Hurricane Katrina forced detours for scouts and executives throughout the South. It messed up travel plans, kept them from going to certain place, and left them headed for one place in particular: Vanderbilt University. It became a hub, of sorts, for those wanting to scout SEC players.
They’d pick the brain of Alex Santos, then a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt, wanting to know about this player or that team. Eventually one long-time scout told Santos that he should consider switching career paths.
So he did.
“Here I am, eight years later,” Santos said.
Yes, here he is – the Redskins' new director of pro personnel. The Redskins gave him that title more than a week ago, replacing Morocco Brown, who accepted a new job in Cleveland. Santos spent the past six years as an NFL scout under Brown, a former teammate of his at North Carolina State. And three years ago he felt he was ready for more, that he could handle a promotion like the one he just received.
“We all get to a certain point in life, you want to take that next step,” Santos said. “I wouldn’t say a light went on, but it was something I wanted to do. I didn’t have a timeline or a date set, but the opportunity presented itself. I’m super thankful and appreciative for them to have faith in me.”
The word appreciative came up time and again during a 14-minute interview with Santos last week. He’s not in this for the publicity and would prefer not doing interviews (though he is described as affable and a unifier by someone who worked with him in the past). Santos knows it’s a cliché, but his only focus is doing whatever it takes to help the Redskins win.
For now, that means getting players. The Redskins have finished last seven of the past 10 years, including four of the past five. So there’s work to be done. Santos didn’t want to reveal specifics about what he might change, saying only that “we’ll tweak some things and add to some things that already have been done. ... You put your spin on it.”
Nor is he suddenly awed by the added pressure he’ll face with the promotion. He’ll report to team president and general manager Bruce Allen as well as director of player personnel Scott Campbell.
“It’s exciting,” Santos said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge, embracing the challenge. But it’s something when we talk about presenting information to superiors, that’s something we [as a staff] all do together. Doing it as a group will put us in situations to present Scott and Bruce with the best information possible.”
Santos was a four-year starter at guard for North Carolina State. His first coaching stop was as an assistant at Eastside High School in New Jersey. He joined the Redskins in 2006 as a pro personnel assistant and became a pro scout two years later.
He said he’s learned important lessons along the way.
“Willingness to learn, open to ideas,” he said. “[When] young guys come up to you and present certain things to you about particular ways to do something or about a player, be receptive to it, be open to it. Obviously it’s all on me to make a decision, but being open and receptive to ideas, being willing to learn and definitely not being of the mindset that you know it all."
What he once thought he knew is that his future was in coaching. That changed thanks to Katrina. It helped that Vanderbilt’s quarterback that season was Jay Cutler, so the school was a good place to stop for scouts and executives.
“We had a high traffic volume of scouts come in, general managers came in,” Santos said.
One veteran scout, after talking with Santos, asked if he’d ever considered this end of the industry.
“I hadn’t really thought about doing it,” he said. “I wanted to coach. You don’t want to go back and forth. ... I went into it head first. When the Redskins had a position, I was able to get consideration and it all worked out. Eight years later this is the role I’m in now.”