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Monday April 22 2019
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Up Close with ESPN's Louis Riddick

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ESPN NFL Analyst Louis Riddick spent 12 years as an NFL Scout and Personnel Director with the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. The Quakertown, PA, native and Pitt graduate played six seasons as a defensive back in the NFL with the Falcons, Browns and Raiders.

Drafted in the ninth-round by the San Francisco 49ers in 1991, Riddick went on to play 94 games in the league and recorded an interception in a 1994 Browns playoff win over the New England Patriots. He joined ESPN last year as an analyst. Riddick spoke with PSR Editor Tony DeFazio about evaluating talent, the Steelers and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Tony: How did you get into talent evaluation?
Riddick: Quite honestly, I wasn't even thinking about it when I got done playing. For the first couple of years I didn't do anything but sit around and stay in shape waiting for another shot (Riddick played the 2001 season with the Orlando Rage of the XFL)…

But then in 2001, Marty Schottenheimer got hired in Washington and John Schneider, now the General Manager of the Seahawks, got hired (in Washington) in June after the draft was over.

John knew my cousin Will Lewis (ex-NFL player, coach and currently Director of College Scouting for the Chiefs). Will knew John was looking for a young ex-player type who was good at scouting, and Will called me and said, “Hey, I've got a guy you need to talk to.”

I resisted, but then they flew me out to Washington and as it turned out, I kind of like the atmosphere in Washington. They were going in a completely new direction and it was my first chance to get closer to home since college, so it was really about people I knew and they kind of came after me.

TD: Is talent evaluation a knack that you've always had? It’s certainly a different skill than playing football and not all ex-players can do it well.
LR: It's a combination of having the knack and developing it. I think I've always been a pretty cerebral individual as far as the necessary components of doing well in school; breaking down components of a specific subject. I’m formula oriented, objective oriented. I kind of always liked human psychology and the idea of leadership and character development. I've always been into that kind of stuff.

My intelligence played a big role in my football career and I've always been able to formulate my thoughts and opinions to you so that it makes sense. That's the key to scouting: not only being able to recognize it, but being able to articulate it to someone so that it makes sense. If you can't do that, then it’s pointless.

TD: You were a ninth-round draft pick, yet you played for six seasons in the NFL. How much did your knowledge of the game contribute to you sticking around as long as you did?
LR: For someone who comes in at that level, so to speak, someone whose primary role is that of a role player, you wind up having to be very smart and have great retentive ability because you simply don't get as many reps as other players who got drafted in front of you. So you better be able to make the most of limited opportunities, which means you need to recall a lot of information and then be able to act on it once you get your shot. I was able to do that once I got my shot.

Once I got to the NFL I, played a much more physical style than I even did in college, which goes over very well, obviously, as a special teams player and role player,

TD: Did the fact that you had to possess those skills as a player translate to your being able to recognize those intangibles in other players?
LR: Absolutely. A large part of scouting, and what separates scouts from one another, is that ability to recognize those intangibles. It sounds easy but it is something that really is hard to pick up on truthfully and sort through what is BS and what is pure. When you're talking to a kid and you really start to pick up on things in a one on one conversation, and then when you see it on film you are able to better recognize when a kid is displaying that kind of competitiveness. You can find out if that's the kind of player you really want on your team. At the same time, when a player takes a play off, or if he doesn't look as competitive or as explosive as he does during other parts of the game, you also have to be able to understand that these aren't John Madden controllers out there, this isn't a video game, this is real life football. So you've got to be able to really get to the essence of, and get to the core, of what football is all about.

I think I was able to do that because I’ve been at the bottom, playing for my life in the NFL, and I've been at the top, playing in a playoff game and getting an interception off of Drew Bledsoe. So I know what it's like I've been through the whole spectrum, and I think that served me well.

TD: Are the Steelers still rebuilding or have they turned a corner?
LR: Obviously they needed to have an infusion of youth and speed on the defensive side of the ball, so if you want to call it rebuilding, you can call it that. They're not going to want to say that, but just look at all the new players. I mean they went out and drafted a specific body type, a specific skill set, Stephon Tuitt is a phenomenal athlete. Ryan Shazier is a phenomenal athlete. In free agency they went out and signed Mike Mitchell from Carolina; he's a phenomenal athlete.

So yeah, they're rebuilding but they're still trying to play Pittsburgh Steelers football. They want those guys to come in and contribute as quickly as possible and get them moving it back in the direction they want to move in.

So yeah, you can say they're rebuilding, especially on that side of the football because they had older guys and they were getting exposed as an old football team. The average age was way up there. So it's important that those guys really step up and play. It's important that Mike Mitchell sets the tone on the back end. It's important that Shazier and Lawrence Timmons really hold it down in the middle. It's important that Jarvis Jones improves on what was, as far as I was concerned, a catastrophe of a rookie season. And Stephon Tuitt, playing with Cam Hayward, I think they are phenomenal athletes. I think the future is real, real right for them.

TD: What is it that Dick LeBeau does that has made his defense is so good for so long?
LR: All the people that I've talked to who have either been close to Dick or believe in Dick say the same thing. Yeah, he's a brilliant tactician, but the thing with Dick is the players adore him. They will find a way, if it's humanly possible, to get that stop on 3rd and 3. For him and for one another. He makes them be accountable to one another, because not only does he have their complete trust, he makes them trust each other. Be accountable to one another.

It's a very unique relationship that he built with the players that come through that organization. You can see it when he coaches them. Look at him on the sidelines. It is very much predicated on respect, and that goes a long way. A long, long way. When you have that kind of respect from the players… if he told them all to line up, one by one in a straight line, one behind the other because that would be the best defense in short yardage situation, they would do it. That's the kind of complete trust they have in him and that he has in them, and that goes a long way, man. Relationships are what make the league go around. Relationships are what make the best teams the best teams.

TD: Have you followed the Pitt football program in recent years?
LR: Yeah, I do, I talked to Paul Chryst, as a matter of fact, quite a bit this offseason about Aaron Donald and Tom Savage. I have a second cousin there, Ryan Lewis, so I try to keep up with him.

I lost touch with the program for a while. I was disenchanted and a little disappointed about how the program was doing and I kind of fell out of touch for a bit. Honestly, quite a few of us alumni had. But Paul Chryst is a guy who deserves respect and commands respect. Talking to him, he is perfect for the program. He understands the history, he understands what Pitt football is supposed to mean and hopefully he's got it moving on the right track.

That is absolutely critical (that Chryst understand the history of the program). I couldn't even recognize my school for a number of years there. That's what Paul realizes he needs to connect to again… Paul kind of connects back to that, he gets it, he understands that. When I talked to him he said, “Pease come back, please come see us, we want you guys here. We want theESPN analysis Louis Riddickse kids to know that is what Pitt is.”

Pitt needs to get back to who they are, which is a bunch of bad-asses that put people in the pros on a regular basis, and fly around the field being feared. And they got away from that. But hopefully he is getting them back to it.

I know that coaches and administrators come from different places and are from all over, and they may not have the same passion for Pitt football that those who have been around it for a long time have, but they need to understand it. They need to learn it.

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