Joe Douglas called a top Baltimore Ravens executive in the fall of 2007 about a tall quarterback at Delaware who was not yet viewed as one of the upcoming NFL draft's top prospects. Douglas, then a Northeast area scout for the Ravens and now the Eagles' vice president of player personnel, was enthralled by Joe Flacco.
He attended Flacco's games and practices, watched film and notified Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta about the Audubon native.
"He had an enthusiasm in his voice that, knowing Joe, he's not the type of guy who is going to get real excited about anything," DeCosta said. "But I knew Joe, and I knew Joe was excited about this quarterback."
So DeCosta traveled to watch Flacco throw four touchdowns when Delaware upset Navy in October 2007, and the Ravens' interest was further piqued. The rest of the coaching staff then became convinced of Flacco's merits, and the Ravens selected him the 2008 draft, and he eventually became a Super Bowl MVP.
"It's a tribute to Joe Douglas," DeCosta said.
The Flacco tale is the scouting story most often linked to Douglas. But in an interview with the Inquirer this summer Douglas took as much pride in another player he scouted that year.
In Douglas' travels along the East Coast, he became intrigued by Philadelphia native Jameel McClain, who played defensive end at Syracuse and moved to inside linebacker in the NFL.
McClain's production waned in his senior season on a bad Syracuse team, but Douglas saw attributes in McClain that other scouts didn't. He researched a background that included Golden Gloves boxing and homelessness, saw a leader who sacrificed personal statistics as a senior for his defense and vouched for McClain in meetings.
When McClain went undrafted, Douglas was dogged in his pursuit of signing him as a free agent. McClain joined the Ravens, made the team and contributed as a rookie.
"You fight like hell to get this guy," Douglas said. "He comes in, and he makes the team. He blocks a punt for a safety, sacks the quarterback for a safety. . . . That gets you juiced up. To me, that was more exciting than Joe [Flacco] at the time, that year."
McClain earned a Super Bowl ring with Flacco in the 2012 season, and the roster included other players Douglas helped bring to Baltimore, from first-rounders to undrafted free agents. A scout's reputation is built on both.
That's what the Eagles are trying to tap with the 40-year-old Douglas, who is now in charge of the team's scouting department and is the top football executive under Howie Roseman. After comings and goings in their front office, the Eagles are counting on Douglas - a soft-spoken former offensive lineman at Richmond - to help rebuild the roster.
"He's a scout's scout," DeCosta said. "He knows how to find players, and he's able to explain those players and describe those players to people, not with a lot of ego, not with a loud voice, but in a very sensible way. As an executive, that's what you want."
Douglas is built like an offensive lineman, and he stands out among the other executives at an Eagles training camp practice. But Douglas said he hasn't grown since he was a teenager and a big eighth-grader in Old Church, Va., a small town outside Richmond.
Douglas worked at his cousin's produce farm during summers. He started picking tomatoes at 6 a.m. In the afternoons, he picked watermelons, cucumbers and cantaloupes.
A local high school coach, Brian Sweaney, approached Joe's father, Joel Douglas, a former lieutenant in the Army, and asked to train Douglas during the summers. Douglas' mother wanted him lifting weights with the coach, but his father declined because he wanted Douglas to learn the value of hard work on the farm. The coach kept asking, and the father kept saying no.
"If you let me take him, he'll get a scholarship to go to college," Sweaney finally said.
"How much will that save me?" Joel Douglas asked.
When the math became clear, Joel acquiesced. The agreement was made that Douglas must work on the farm from April to May to help plant the tomatoes. But when school was out for the summer, Sweeney could have him.
Douglas was a standout high school player who stayed close to home to play college football at Richmond. At that time, he thought he might one day block Reggie White instead of looking for the next Reggie White. But when the scouts came to Richmond to watch Douglas' teammates and not him, he figured he didn't have the NFL in his future.
So he started handing his off-the-field resume to those scouts. Douglas received three interviews out of college, but he couldn't land a job. So he became a volunteer assistant coach for one year before the Ravens hired him at an entry-level position that changed his career - and the careers of other scouts around the NFL.
Douglas' introduction to the NFL started with a "van grade." Douglas joined the Ravens front office in 2000 as part of their "20/20 club" - a group of 20-somethings making around $20,000 a year learning every part of the organization from scouting to coaching to equipment to training.
One of the responsibilities included airport runs, and it was up to the driver to observe how the player acted and communicated in the van and to deliver the Ravens higher-ups with initial evaluation. This was a practice Douglas valued while ascending to area scout, national scout and eventually the Chicago Bears college scouting director before accepting a job with the Eagles in May. It's a tradition he wants to continue.
"I wasn't making as much as some guys who were getting into pharmaceutical sales out of college, but I'm like, 'Hey, I'm making $21,000. I'm working for an NFL team," Douglas said. "Doesn't get any better!"
Douglas didn't track success by the title changes on his resume but rather which state he would visit next. His scouting responsibilities grew from Virginia to Maine, from North Carolina to Maine, from South Carolina to Maine. When Georgia was added, Douglas knew he was really progressing.
The life wasn't glamorous. He described arriving at one school at 7 a.m., staying until 4 p.m., driving to another school 4 to 6 hours away, and then getting back to the hotel to type his report for 2 or 3 hours.
And it was the same the next day. He used his keen focus on the principles he learned in his 20s about what to look for in a player and understanding how that player fits within a system. If he found the right player, it wouldn't be known until years later.
"As a college scout, there's very little you do to affect the Sunday you're playing," Douglas said. "You're affecting future Sundays."
After one year in Chicago, Douglas returns this season to the East Coast, where his wife and three children feel at home. His lifestyle changes, too. Douglas is working on the pro side for the first time in years, and he has to spend more time in an office and on his team's practice fields than ever before. He no longer worries only about who plays left guard at the University of Miami but also who fills that position for the Miami Dolphins.
"Until you sit in the seat, it's an adjustment," Roseman said. "But when you have the work ethic, the desire, the instinct, those are the people who are successful."
Roseman, who is in charge of the Eagles football operations, spent time with Douglas in recent years and always kept his name in mind. The Eagles waited until the draft to make the hire, knowing a candidate like Douglas might come available then. Roseman was intrigued by the idea of bringing a different scouting system to Philadelphia. He wants Douglas to introduce what Douglas learned elsewhere and has the scouts now "re-thinking our evaluations." He told Douglas to "take over the personnel department."
The organizational flow chart has the scouting staff reporting to Douglas. Douglas brought in a few trusted faces, including top assistant Andy Weidl from Baltimore. But he's otherwise inheriting a staff that was already in place. Douglas said he's trying to incorporate team-building activities, such as a scouting department golf tournament, and wants to "build a team within a team."
Douglas is introducing the concepts he learned as a young scout and as 20/20 member with the Ravens, such as how to talk to a pro liaison at a school. It seems simple, Douglas said, but he noted that legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden taught players how to wear socks on the first day of practice. The scouts all must speak the language and know what the team wants in a player.
Douglas spent more than a decade accumulating Southwest Airlines reward points and waiting in security lines at the Baltimore-Washington International airport. He'll go on the road again this fall, but he doesn't have the same life as a scout anymore. He wants to keep the same mentality, though, because there is always another Flacco to unearth and another McClain to project.
"You always wake up optimistic about finding the next player, the next great player," Douglas said. "The hunt is always going on."