rather be here and try to accomplish the same things he accomplished in Chicago."

A joke inside the organization is that Bill, who worked for 19 years in Chicago and was the chief personnel architect of the Super Bowl XX-winning Bears, now works for Duke.

But both of the Tobins are quick to say they work for Mike and Pete Brown - the club's president and senior vice president of player personnel, respectively - and say their goal is to help the team win a championship. Their role is to provide accurate evaluations of prospective picks.

Dad's footsteps

But beyond the shared goal, Bill and Duke are happy to be working together as father and son. Football is a shared occupation and passion.

Duke was not yet 5 when Bill went to work for former Bears general manager Jim Finks in 1974.

The Bears selected Walter Payton in Bill's first draft with the team, 1975. Duke worked as a ball boy at Bears training camp and at home games.

By the time Duke started a successful high school playing career at Hersey High School in suburban Arlington Heights, Bill was in charge of the Bears personnel department and working with new coach Mike Ditka to add the final pieces to one of the best teams in NFL history.

"The Super Bowl team, I had an imprint on every player on the team," Bill Tobin says. "What really put us over the top was when Ditka came in and gave us the attitude that we had the talent and should win it all."

Bill Tobin found future stars throughout the draft. In 1983 alone, the Bears drafted seven future starters, including defensive end Richard Dent and guard Mark Bortz in the eighth round.

In 1981, Bill Tobin signed a college free agent cornerback from Alcorn State, Leslie Frazier, today the Bengals defensive coordinator.

"Bill had an eye for talent and left no stone unturned, both at major colleges and small schools," Frazier says. "You see some of the same qualities in Duke: attention to detail, forthrightness."

Bill Tobin's track record followed him to Cincinnati.

"His experience, knowing what it takes to be a good scout, he understands the development that needs to happen for guys," Lewis says. "He can recognize the special qualities of a guy you draft later that can make a special impact in the NFL. That's how you make a good football team."

Built through the draft

Bill Tobin's history, the Bengals hope, will repeat itself in Cincinnati.

The Bengals traded before and during the draft, securing 11 picks, including eight in the first four rounds. They had nine picks in 2003. And 19 of the 20 picks, with the exception of cornerback Dennis Weathersby, might be on the 53-man roster come September.

"This last draft was very fun because he was really enthusiastic with the guys we took," Duke says of his father. "That made it real to me, that made the year's worth of work all worth it, to have him say, `Yeah, we really did a good job here. We got a lot of value for each guy we took. We drafted guys who have a lot of potential.'"

Two seasons after the Bears won their Super Bowl, Duke, as a starting junior quarterback, Duke led Hersey to the 6-A Illinois state title for the largest schools.

He went to Illinois but played behind Jeff George. After a transfer to Colorado, Kordell Stewart was the starter, though Duke filled in for him in two games with one start.

"Just being around the Bears and being around the teams I was on in high school and college," Duke says, "you learn why teams succeed. They have good players, they have good team chemistry, and they're well coached. It's pretty clear."

Shared philosophy

And what's clear in separate interviews is that Duke Tobin, the apple, didn't fall far at all from the tree.

"When all else is equal, bet on character" is the shared motto of Bill and Duke Tobin.

Says Bill, "You've got to have stability as well as ability. You correct your problems in the draft room by not drafting them."

The first three weeks of training camp are one of the best times of the year for the Tobins. They share a quad at Georgetown College with scout Greg Seamon and Jim Lippincott, the Bengals' director of football operations.

Since 2002, the Bengals have doubled the size of their player personnel department, previously considered league-wide among the NFL's least effective. Bengals executives once boasted of keeping most of their draft picks. But those players, of course, were the ones upon whom the franchise's 13-year playoff drought was built.

Duke and Bill often watch practice together from the sidelines. But they analyze practice film alone before coming back together to eat dinner and discuss what they saw.

A scout's life

Soon, Bill will return to his home in Florida. And he and Duke will be off to college campuses - Bill in the southeast and Duke in the Midwest and Great Plains.

Another theorem passed from father to son: You've got to be on campus in the fall. That season provides the best look at players and the richest, most telling sources of information.

"(Coaches) are more apt to tell me more things more accurately when they've lost two games in a row than in March and April, when they're trying to get the player drafted," Bill says.

Bill scouted some of the players on Duke's college teams.

"He asked me what I thought of some of the guys," Duke says, "and it matched up a lot.

"He knew everything I did about a guy, and I was living with him and playing football with him on a daily basis. That told me the value of scouting and being on the campus and having good contacts."

Working together is more fun than being competitors. Bill was with the Lions in 2001 and 2002 (Bill's brother Vince Tobin was Lions defensive coordinator in 2001). Duke was with the Bengals. They'd want to talk in detail about prospects but couldn't.

Now they're on the same team for a second time - Bill hired Duke in Indianapolis - and they're both hoping Bill's first-pick magic will continue with the Bengals.

Bill drafted Payton with the Bears and Marshall Faulk in Indianapolis in 1994. The Bengals' first pick after Bill's hire was quarterback Carson Palmer.

"The big thing was, I knew I could help, and I'm pretty good at identifying players," Bill says of why he joined the Bengals. "I always had respect for the Brown family. And they gave me a chance to work with my son. I want to help him out, and I want to help them out.

"At this time in my life I'm thrilled to be working here."



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