NFL interview coach: No question off-limits
April, 29, 2010
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Tom PenningtonJeff Ireland's question to Dez Bryant (above) has stirred debate over NFL interview techniques, but former personnel director Ken Herock thinks teams should be able to ask players whatever they want.Ken Herock's business is preparing prospects for NFL interviews.
He's not interested in 40-yard dash times or bench press repetitions. His mission is training college kids to make an impression when it's time to shake hands with general managers, scouts and head coaches before the draft.
The former NFL personnel director grooms them to be ready for anything because no subject is off the table -- not even questions about whether your mother is a hooker.
"I don't feel there are any topics off-limits," Herock said Thursday afternoon. "If anybody thinks they're off-limits, put yourself in the eyes of an employer that's going to hire a 21-year-old and pay him $15 million or $20 million."
Herock finds nary a problem with the controversial question Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland posed to Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant in a pre-draft interview.
Ireland asked if Bryant's mother was a prostitute. She has served 18 months in prison for selling crack and had admitted to abusing PCP, cocaine and marijuana.
"If somebody just comes out and says 'We hear your mom's a prostitute. Can you explain that situation to me?' I don't think there's anything offensive asking that question," Herock said.
Herock has serious credentials on the matter. He played as an AFL tight end for six seasons and has been a personnel executive for the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers.
“For the past nine years Herock has trained players to make a golden first impression on NFL personnel evaluators in pre-draft interviews. Herock has worked with more than 600 players. A dozen, including University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson and Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, were selected in the first round last week.
What's this big issue about? Big deal. I would want to know those things, and how do you find out unless you ask?” -- Former personnel director Ken Herock
"I deal with this constantly," Herock said. "I have players whose parents are on drugs, are in jail, abandoned them, kicked them out of the house. I have to make sure my player is prepared to handle that in the right way when they're asked.
"I'm addressing these issues beforehand so they know how to answer every issue that's brought up to them."
Ireland's question to Bryant was revealed in a Yahoo! Sports column Tuesday. Ireland called Bryant to apologize after the story was published, and the Dolphins released a statement on Ireland's behalf.
On Wednesday, the NFL Players Association issued a statement critical of Ireland, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross issued a statement to say the club would conduct an internal review and the NFL admonished Ireland's question as crude.
"What's this big issue about? Big deal," Herock said. "I would want to know those things, and how do you find out unless you ask?
"But it sounded offensive, asking that question the way it was asked. Maybe he came on real strong, but before I would ask that question, I would know for sure that she was. I wouldn't go on any hearsay. I don't think it's offensive to ask that if there was truth to it, but before I asked, I would make sure there was validity."
Another former NFL executive doesn't wonder why the question is such a big story. What puzzles him is why pre-draft interviews have gotten to be so consequential in the first place.
"I can never remember us or anybody else turning down a good player based on a bad interview," said Larry Lacewell, the Dallas Cowboys scouting director for 13 years.
Lacewell's tenure spanned from Jimmy Johnson to Bill Parcells. Ireland worked as a national scout under Lacewell for four seasons.
"We didn't take a player just because he had a good interview, and we sure as hell didn't turn one down because of a bad interview," Lacewell said. "These kids either come in there nervous and scared or like trained dogs.
"If you had depended on [11-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman] Larry Allen for an interview, you might not have hired him as a janitor. I'd love to hear from a team that didn't draft Larry Allen because he couldn't talk."
Bryant was considered the best receiver in this year's draft, but some believed he slid because he interviewed poorly.
As it would turn out, the Dolphins filled their need at receiver by acquiring Brandon Marshall from the Denver Broncos and traded out of their original draft position at No. 12. The Cowboys drafted Bryant with the 24th overall pick.
"There's a certain way to ask questions, and I think [Ireland] asked with the wrong approach," Herock said. "But I would have prepared my player to answer that question to where it wouldn't be offensive to him.
"They already know about his family. They just want to see how he reacts and how he's going to explain it and how he's going to handle it.
"I don't think that question was out of line."