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‘He Had His Hands in Everything’: Former 49ers Player Personnel Assistant Explains What Makes Ethan Waugh Special

What are the Jacksonville Jaguars getting in new assistant general manager Ethan Waugh? Let one of his former front office scouts break it down.

For former San Francisco 49ers player personnel assistant Jacob Nierob, Wednesday was a long time coming. 

Wednesday was the day the Jaguars put nearly a month of rumors to rest and officially made long-time San Francisco 49ers scout and executive Ethan Waugh the team's newest assistant general manager. But for Nierob, it was the culmination of a long career of work for a talented football mind he worked closely with for years.

"I thought he was the hardest worker in the building," Nierob told Jaguar Report about Waugh, who he worked with as a scouting assistant, scouting administrator and player personnel assistant from 2015-2018.

"He had his hands in everything involved in the day-to-day of the front office, whether it be scouting, operations or discussions with analytical staff, or discussions with the new software computing staff that he helped hire. He really was involved in everything in the front office."

Jaguars owner Shad Khan kicked off the offseason in February by making it clear he wanted more brainpower in the front office. He wanted a deeper roster of football executives, bringing the Jaguars closer to a modern front office than the model they have had during past seasons. 

In Waugh, Nierob thinks the Jaguars have done just that. Nierob, who now works as an associate sports scout for ESPN, says Waugh had an impact on the 49ers' organization that goes far beyond scouting. While Waugh cut his teeth as a scout, he has proven his ability to impact an organization from a variety of angles. 

The Jaguars preached versatility during the 2022 NFL Draft with each of their top selections. In Waugh, the Jaguars are getting an executive who preaches the same in the front office.

"Yeah, I mean, one of the things that he preached to me all the time was, the more you can do, and the more you're involved in, the more vital you are to the stability of an organization," Nierob said. "And he really proved that to its fullest."

"He's always looking to find the next edge and to find where, you know, we were inefficient in areas and try to create a new system that can help, whether it directly affects him or not. He has the mind and willingness to try new things and think outside of the box in creating ideas and systems that would benefit the entire organization."

How exactly did Waugh prove that in San Francisco and how could he do so in Jacksonville? To Nierob, all one has to do is consider the changes the 49ers' front office and scouting department underwent during Waugh's nearly 20 years with the team. 

Waugh worked alongside Jaguars general manager Baalke in San Francisco for 12 seasons (2005-16), during which time he started as a personnel assistant and then a Midwest regional scout. During Baalke’s tenure as general manager of the 49ers (2011-16), Waugh served as the team’s senior personnel assistant (2012-14) and senior player personnel coordinator (2015-17).  

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Since then, Waugh most recently served as the vice president of player personnel (2021-22) with the 49ers following three seasons as the director of college scouting and football systems for the team. It was during that period that Waugh helped modernize the 49ers' front office, especially the aspects of their war room and draft systems. 

"He was integral in hiring software engineers to develop our own internal draft database. He digitized the draft room completely," Nierob said. "So it wasn't, you know, old school magnets on whiteboards, it was full touchscreen video, as well as video capabilities that were linked through stats on the database that he created. 

"So in terms of my job, you know, I went from manually hand-cutting magnets and moving magnets every night after our draft meetings to where players' new grades were. Well now all you have to do is change the grade of the system and he moved on the board on its own. So just efficiency-wise, really made everyone's life much easier."

Nierob says his time with Waugh and the 49ers also saw him branching out. This included spending time with current Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who worked with Waugh as the manager of football research and development and then the director of football research and development. Also with the group was new Vikings vice president of football operations and former San Francisco director of research and development Demitrius Washington.

"We would all be sitting together at lunch for an hour just talking back and forth about what we're working on, what our theories are and then taking those theories and making them actionable," Nierob said. 

"He really had such a hand in building out the organization from the ground up, hiring scouting assistants who are now scouts themselves, directors of pro personnel, directors in college scouting," Nierob said. "And then being involved in just every aspect with dealing with operations and players and setting up college visits and, you know, talking with the analytics staff, and kind of bringing that analytic side and scouting side together in the same language."

Aside from bringing the 49ers' front office into the new era, Waugh also showed his value as a scout, as a director and overall as a strong sounding board for Baalke. Waugh's transition from San Francisco's scouting system to Jacksonville's should be relatively seamless because while it is two different front offices, he has already worked side-by-side with Baalke in the past. 

"Yeah, I mean, even in my time, when I was there, he was elevated into more of a director position and that was because he showed his mettle in scouting. You know, aside from all the operational systems work that he does, he's a scout at the end of the day, and that's how he came up in the system," Nierob said. 

"Working with Trent for all those years, he and Trent were very close. And he was kind of Trent's right-hand man when Trent was there, even though he didn't have the title. So I think he knows Trent in and out and knows what works and what doesn't, and what he's looking for, and how to scout players. So the communication aspect is already there. There's no fumbling around trying to figure out okay, what does he mean by this? What does he mean by that? They already know, each other's communication and language well, in terms of scouting."

For Waugh, a lifetime in football and a commitment to bettering his organization for all has brought him to Jacksonville as one of the team's new top executives. And for Nierob, Jacksonville's latest hire is evidence of good things happening to hard-working people.

"Just so happy for him and his family. Just watching how hard he worked day in and day out, and how dedicated he was to the organization. You know, I thought this opportunity would have come much sooner, but I'm glad it happened when it did," Nierob said.