Mobile turns into the 'loitering capital of football'

When the college and professional football worlds collide at the Senior Bowl, Mobile is transformed into a whole other world, writes Ivan Maisel.

Updated: January 24, 2006, 3:07 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

MOBILE, Ala. -- For the first three days of this week, the first two floors of the Riverview Plaza Hotel are somewhere between the bar in "Casablanca" and the bar in "Star Wars." Everyone in the world is there -- everyone in that whole other world. Every year, everyone in professional football returns to Mobile for the Senior Bowl.

They ogle the best college football players in the nation, and they ogle each other.

"The loitering capital of football," said Senior Bowl executive Vic Knight. He stood at the top of the escalator that rises from the lobby to the second floor, where the loitering is done.

Lori Young/ESPN.comThe college and professional football scenes converge each year at the Senior Bowl.
There are coaches, scouts, general managers and those who aspire to be. There are agents and their runners, phones clipped atop their ear, looking technologically hip and/or categorically dorky. There are coaches from the Canadian Football League and coaches from the United Indoor Football League, a $200-per-game outfit in the Midwest.

"We had workouts yesterday at South Alabama," said Sioux City (Iowa) Bandits head coach Jose Jefferson, standing near the escalator. "There were about 75 guys."

Surely none of the Senior Bowl players have the Bandits in their future. Jefferson smiled.

"You never know who you're going to meet," he said, "especially with the staff turnover [in the NFL]."

Jefferson walked over and introduced himself to Woodrow Lowe Jr., who has been an assistant coach with the Ottawa Renegades of the CFL for less than a week. Either at the Riverview Plaza or at Ladd-Peebles Stadium during practice, two people chatting quietly could be old friends catching up, or they could be conducting a job interview.

"It's a little bit like the Board of Trade," said Cleveland Browns director of player personnel Bill Rees. "'You need a job? You got to go see this guy.' Tonight, at the bar downstairs, it's more like a frat party. 'Who's going to this restaurant?'"

Last year, Rip Scherer came to Mobile having just been fired as the offensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi. This year, he came in a shirt with an orange helmet where the crocodile should be. He is the Browns quarterbacks coach.

"It's a lot different," Scherer said. "People don't turn their backs when they see you coming."

Scherer smiled, which is easy to do when you have a job.

"Anytime you get here without a job, you feel like you got a disease," Scherer said. "A lot of [that feeling] is self-imposed. People don't know what to say to you, so they avoid you."

College coaches without jobs are here, established names such as Carl Torbush, the former North Carolina head coach recently fired as Texas A&M defensive coordinator, and Gerald Carr, let go as Baylor quarterbacks coach when Guy Morriss decided to install a different offense.

As the North team practiced Monday afternoon, Carr walked up to new Lions coach Rod Marinelli on the sidewalk behind the north end zone, introduced himself and snagged a 10-minute conversation with him.

"I'm selling me," Carr said. "It's no different than what I do all the time, except then I'm talking to an 18-year-old, selling somebody else."

Position guys stick together -- Miami Dolphins quarterback coach Jason Garrett stopped to greet Rick Neuheisel, his counterpart with the Baltimore Ravens -- or it might be a couple of college coaches catching up. Back at the Riverview Plaza, Mississippi State assistant Amos Jones stood talking to Lorenzo Ward of Virginia Tech. Ward came down to meet NFL coaches.

"I got the best DB [defensive backs] job in the world," Ward said, "but I want to be a college head coach some day." If becoming an NFL assistant would speed up the process, so much the better.

Jones comes to Mobile to watch the special-teams practices.

"It gives you time to get acquainted with what they are teaching in the NFL," he said. "You can watch a guy work."

Conversations slow when the Senior Bowl players walk through. Scouts might grab them for a quick interview or hand them a form on which to fill out their personal information. It would be easier for the player to fill out one form and have the NFL e-mail it 32 times, but that's not how the system works.

Every form is different, and every conversation, no matter how brief, is weighed and taken back to the office to dissect.

Lori Young/ESPN.comQB Michael Robinson was part of Monday's parade of players at the weigh-in.
Speaking of ogling, there's nothing quite like the Monday morning weigh-in. The players parade in shorts and socks to the front of the hotel ballroom to have their heights and weights measured and announced in front of God and everybody. You see some guys whose bodies are chiseled and some guys whose concrete settled in some unfortunate places.

Heights are yelled out in four numbers. As UAB quarterback Darrell Hackney steps out from under the measuring rod, the measurer bellows, "Five one one three!" Either Hackney plays in two-inch heels, or he's really 5-foot-11 3/8 (and not the 6-1 UAB listed in its media guide).

"Everybody is oohing and aahing," Rees said. "You want to have the official height and weight on a few marginal guys. Some people put so much into body description."

And some people, like Lofa Tatupu, don't reach 6-0, but will be starting at middle linebacker for Seattle in Super Bowl XL next week.

"I missed on him," Rees said. "It just shows you. Instinct and genes [Tatupu's father, Mosi, played in the NFL for many years] have a little bit to do with it."

Most of the coaches and scouts will bug out by Thursday morning. The Senior Bowl sends complete game video to every staff. The combine in Indianapolis next month will be the next place this football world convenes.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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