Of the 346 people currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, only a handful have not either played in the league, served as head coaches, or owned a team. Scouts and administrators rarely get recognition in the form of the famed golden jacket, but that does not mean there would be no candidates worthy of the honor. In fact, one of them just recently announced his retirement.
After 37 seasons in the NFL — including 25 in various capacities with the New England Patriots — Ernie Adams called it a career earlier this week.
“The last 21 seasons with the New England Patriots have been extraordinary for me,” Adams said in a statement. “I am fortunate to have been part of a team along with Bill Belichick, outstanding colleagues, patient owners, and a lot of great players. It is time for me to stop working and join the many wonderful fans who have been with us for this run.”
A key member of the Patriots’ dynastic run that started in the early 2000s, Adams is as deserving of recognition as any executive there is. With that said, let’s make the case for him to join not just the franchise’s own Hall of Fame at one point but professional football’s as well.
Adams’ career speaks for itself
As noted above, Adams spent 37 total seasons in the league so had to do something right.
After starting his coaching career at Northwestern in the early 1970s, Adams entered the NFL in 1975 as a member of Chuck Fairbanks’ staff in New England. Being responsible for a variety of tasks — from on-field responsibilities and administrative duties to computer analysis, statistical evaluations and film coordination — Adams carved out a role as a jack of all trades that he would hold throughout his career.
He left the Patriots in 1979 to join the New York Giants, being reunited with former prep school teammate Bill Belichick. With the exception of two separate stints on Wall Street, Adams has worked closely alongside Belichick ever since.
The two joined forces with the Cleveland Browns in 1991, and later reunited in New England when Belichick was hired as head coach in 2000. Since then, Adams had served in his position as football research director. Along the way, he earned himself six Super Bowl rings. Only three people — Belichick (eight), former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (seven) and former executive Neal Dahlen (seven) — own more rings than that.
Adams helped build and maintain a dynasty
While Adams’ role with the Patriots was shrouded in mystery and the subject of speculation and rumor, his impact on the organization cannot be denied. He was one of the architects of its dynasty in the early 2000s, and has been involved in very part of the football operations — something Belichick himself noted during a speech in New England’s war room during the third day of this year’s draft.
“Ernie’s career, and especially in the draft room, is legendary. ... Ernie literally wrote the book on scouting. The grading scale, the lettering, the numbering, the different classification of players, the report writing, critical factors, he has been a part of all that really for four decades,” Belichick said.
“His impact in not only the scouting for me personally in this organization, but honestly through all the people who have been here and left here as well as obviously the acquisitions of some of the great players of those organizations and the championships that eventually come with them.”
Adams’ impact did extend far beyond the draft room, though. As New England’s research director he also was heavily involved in the game preparation process. The 2015 NFL Films documentary Do Your Job illustrated this:
Ernie Adams deserves to be in the HOF without hesitation.— TRENT BROWN #1 FAN (@BradyyNFL) May 4, 2021
This is just a spec of his importance to the Patriots historical dominance. pic.twitter.com/HlhllHOSzl
Adams may have kept a low profile and worked behind the curtains, but New England’s on-field product and dominance over two decades would not have happened without his impact.
“Ernie did a lot and does a lot, and he does it as well as anybody that I’ve ever been around,” former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli said about Adams last year. “He’s involved in game-planning, he’s involved in personnel. He looks at things from a different perspective where he doesn’t sit in meeting rooms with individual players where he’ll end up getting distracted by certain emotional components and relationships with players. He looks at things with a very clean way.
“He’s a very smart guy. Everyone knows how smart and how brilliant he is, but he’s also an incredible human being and he’s very intuitive. He sees a lot of things. People make him out to be this spy-like thing. He just sees things that are just normal human behaviors and he just has a great mind. He contributes a lot to that organization.”
Adams earned the respect of those around him
While those outside of One Patriot Place likely never had much if any contact with him, Adams was a well-respected figure in the most successful pro football organization of its era. Statements made about him over the last few weeks and months reflect this.
“Ernie’s contributions are historic,” said Belichick about his long-term friend and confidante. “Tthey traverse several decades and so many different areas in every corner of the room and then some. He’s literally been involved in every single aspect of the football program at every level that you could possibly be involved in. He’s done an outstanding job on all of them.”
“I can’t think of another person who deserves to be in the Patriots Hall of Fame more than Ernie Adams for all that he’s done as a quiet leader. Not just as a contributor but as a quiet leader in the organization over decades,” Scott Pioli said about Adams for a Patriots behind-the-scenes documentary last year.
While Belichick and Pioli worked closely with Adams through the years, he also left a positive impression on New England’s players.
“The guy behind the guy. Look at all the Hall of Fame players Ernie has been a part of drafting over the past 50 years. It’s insane,” added fellow retiree Julian Edelman on social media this week.
“I always made an effort to talk to Ernie when he was in the building, when I passed him in the building, about rules. Whatever it may be, he’s like an encyclopedia. Ernie will definitely be missed around the building, that’s for sure,” center David Andrews said during a media conference call.
Edelman and Andrews earned a combined five Super Bowl rings in New England. Pioli earned three; Belichick six. Ernie Adams has had his hand in all of them and much more, and as a result deserves to be recognized — not just by the Patriots but the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.