TEMPE, Ariz. -- Years ago, when Steve Keim was a scout for the Arizona Cardinals, he used to sit in his dorm room in Northern Arizona University during training camp and tell roommate Rodd Newhouse, a fellow scout, how he didn’t want to be a general manager.
All Keim wanted to do was travel the country and scout college prospects.
“He didn’t want to be that guy,” said Newhouse, who worked in the Cardinals’ personnel department from 1999-2005. “He had a true passion. He wanted to be around football and talk to players.”
Keim was good at his job, Newhouse remembered. He made a name for himself with his detailed reports, which showcased the amount of information he gathered. But what set Keim apart from his fellow scouts was how he presented the information. He was compelling. He was a talker. He was engaging. He was smooth.
He was “Big Sexy” to Newhouse and his peers.
Keim is now the Cardinals general manager, entering his third NFL draft. Instead of crisscrossing the country as a scout, Keim is settled in Arizona, having traded in hotel rooms for a plush leather chair at the head of the table.
And he still talks, just not as much. And with the staffs turning over, Keim’s nickname isn’t as present.
“I think instead of being a good talker, I have become a better listener,” Keim said. “You have a lot of different opinions in the room that matter. So, not only do coach (Bruce Arians) and I have a lot of conversations about individual players, but we have to listen to what our coaches have to say, what our staff has to say.
“Those guys put a tremendous amount of time and effort into the process and you have to respect everybody’s opinions, whether you agree or not. We have some healthy debates in there and it’s exactly what you look for. You look for some variance in opinions. To me, that’s how you always arrive at the right grade, whenever you have differences in opinions.”
That is what made Keim an effective evaluator as a scout, said Newhouse, who was the Cardinals’ pro personnel assistant. Now Keim is looking for the same traits from his scouts.
Keim’s role has changed as general manager. He enters the evaluation process later than in the past because he’s working on free agency. He no longer goes to the NFL scouting combine knowing every player in the draft. He plays catch-up when it’s time to evaluate the third-day players.
“I’ve always been an opinioned guy,” he said. “I’m not scared to share my thoughts but at the same time, I’m humble enough to realize I don’t have all the answers and how do I grow and develop and get better? If you guys have seen the list of players who’ve I missed on over the years, then you’d probably second-guess what you just said, but at the same time it’s how you go about getting better.”
The general manager Keim has become is a product of his early years with the franchise. Around 2003, Keim began taking a more active role in draft meetings and had his hand in setting the Cards’ board. Newhouse looked at one decision by the franchise that had an impact on who Keim has developed into: hiring Dennis Green as head coach.
When Green was hired in 2004, Newhouse said he implemented the best-player-available mentality instead of drafting for need.
“That’s what I think really helped catapult Steve because I think he learned a different system that was beneficial and felt more comfortable,” Newhouse said. “He still uses it with his own tweaks to this day.”
In two years, Keim has left his mark on the organization during the draft, with 13 of the 16 players drafted still on the roster along with eight others picked by the organization while he was on the staff. Among those picked during Keim’s tenure include Deone Bucannon, John Brown, Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Ellington. Some fit needs and others were the best player available.
“At the end of the day you have to trust your gut,” Keim said. “You get in situations where it’s always enticing to draft for need and particularly when you have some holes on your roster, but you always have to continue to remind yourself that your needs in April and May are always different than they are in September and October.”
Arians didn’t know anything about Keim’s ability to evaluate talent when he was hired, nine days after Keim. But it didn’t take long to see how Keim operated.
“He has a vision of what his football team should look like,” Arians said. "We share that.
“You grow and learn together, but the minute we talked, we had the same philosophy. You could tell he knew players.”
Some things actually never change.