Skip to main content

How Andy Reid Learned the Don James Way of Player Evaluation

The success of the Nick Saban branch of the Don James coaching tree is well-documented.  Saban has won six college football national championships and produced dozens of coaches at the college and NFL levels. Bob Stull's branch is one of the lesser-known but it's directly linked to the success of Kansas City's Andy Reid.

Whenever he's asked about the secret to his success, Alabama coach Nick Saban quickly points to his formative years as a graduate assistant coach under Don James at Kent State University in the early 1970s.  

It was there Saban learned not just the X's and O's, but a player-evaluation system that went beyond the typical height, weight and speed.

James, along with his assistants Skip Hall, Bob Stull, Gary Pinkel and, of course, Saban took player evaluation from infancy and modernized it. Their star-rating system took into account the physical attributes but also evaluated each prospect's mental capacity.

That system helped produce successful football programs at Alabama, Washington, Missouri and Ohio State, and it has extended into the NFL. It's assisted Andy Reid in making Super Bowl appearances with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004 and now with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

When he selected Patrick Mahoney for the Chiefs, Reid said the "tough questions" portion of the interview separated Mahomes from other quarterbacks. For Reid, this form of evaluation came directly from Stull, who learned it from James. 

Stull was James' offensive-line coach at Kent State from 1971-74 and followed him to Seattle in 1975 to became Washington's receivers coach. In 1979-83, Stull served as UW's offensive coordinator and in his final season with the Huskies had the No. 1 offense in the then-Pac-10 Conference.  

When Stull eventually took the coaching job at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), he knew exactly what he wanted in an offensive-line coach and found him at Northern Arizona University.

It was Andy Reid. 

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Stull told him that one of the most important aspects of recruiting was player evaluation, and not just any system. 

"We looked at height, weight and speed," he said, "but we also looked at what sort of person we were looking for."

Beginning with the James Gang, as the coaches were called at Kent State, Stull learned to look  intently at what was beneath the helmet rather than just what was under the shoulder pads.  

He passed this evaluation approach along to Reid, emphasizing how they needed to find out if a recruit was willing to sacrifice his personal gain for the good of the team.

"We had a portion of our questionnaire," Stull said, "and we called it 'tough questions.' "  

From James to Stull to Reid, they tried to learn from the players what kind of team leaders they would be, how they would approach academics and what their off-the-field demeanor would resemble. 

These questions likely were used in the pre-draft meeting between Reid and his Super Bowl quarterback Patrick Mahomes. From that get-together, the coach came away feeling fairly confident he was going to be drafting a once-in-a-generation quarterback. 

He used those same questions that Don James and his assistants had scratched onto their notepads.