The Louisville football team’s recruiting efforts in identifying and evaluating prospects are now being assisted in large part by a man who’s spent more than 15 years doing it in the NFL.
Former veteran NFL scout Dave Boller, 50, is a few months into his new job as the director of on-campus recruiting for the Cardinals, and he brings the high-level experience and training he received while helping NFL teams determine whom to draft.
The move to the Cards is also a return to Boller’s roots in college football, which has been a passion since he began his career in 1988 as a recruiting and operations staffer at his alma mater of Arizona State.
“He’s somebody that I’ve always had a great relationship with,” said U of L coach Bobby Petrino, who was the Sun Devils’ quarterbacks coach for two years in the early 1990s when Boller was there. “I think what he adds to us is the organization in our recruiting department and also the ability to evaluate players and evaluate recruits and put a grade on them and give us a little more leadership in our recruiting department.”
Boller most recently served as a scout for the New York Jets from 2013-14 after previously working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1995-98), Philadelphia Eagles (1998-2004), St. Louis Rams (2004-07) and Detroit Lions (2007-09).
He was part of the scouting teams that contributed to draft-day successes like Mike Alstott to the Bucs and Donovan McNabb to the Eagles, as well as countless late-round picks and undrafted free agents who went on to have solid pro careers.
“I’m not here to change the world, but I can help by watching tape and giving them more time to coach,” Boller said. “These guys have done a great job in recruiting. I’ve told Coach, ‘We’re going to get better every year.’ I feel like I get better every day. He pushes me.”
Now Boller helps U of L’s coaches with their evaluations – he wants to watch tape of at least 200 players per week – and he and director of high school relations Cort Dennison work together coordinating the Cards’ camps and recruits’ visits.
“Being able to identify real talent is a skill I think he’ll be able to bring to the staff there,” said New York Giants Vice President for Player Evaluation Marc Ross, who was a scout with Boller in Philadelphia and remains a close friend. “That shows you what kind of guy he is that (Petrino), who hasn’t worked with him in so long, would think to bring him on the staff, because he knows what quality of worker he is.”
During his seven full-time years at Arizona State, Boller was able to relate well to recruits and their families and high school coaches. It’s a key part of his job again at Louisville.
“In my recruiting process, he was the first person to contact me, and he’s just a great guy overall,” said U of L commitment Austin Johnson, a punter from DeSales High School. “He’s really good at relating to players. Every camp I’ve gone to, I’ve talked to him a lot. He’s not like one of those recruiting coaches that sticks to one guy if he really wants a guy and just talks to him. He talks to everybody. I love the guy.”
Former ASU coach Larry Marmie, who hired Boller as his director of football operations in 1988, said Boller has a “bulldog attitude” because of his passion for hard work and willingness to take on any task, big or small. He believes Boller’s NFL scouting experience will be “invaluable” to U of L in the evaluation process.
“The coaches are going to be able to trust Dave from the standpoint of knowing he’s done that before,” said Marmie, who’s now an assistant with the Bucs. “They won’t have to teach him how to do it. … Dave will have an idea of , ‘Hey, I think Coach Petrino is going to like this guy.'”
After Marmie was fired, new coach Bruce Snyder retained Boller in 1992 on a new staff that also included Petrino.
After both left ASU, Boller and Petrino remained friends. During the years they both had NFL jobs, they would exchange greetings at the combine, college pro days and the Senior Bowl.
Though Boller greatly values his time as a pro scout, the grind of being on the road for more than 200 days a year was tough. After he and the Detroit Lions’ entire staff were fired after the 0-16 season of 2008, he decided he wanted to be back on a college campus and have more personal interaction with players, coaches and recruits.
He’s gone from scouting full-grown NFL-bound college prospects to evaluating teenagers, but he said the learning curve has been easier than he expected. As he reviews film, he’s looking for the same things no matter the level and no matter the position: how athletic and flexible a player is, how much does he bend his knees, how fast can he change directions. And if he doesn’t do one of those things well, is he exceptionally strong, or does he play smart enough to overcome his deficiencies?
Boller’s job isn’t just to find good recruits but to land them, too, and he thinks U of L offers a good sales pitch: facilities, the Atlantic Coast Conference and Petrino’s pro-style system.
“What’s not there to sell when it comes to Bobby Petrino and Louisville football?” he said. “It’s all there.”
Boller has great respect for all the coaches he’s worked for at Arizona State and in the NFL, including Sam Wyche, Tony Dungy, Andy Reid, Mike Martz and Rex Ryan, but he said none of them possesses Petrino’s attention to detail.
“There’s nothing that he doesn’t think of,” Boller said. “There’s no little detail that goes unintended. (He is) the most-detailed guy I’ve been around.”
Boller has jumped around jobs in the NFL quite a bit the past 20 years, but he’s told Petrino he’s ready to be back in the college game for good. Working with him again, watching a lot of tape and interacting with recruits and their families feels comfortable.
“Even though I’m 15 years older and have a few more gray hairs, I still relate to kids well,” he said. “I was recruiting when I was 25, and I am now. The first day we had recruits on campus (at U of L this spring), I thought, ‘Wow, why didn’t I do this earlier?'”