Brocato a legend among scouts

To the fan, C.O. Bocato is a nameless, faceless scout. But in the NFL, Bocato is a legend who shapes franchises and players' careers and he let ESPN.com's Matt Mosley tag along as he worked the Texas pro day.

Originally Published: March 29, 2007
By Matt Mosley | ESPN.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- C.O. Brocato always sets his alarm for 5 a.m., but he can't recall the last time he stayed in bed long enough to hear it go off.

On a Wednesday morning in late March, the legendary Tennessee Titans scout skipped his usual treadmill session because he wanted to get an "early start" on the University of Texas' pro day, which didn't begin until 10:50 a.m.

C.O. Brocato
Adron Gardner for ESPN.comTitans scout C.O. Brocato, an NFL scout for 33 years, has no plans to retire.

Brocato's remarkable scouting career began almost by accident 33 years ago, when he was attempting to become head football coach at the University of Texas at Arlington.

At the time, he had also interviewed for a position in the Houston Oilers' scouting department. One of the club's college scouts, George Blackburn, called and told Brocato that he needed to report to Houston for a physical. Asked why, Blackburn responded, "Because you've already been on the payroll for two weeks."

Now 77, Brocato, on the preliminary list of 2007 Pro Football Hall of Fame nominees, seems to be catching his second wind. After surviving a life-threatening staph infection during last year's scouting combine, he has returned to full-time duty and scoffs at the idea of retirement.

"I'm not sure what I'd do after breakfast," Brocato said.

Brocato allowed ESPN.com to shadow him as he participated in Texas' pro day. He represents a group of men who have tremendous influence on the success or failure of teams, but for the most part remain anonymous.

5 a.m.: Brocato wakes up at the Holiday Inn Express North, about three miles from the UT campus. He has racked up thousands of Holiday Day Inn points over the years, but jokingly says, "My wife's not interested in using them."

Even though he has had hip and knee replacement surgeries, Brocato tries to work out for at least 30 minutes each morning at 4:30, but he decides to take the day off.

6 a.m.: After grabbing a sausage and egg biscuit at McDonald's and picking up donuts and coffee for some of the administrative assistants in the UT football office, Brocato arrives at UT's Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Complex.

Influential scouts
Frank "Bucko" Kilroy
One of the most notorious players in the game became a scouting legend. After his playing career with the Eagles ended, he eventually joined the club's personnel department and played a role in the signing of Tommy McDonald and Sonny Jurgensen. He scouted for the Redskins and Cowboys before beginning a long run with the Patriots in 1971. The 85-year-old Kilroy, who still consults for New England, oversaw the drafting of the organization's first two Hall of Famers, John Hannah and Mike Haynes.

Bill Nunn Sr.
Former sportswriter and managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier broke into scouting after helping put together the black college All-American teams for several years. He had a hand in the Steelers drafting players such as Donnie Shell, Mel Blount and John Stallworth, who were from historically black colleges. Nunn Sr., 82, still consults with the Steelers even though he attempted to retire in 1987.

Ron Marciniak
The former Kansas State standout guard coached at eight different colleges before becoming an NFL combine scout. Marciniak, 75, spent 10 years with the Cowboys and has been with the Browns/Ravens since 1991. He and Brocato are two of the oldest active scouts in the business.

Dick Haley
Former independent scout who became the director of player personnel for the Steelers. He presided over the 1974 draft in which Pittsburgh selected John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert and Mike Webster. His son, Todd, is the offensive coordinator for the Cardinals.

Gil Brandt
The former Cowboys director of personnel was a pioneer in the use of computers to expedite the entire scouting process. Along with Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, Brandt helped build one of the most successful sports franchises in sports. He also formed relationships with coaches of black colleges, and that helped the Cowboys land players such as Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright.

He and former Cowboys director of personnel Gil Brandt are the first to arrive, and a janitor they've known for years named Alvin Lynn lets them in at 6:15. According to former Titans general manager Floyd Reese, Brocato knows the janitors at all the schools in his territory, which includes Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska.

When Brocato first broke into the scouting business, scouts carried their own projectors. It was important to show up early so you could claim a wall.

"I've been in rooms with eight different projectors," he says. "That was back in the 16-millimeter day."

7 a.m.: Some of the other scouts begin to filter in. Almost all of them immediately walk over to greet Brocato. He knows all of them by name, but he makes the most time for the guys he thinks are the hardest workers.

"If he doesn't think you're working at it, he won't have anything to do with you," says veteran Chargers scout Tom McConnaughey, who reveres Brocato.

The easiest way to gain Brocato's favor is to help him run a pro day. Eagles scout Andy Speyer is his "arms and hands guy" and Giants scout Steve Malin handles height and weight.

Quarterback Vince Young was the center of attention during last year's pro day, but Brocato was also high on a seldom-used fullback named Ahmad Hall who ran 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had a 35-inch vertical. Hall, a former Marine, had to enter the supplemental draft after not being able to win another year of eligibility, and the Titans signed him to a free-agent contract.

"If he stays healthy, the kid is capable of playing in Pro Bowls," Reese says. "And C.O.'s the one who spotted him."

7:45 a.m.: Former Oilers running back Alonzo Highsmith walks in and hugs Brocato. Now a college scout with the Packers, Highsmith says Brocato's one of the main reasons he entered the profession.

"He taught me how to get up early and get my work done before other people," he says. "He'd wake me up at 4 a.m. and make me go walking with him."

Wearing a Titans cap, a navy golf shirt and khaki Dockers, Brocato is working the room like the entertainer he is. In the early 1950s, he played linebacker and kicked field goals for Baylor, a Baptist-affiliated university in Waco, Texas.

"Me and another guy were the only two Catholics on the team," Brocato says. "And we both got elected captain."

After college, Brocato returned home to Shreveport, La., where he spent several years coaching at Jesuit High School. He then coached at Northern Arizona and Texas-Arlington.

8:30 a.m.: Brocato and eight other scouts walk to UT's track, where former Longhorns running back Ramonce Taylor is scheduled to work out. Taylor had been a key contributor (15 touchdowns) on the Longhorns' 2005 national championship team his sophomore season, but his guilty plea to a marijuana charge last spring ended his career in Austin.

Texas head coach Mack Brown doesn't allow players who have been kicked off the team to work out with players in good standing. Taylor is supposed to begin his workout at 8:30 a.m., but he is nowhere in sight.

When his agent shows up to explain that Taylor accidentally went to the wrong facility, Brocato lets him have it.

"We don't have time to fool around," he shouts. "If he's not here in a minute, we're outta here!"

When Taylor finally shows up, Brocato slaps him on the back and says, "You've got five minutes to get loose. What's the matter with you?"

Taylor, who appears out of shape, doesn't have a particularly strong workout. He struggles to keep his balance in the three-cone drill that Brocato invented and then almost vomits after "C.O.'s drill No. 3," which requires running backs to switch the ball from arm to arm while racing around cones.

C.O. Brocato
Adron Gardner for ESPN.comNo detail is too small for Brocato, seen here checking a player's off-the-field skill.

"RO-mance," as Brocato keeps referring to him in his Cajun accent, has not helped himself today. "He is out of shape," Brocato says. "You would think with the problems he's had that he'd want to come out and blow people away."

As he passes Taylor's agent, Brocato says, "You gotta get Romance's ass in shape."

9:15 a.m.: Brocato pops the trunk of his car to reveal one of the best packing jobs in the business. He always keeps his black travel bag on the far left side. To the right is a leather Oilers bag from the 1970s in which he keeps his 100-foot tape measure, chalk and backup stopwatches. He also has two sets of steel file cabinets in which he keeps folders on 50 schools. Brocato likes to have five T-shirts and one set of dress clothes in the trunk.

The interior of the car is lined with towels and blankets because he doesn't want passengers spilling anything on his leather seats. Asked what type of music he listens to on the road, he says, "I'm into pop."

9:52 a.m.: Back inside the workout facility, Brocato complains to Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden, UT's strength and conditioning coach, that a camera tripod is in his way for the 40-yard dash. For years, Brocato has always been given the best seat in the house during pro days, and today's no different, but he wants the tripod moved.

Brocato is upset because a company called Sparq that specializes in digital timing has been invited to campus.

"How's it digital if you have to start it with your hand?" asks Brocato, who's responsible for teaching dozens of scouts the proper technique for timing the 40-yard dash.

He starts the clock as soon as he sees a player's hand move. He'll watch the first 20 yards and then he'll turn his attention to the finish line. The most important thing he teaches young scouts is to close their far eye and keep their near eye open. Brocato believes if you close the wrong eye, you can be off by five hundredths of a second. Veteran scouts such as Brocato believe they could close both eyes and still have a good idea of how a player performed.

"You can hear their feet and immediately know if they're accelerating or decelerating," McConnaughey says.

10:18 a.m.: "Let's get this [expletive] started," says Brocato, who is growing impatient.

He's standing in a hallway looking at one of Earl Campbell's jerseys while waiting for Brown to make his opening address. Brocato was in the Cotton Bowl press box when Campbell scored a touchdown against Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout in 1977.

"I tipped my cap and said, 'I don't need to see any more,'" Brocato says. "Then I went on home."

10:30 a.m.: At least 75 scouts and coaches gather in a large auditorium. Brown expresses shock that center Lyle Sendlein hadn't been invited to the recent combine and calls him "one of the best players on our team."

He talks about the school's 12 draft prospects and touches on some of his players' legal issues. Brown says Taylor "had the longest fingers I've ever seen for a little guy." He also says guard Kasey Studdard won't test well, but he could be an effective player.

Brown's homespun charm is playing really well with this audience. Madden then reads off the players' lowest and highest weights during their college careers.

10:50 a.m.: Brown hugs Brocato and introduces him to his son. Then Brocato plants a hug on Studdard, who seems a bit startled by the affection.

Brocato continues to jaw at Madden, who appears to take it in stride. Madden gathers the players together on the indoor track and they shout, "Big money!"

11:03 a.m.: At least 150 reporters, friends and family members are standing on a balcony above where the workouts are taking place. There are about 20 photographers.

Downstairs, Brocato is calling out the prospects' names when it's time to get measured. Cornerback Aaron Ross pumps his fist in celebration after his height is announced, as if he may have magically grown a couple of inches.

11:12 a.m.: The vertical leap testing is under way, but everyone seems to be focused on Brocato.

"C.O.'s made quite a recovery," a Bengals scout says.

11:20 a.m.: Selvin Young records a 36½-inch vertical jump, but he's overshadowed by the arrival of Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who's wearing a burnt orange golf shirt.

11:35 a.m.: Cornerback Tarrell Brown impresses scouts with a 4.39 in the 40, but then crashes into the wall after appearing to injure his hamstring.

Brocato
Adron Gardner for ESPN.comBrocato, timing the 40-yard dash, usually gets the best seat in the house at a pro day.

Brocato is very talkative, but for the most part, he doesn't say much during the actual testing. Two days later, someone will make the mistake of getting in his way during the 40-yard dash at the University of Houston.

According to at least one witness, Brocato demanded that the man be removed from the workout. Turns out it was a Houston assistant coach, but that didn't seem to faze Brocato.

12:02 p.m.: After the 40s, it's time for the 20-yard shuttle. The scouts become impatient when Selvin Young doesn't touch the line on his first two attempts and then falls down.

"It's a sign that he hasn't been working on it," one scout says.

A few minutes later, all the scouts congregate to make sure they have accurate 40 times. They're also looking for times in the 10-yard splits. When the crowd becomes too loud, Brocato flashes his temper.

"Tell them back there to be quiet, would you please?" he says to Madden.

12:07 p.m.: Players begin the lifting portion of pro day. After safety Matt Melton appears to lift 225 pounds 13 times, Brocato shouts, "Thirteen minus two. And I'm being nice." The players don't quite know what to make of Brocato. He's encouraging them one minute, chastising them the next.

12:30 p.m.: Scouts and players take buses to UT's indoor practice facility, where the three-cone and position drills will take place.

At one point, a couple of secondary coaches start a drill with players while Brocato's still trying to conduct the three-cone drill. He walks over and scolds the group of scouts and coaches, which includes Jacksonville secondary coach and former Dallas Cowboys head coach Dave Campo.

C.O. Brocato
Adron Gardner for ESPN.comBrocato is often the center of attention at pro days and a mentor to young scouts. "He taught me how to get up early and get my work done before other people," Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith says.

"Y'all pissed him off," one scout says. "Now, it's going to carry over to Rice tomorrow."

The funny thing is that Brocato seems to be enjoying himself immensely. Smith comes over and gives Brocato a hug.

1 p.m.: Brocato is attempting to supervise all the position drills while studying a couple of players. He is very impressed with the day safety Michael Griffin is having and thinks he showed excellent hips and footwork in getting in and out of breaks. The defensive backs are using his "C.O. No. 2 drill," a drill in which Brocato observes a defensive back's ability to get into and out of breaks.

1:30 p.m.: Most of the scouts are looking forward to eating barbecue with Brown back over at the athletic complex. Brocato rushes in and makes a plate to go before heading for Houston.

5 p.m.: He's is in his room at the Holiday Inn Astrodome, one of his favorite locations. After e-mailing his reports to the Titans, he settles in for some TV.

"I love 'Dancing With the Stars,'" he says. "And I'll watch 'Deal or No Deal' or some of that 'Survivor.'"

After Texas' pro day, Brocato traveled to Texas Southern and Rice before heading to Houston. And this week, he's going to UTEP, New Mexico State and New Mexico.

Just another week in the life of C.O. Brocato.

Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com. He may be reached at matt.mosley@sbcglobal.net.