Commentary

Goodman takes fast journey to NFL front office

Updated: May 15, 2008, 1:37 PM ET
By Bill Williamson | ESPN.com

Jeff Goodman was sitting in a dirty shower stall at a small Southern school. He was wearing nice slacks and expensive shoes -- a habit he has kept from a previous life.

Goodman was watching football tape on a grainy screen, trying to find a Division II gem. He was a long way from sitting in a courtroom working on high-profile trials.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't end some days, scratching my head, asking myself, 'What did I get into?'" Goodman recalled. "It was a major change."

[+] EnlargeJeff Goodman
Pete Eklund/Denver BroncosJeff Goodman has traded in the court room for NFL front office.
Indeed, Goodman's path to an NFL front office wasn't a road often taken. At 29, Goodman is one of the youngest executives in the NFL. He was promoted from an area scout to assistant general manager in Denver in January. Goodman, who looks about five years younger than he is, stood out at the NFL owners meetings in Florida in April.

It wasn't just for his youth. His Alabama attorney license also made Goodman a novelty in the league full of older football lifers.

"It's not your typical career path," said Alabama attorney and sports agent Russ Campbell, who worked with Goodman before Goodman joined his father, Jim, in Denver. "But Jeff is a unique guy. He has found away to marry his skill set and passion. There is no telling where he ends up. This is a guy who is just going to succeed at whatever he does."

One can't argue with the pace of Goodman's career success. At 24, as a fresh graduate of Florida State's law school and a new associate of prestigious Balch & Bingham law firm in Birmingham, Ala., Goodman was working on the Enron case. He was part of the team that researched tapes of the shenanigans in Las Vegas.

"I was listening to those tapes, and I had a veteran attorney with me," Goodman recalled. "He said, 'Son, if your law career lasts 30 years, you'll never hear anything like this.'"

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After being part of the team that brought down Enron, Goodman now tackles the NFL. Denver coach Mike Shanahan handpicked Goodman to be part of a new-look Denver front office as the team tries to rebound from its second losing season in Shanahan's 13 seasons. Goodman worked closely with his father and Shanahan before and during this year's draft and will continue to work on all football matters.

Goodman is extremely detail-oriented and bright, so it's no surprise to see the man who graduated from the University of Florida in just three years land this position in Denver, where his father was just promoted to vice president of football operations/player personnel.

"Jeff is a guy who, with his background as an attorney, I thought could help us," Shanahan said. "He gives us a different perspective."

Despite his fast rise, Goodman admits he wasn't sure about making the career change. He had a comfort level in the courtroom. He had big plans. So when Jim called in summer 2006 to ask Jeff to consider joining the Broncos as the team's Southeastern scout, the younger Goodman was torn. He had long loved the sport and, as the son of a college football coach and a former walk-on receiver at Florida, thought he'd get into the game at some point.

But he wasn't sure he wanted to do it as an area scout.

"Initially, my gut reaction was not to do it," said Goodman, who will keep his law license and won't rule out practicing law again someday. "But I love the game so much and, after talking to some people I really trust, I decided opportunities like these don't always come up and sometimes you have to take a step backwards for a chance for future opportunities."

Jim Goodman thought his son would be a natural, but he never pushed past the initial offer to be a scout.

"I knew he'd be perfect," Jim said of Jeff. "It's not like he was a lawyer walking off the street into the NFL. He has known this stuff his entire life. He grew up with it."

It was clearly the right move for Goodman who showed everyone -- including himself -- that he made the right call when he was promoted earlier this year. Still, Goodman said the learning process continues. He knows that because of his law background and his youth, he has a lot to prove and a lot more to learn.

Always one to gleam information and advice, Goodman found himself visiting with Raiders coach Lane Kiffin at the league meetings. Kiffin was hired as the Raiders' coach in early 2007 at age 31.

"He's been through this at an early age, and he had good advice," Goodman said. "I'll never stop asking questions and learning. That's what I learned so far in both careers. You have to keep on growing."

Goodman, though, is growing faster than most.

Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter