The only proper way to introduce this story is to give credit where credit is due: Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm put out a freaking outstanding history of the original two draft analysts on Wednesday, right before the draft, and not only is it fascinating, it’s got some A+ anecdotes about Bill Belichick using every single angle he possibly could to score the finest draft picks he could.
(Note: I’m not just drooling over it because it’s not another mock draft, it really is that good. Like, could easily be a great 30 For 30 episode good.)
Here’s the TL:DR you need to get caught up to where the Belichick connection comes in:
-Back before draft analysis was a thing, there were two OG draft analysts, and, purely by coincidence, they grew up just a few hours away from each other. One was Mel Kiper Jr, who needs no introduction. The other was a film junkie who started writing for Pro Football Weekly and covering the draft in 1978, a guy by the name of Joel Buchsbaum.
-We’re here to talk about Joel Buchsbaum, who was the first media analyst to really dig into college players all the way back to their high school careers back before anyone else was doing it.
-Unlike Kiper, Buchsbaum mostly kept to himself and a few radio interviews while he was writing for Pro Football Weekly.
Here’s where Bill Belichick comes in the mix. How highly did Belichick value Joel Buchsbaum’s analysis?
(Again, keep in mind this was so far before the draft was “Forget going to the gym today, it’s draft night, we’re going to the bar!” that for a while, it wasn’t even on TV)
“Bill Belichick, who tried in vain to hire Buchsbaum several times as his right-hand scouting consultant, once called him one of his closest friends despite only meeting a few times.”
And here’s another blast from the past - Scott Pioli, the current Falcons assistant GM who used to be a Pro Personnel Assistant under Belichick in Cleveland and eventually became Vice President of Player Personnel for the Patriots - often trusted Buchsbaum to keep him posted about anything and everything he needed to know.
Buchsbaum was not just a collector of information. For some teams, he was a source. He’d do the countless hours of legwork for his twice-annual draft publications, the Pro Prospects Preview in the fall and the Draft Preview Guide, in the spring. Teams would call Buchsbaum for information on players — in some cases, if Joel didn’t know the answer, no one did.
Pioli was one of those men, formerly a grunt on Belichick’s early Cleveland Browns staffs, and Buchsbaum became a trusted ally. They remained close, talking often about players, football philosophies and everything else.
And then there’s this “You’ve GOT to be kidding me” anecdote about the 2001 draft:
“Belichick then told a story about how the entire NFL universe believed that the Patriots would select Michigan wide receiver David Terrell with the sixth overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft. Belichick had vowed not mention to anyone, even Joel, with whom he was exceptionally close and unusually trusting in, the true apple of his eye: Georgia defensive tackle Richard Seymour. Belichick explained to his Patriots inner circle that Seymour’s name was not to be uttered to anyone outside of the building prior to the draft.
On Draft Day that year, Belichick picked up the phone for what had become a tradition, he and Buchsbaum chatting about the picks to unfold later that day. After some chitchat between them, Buchsbaum — who never was much for small talk, always wanting to get or deliver to the information that mattered most to his livelihood — told Belichick, “Don’t wuh-rry … Seymoah is gonna be there fuh you.”
Belichick was gobsmacked. That’s when he knew Buchsbaum was the best-sourced person he talked to not part of any NFL team.”
(Gotta love the literal pronunciation of the Brooklyn accent, right?)
Unfortunately, Buchsbaum passed away at only 48 years old, and who were some of the only NFL people to attend his funeral?
Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli.
The timing made it difficult, coming the day after the New England Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs, but Belichick and then Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli were both close with Buchsbaum — as close as they could be to a man they each met in person only a handful of times — made the drive down from Foxboro, Mass. to Saddle Brook. When they arrived, only a few other of his hundreds of close NFL contacts made it to the burial.
“Ernie Accorsi, Joel Bussert, Joe Browne from the league office were the only [other] NFL people to attend his funeral,” Pioli told Shutdown Corner last year. “There were so many people who used him but then didn’t have the decency to show up and pay their respects. It broke my heart. Eventually, Bill and I talked about how sad that was.”
At the risk of sounding callous, though, why would someone stick with writing for a magazine and doing media guest spots when an NFL team is offering you a scouting consultant job?
“Belichick would have paid him a lot, too,” McClain said. “But money was not important to [Buchsbaum], loyalty was. PFW gave him his shot early on, and he wanted to stick with him until the end.”
You really owe it to yourself to read Eric Edholm’s entire story, because without these guys, two things would likely be true:
- NFL Draft coverage could be much, much different than it is today, and;
- Imagine a less-informed Bill Belichick navigating the treacherous waters of his first, and second, head-coaching ventures, and drafts, without getting tips from one of the best sources in the business at the time.
Enjoy the 2017 NFL Draft tonight, everyone.