If moving he and his wife from one end of Interstate-10 to the other wasn’t enough for Terry McDonough last January, awaiting him was seven months of evaluations he had to catch up on after being promoted to the Arizona Cardinals vice president of player personnel.
He dove in head first, utilizing his more than 20 years of experience as a scout and personnel executive to get as prepared as he possibly could for this week’s NFL draft. Until January, McDonough had been the Cardinals’ Eastern Regional Scout, a job he accepted right after the 2013 draft after spending 10 years with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Armed with a new title, a new home and new responsibilities, McDonough had to learn to work in an office after years of working out of his home and hotel rooms.
Over the past four months, though, McDonough hasn’t just learned all there is to consume about the top 120 players on the Cardinals’ draft board, he has figured out how to be general manager Steve Keim’s right-hand man. All from the office right down the hall.
“I have an opportunity to sit right under Steve and learn many facets of the operation and the organizational structure and how it’s run from his perspective,” McDonough said. “I had one perspective in Jacksonville working under Gene Smith but this is a whole ‘nother way of doing business. But obviously I like to be here and do what I’m doing. I love it. It’s something different every day.”
When he was hired in January, McDonough said he wasn’t going to be afraid to tell Keim the truth. It’s in his Irish-Catholic blood to be honest, as brutal as it may be, McDonough said. And that’s what he’s been during his short tenure in Arizona.
His frank personality is needed in the war room where debates on prospects can range from indifferent to roll-up-your-sleeves-and-take-it-to-the-parking-lot.
“We say how we feel and I think that’s why Steve hired me because he knows he’ll get my opinion based on how I feel and not my opinion based on how other people might feel,” McDonough said.
At the end of the day, Arizona’s goal for the draft is no different than any of the other 31 teams. The Cardinals want to find good players.
It’s everything that leads up to finding those players that has changed for McDonough. The lingo, the grading scales and the terminology are all unique to the Cardinals, as is Keim’s approach to his draft board. McDonough has seen teams with 200-man boards, or boards devised by round. But Keim has his 120-man board and sticks with it.
“One thing I like about Steve is he doesn’t really care what the rest of the league is thinking,” McDonough said. “He’s not caring about perceptions. What he’s going to do is he’s going to rank his top 120 players and stick with them.”
All McDonough can do is be prepared to give his opinion and then support Keim’s decision.
Sitting through countless draft meetings during the past 20 years, McDonough has learned to be a good communicator and open minded. When another scout raises a concern or wants to share something they like about a prospect, it’s important to listen.
And as much as Keim wants his staff to have the answers, not having all the answers may be more important, McDonough said. That allows a group-wide effort to collaborate on a pick, which can lead to a consensus in the war room. And that's the goal, McDonough said.
Watching the Cardinals’ scouting department in person from Tempe, McDonough noticed how well the scouts and coaches work together. That, in turn, has opened the lines of communication when it comes to making decisions on certain players.
As the process winds down, McDonough knows he’s taken the next step to reaching the ultimate goal for a personnel executive: general manager. But until that happens, McDonough will stick to what got him to the office near Keim’s.
“Just giving Steve my honest opinion and knowing when to go all in and knowing when to pull back a little bit,” McDonough said. “And let the process take its course.”