Jim Nagy with Senior Bowl

Jim Nagy with Senior Bowl

On this week’s podcast, Marcus sits down with Jim Nagy. Jim took over as executive director of the Senior Bowl in June 2018 after spending 18 years in the National Football League. Listen to this week’s episode to hear all about his time in the NFL!


Jim: Jim Nagy, executive director of the Reese's Senior Bowl.

Marcus: Well it's awesome to have you on the podcast, Jim,

Jim: Appreciate it.

Marcus: I'm looking forward to this. So I know we met at an event, what was it?

Jim: A chamber thing.

Marcus: A chamber event, yeah, the other day. I think Grant Zarzour introduced us and we had lunch and I'm enjoying getting to know you. I know you're kind of coming back to Mobile from a life of travel, so how are you adjusting to that?

Jim: Well, I'm coming full-time back. My family's been down here 11 years, but the last 18 years I've been working in the NFL so it's really in town as much as I'm out of town. I tell people one of the big reasons I took this job at the Senior Bowl is I've been married 16 years, I've been in the NFL 18. I've been in the NFL the last 18, married 16, but if you go in my Marriott profile I've been in those hotels over nine of those years, so it's been in and out. So yeah, it's been an adjustment actually being home. I think it's more of an adjustment for my family than myself.

Marcus: Having you around.

Jim: The kids having dad show up every night, my wife having me home. So that's been ...

Marcus: That's cool, man. Very cool.

Jim: Yeah, it's been awesome.

Marcus: One of the things that people enjoy about this podcast is getting to hear some of the backstory of who you are, where you're from, where'd you go to school, all of those kinds of things. Obviously you've mentioned that you're married, you have kids, so give us some of the backstory of Jim.

Jim: I grew up in Northern Michigan. The podcasters can't see it but Michigan people usually use their hand to show where they're from because we're shaped like a mitt. So I can't do that but I grew up on the Lake Michigan coastline, so grew up on the water. So being down here in Mobile is kind of a homey feel for me, just being on the water again. I went to the University of Michigan out of high school. People always ask me, "did you play football at Michigan?" because of my experience in the NFL. And I didn't, my only opportunities out of high school were small schools, division two, division three offers. And at the time, pre-internet, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, from the time I was a little kid. People always ask, "well how'd you get in the NFL?" And I told them really the only leg up I had is that I knew from the time I was about seven years old that I wanted to scout in the NFL.

Marcus: Really?

Jim: Yeah. My dad was a football coach so I grew up around it. I never got bit by that coaching bug. The more team building part of it was always a lot more interesting to me. So I went to Michigan, I thought you would have to go to a big major football factory to get a step in the NFL, so that's what I did. I worked with the coaching staff my last couple years there, did some things in the athletic department, and then just sent out resumes and cover letters to all the NFL teams. So that was again, pre-internet, I didn't know how to do it. Just sending stuff out, and I got a bunch of rejection letters back and I only got one internship offer with the Green Bay Packers. So again, that was my first job out of college.

Marcus: And I would imagine going to college there's not a major for recruiting?

Jim: For scouting, yeah. No, not really. That's why you just need to immerse yourself in football and learn football. I got my degree in Sports Management and Communications, I took a bunch of business classes. A lot of kids ask me that wanna get into scouting what the most applicable classes are and what you do. To me, you need to know human anatomy and physiology, just how the body works. Because you're really breaking down athletes is what you're doing. So that, I took a lot of English classes, you gotta know how to write. You gotta know how to write reports, because you're writing for your general manager or your head coach because those are gonna be the ultimate decision makers so you gotta be able to paint a picture and have a pretty strong hold-

Marcus: Grasp of the vocabulary?

Jim: Yeah, you need to do that. And then the business side of it. Thank god I took some business classes because now I'm in a job that I actually get to use some of it. It would be great if there was a scouting major, but there's not.

Marcus: Go back to high school. Would you paint a picture of yourself as a good student? What was that like? Were you a straight-A teacher's pet?

Jim: No, not at all.

Marcus: I'm asking the question knowing what the answer is just from knowing you a little bit.

Jim: Yeah, and I did okay in school. I was wait listed at Michigan. Michigan's a pretty good academic school and it was my dream school but I was wait listed. I didn't think I was gonna get in so I was actually gonna go play college football, and then I got in late to Michigan. I ended up getting better grades in college than I did in high school. My son's in eighth grade, I think he studies more right now as an eighth grader than I ever did in high school. Shoot, my fifth grader probably studies more in her classes than I did in high school.

Marcus: If they're listening to this, that doesn't matter. Do what your father says, not what he did.

Jim: I didn't crack too many books in high school, but I really did in college. I busted my butt in college.

Marcus: There was something for me that switched when I got to college, and I don't know what it was. If it was just that I felt that I was actually working towards something that really mattered, and not just checking boxes going through. Or if it was really that I was studying things that I wanted to be studying, versus having to take all of these general classes that I really didn't give a rat's ass about.

Jim: Yeah, I think that's part of it. I think getting on a track where you're actually interested. And for me, not having the sports anymore, because that took up so much of my time. Then I had all this time on my hands, oh geez I can actually study a little bit. To me, and I try to impress this on kids when I talk to them, you really don't wanna mess those four years of college up. Because that really sets the course of the rest of your life. I've had friends that have gone to school and partied too much and flunked out and found themselves out ... you can't ever make up for those four years. It's hard, I mean you can, I'm sure there's instances, but those four years really kind of set your course. So if you buckle down and do well those four years, you can party the rest of your life.

Marcus: Do you want your kids to go to college?

Jim: Absolutely.

Marcus: Absolutely.

Jim: I want them to do what they wanna do, but yeah. I had a good experience, my wife had a good experience, she went to Alabama.

Marcus: There's been a lot of discussion in the business community lately about just how college doesn't have the same emphasis that it did. At the same time I do see some value of learning how to work with teams, and continuing education, especially if you know what it is that you wanna do. My hope is that we will move away from a standpoint that college is a requirement.

Jim: I agree.

Marcus: And move towards something where, if there is something you wanna do that requires the education, then do it. But we need to stop looking down our nose at people who don't go to college. Because there are all kinds of things ... like I have an English degree, I don't know how much, I mean it does help because I do a lot of writing. But at the same time, it didn't teach me to run an ad agency.

Jim: Right. I agree, the value of trades now. It's just the college debt thing is what blows me away. Why go to college and incur all this debt-

Marcus: 100,000 dollars easy.

Jim: And then you're digging out until you're 40. Whereas you could go to school, learn a trade, you can make a really nice living if you're a tradesman. It's sad that our country's kind of got away from that blue collar mindset. Again like you're saying, look down your nose at it. To me, my grandfather was a factory worker and he was the hardest working man. I learned a lot of my work ethic from him, and my dad passed that down from him. I feel like our country's just gone away from that. College isn't a necessity. College to me is more personal growth than actually in the classroom. It's getting away and one thing I will stress to me kids because I have traveled all over the country now for my job in scouting and being in the NFL, the benefit with that was I've seen all the different universities around the country. I've been on all the different campuses. And maybe kids today are different because of the internet, maybe their minds are more open and we're more global thinkers than we were back in the early 90s when I was coming out of high school. I dunno how you were, I didn't think beyond the state limits of Michigan. I was either gonna go play small college football or I was going, that was it.

Marcus: That was mine as well. I stayed in the state that I was in.

Jim: To me, I'm gonna encourage my kids to go, I'm gonna take them and visit places all around the country. Because college to me is about growth. And if you stay in your backyard for college, you're going to school with the same types of kids you went-

Marcus: High school number two.

Jim: Yeah, exactly. I know everyone down here is Alabama, Auburn.

Marcus: It doesn't have to be that way.

Jim: There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't have to be that way. I want my kids to go to a place where they meet people from different cultures and parts of the country. Because again this is one country, but it's amazing when you travel and you get to meet-

Marcus: Culturally the differences between the northeast and the southeast-

Jim: And the west coast.

Marcus: And the midwest and the west coast.

Jim: No question.

Marcus: Northwest. This'll be released before this happens, so it's a slight plug but not a huge plug. We have somebody coming in to speak, Aaron Draplin from Portland, and I'm curious to see how he's received. Because I know what Portland is like, and bringing him to the southeast. In the design community, I don't think he's gonna have any issues because people love him. But at the same time, it is kind of an unknown.

Jim: I love the state of Oregon, it's one of my favorite states.

Marcus: It is pretty cool.

Jim: I love it out there.

Marcus: We have a lot of friends in Bend and so, yeah, I'm excited. What position did you play in football?

Jim: I was a quarterback.

Marcus: Quarterback, really. Very good. Go back and tell us about your first crap job, and were there any lessons that you remember from it?

Jim: I had numerous crap jobs when I was young.

Marcus: Well the first one.

Jim: My first one I was probably working illegally at the time. I was 13 and there was a seafood restaurant two blocks from my house. When it opened up, a buddy of mine and I went down there just to try to pick up some work, and we basically just cleaned fish. We were butterflying shrimp, and deboning fish.

Marcus: I'm sure that was illegal. There's no doubt a 13 year old with a very sharp knife cleaning fish.

Jim: And I actually got let go from that job after, I don't even know the timeframe, maybe like a year later. One of the busboys came up behind me one day when I was cleaning the fish, and he grabbed me by the waist and just instinctively I kind of flipped around, but I had the knife in my hand and I sliced him. And they were like, "yeah we're gonna have to let you go."

Marcus: Never mind the fact that he grabbed you like that.

Jim: He was probably 16, and I was 13, we were just screwing around, kid stuff.

Marcus: So what lessons were learned from that experience then? Anything that you can think of?

Jim: Not to wield a knife. At that time, I just wanted to have some of my own money. And something to do. I don't even know what I was spending my money on when I was 13.

Marcus: Girls.

Jim: Baseball cards or something, I dunno.

Marcus: It was probably girls.

Jim: My grandfather was a hard worker, my dad's an incredibly hard worker, it just kind of gave me something to do. And then from there I had other crappy jobs working at Pizza Hut. My hometown is the cherry capital of the world. So there's cherry farms everywhere. So the big job when you're in high school, is you only have to work for like three weeks, but you pull tarps. You have these big farm equipment, and you pull these tarps out, and you pull the tarps under the tree, and then a shaker comes and shakes all the cherries and they fall off onto the tarps. Anyway, that's really crappy work.

Marcus: I can imagine that's very physical.

Jim: But for three weeks you get paid really well. But you're on the farm at 6am and you're off at 7pm, so those are some long days. So I've done some crappy jobs.

Marcus: Breaks? Who needs any stinkin' breaks? Do you remember the first time that you kind of stepped into that role of recruiter and what that was like? It had to be kind of a sense of, holy crap, I can't believe I'm actually here doing this.

Jim: Yeah. My first long trip out on the road. So I moved to Phoenix, and I was scouting the west coast. And there is a difference between scouting and recruiting.

Marcus: Sorry, I apologize.

Jim: It's okay, everyone does it. So the recruiting aspect of it, I don't know how good a college recruiter I would be. If I was an assistant coach at the college level, and I had to go out and recruit 16, 17, 18 year olds, I don't know how good I would be at that because there's a lot of-

Marcus: I'll try to reprogram my brain about-

Jim: It's okay. There's a little-

Marcus: Nuance.

Jim: Yeah, whereas scouting you're just, it's straight evaluation. But no, I remember my first trip, I lived in Phoenix. And when you scout the west coast you basically just map out two big loops through the west coast. We lived in Arizona and I had to go all the way up into Montana and Washington state, and then back down through California. My first trip out I dead legged it from Phoenix up to Salt Lake, it was like an 11 and a half hour drive. So I get to Salt Lake, and I'm just worn out after that drive and I just wanted to get a burger or something, chill out, grab a beer and a burger, just relax then go back to the hotel. Well I go to the burger place across the street that they recommended and they wanted a cover charge. I'm like, "I just want a burger, is that..." And they're like, "well we've got talent tonight. Pay the cover fee." And I'm like, "well who's playing here?" And they said, "Tone Loc".

Marcus: I just had flashbacks to the 1990s.

Jim: So I'm like, "yeah, okay, I'll pay a cover charge." So I went and had my burger and stayed on until Tone Loc came out and played. He played Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina or something, you know?

Marcus: Yeah.

Jim: That was my first night actually out scouting. I was only 26 at the time, so that's pretty young to get in being a full-time scout. I don't know if there was that one moment where like, oh my gosh I'm doing this. It was a little overwhelming. It's hard. It's a hard profession, especially the travel part really beats you down. The report writing at night really beats you down. You're up every day at 5:30, you're at a school by 6:30, and you type reports until 12:30 at night, so it's-

Marcus: I don't think people realize. Everyone has this romantic notion of what travel for work is like. It's miserable. It really is, it's miserable. If you only have to do it once every other month or something like that, it's fun. But if you're doing it as your regular, that's no fun.

Jim: Yeah I heard some horrible statistic once about the years it takes off your life if you are consistent traveler. I'm like, oh please I wish I didn't hear that. A lot of people, again working in the NFL, they think it's kind of a glamorous thing, and I'm like, not really, you're staying in Farifields and Courtyards every other night. It's not like you're staying at the-

Marcus: Ritz Carlton.

Jim: The Four Seasons or the Ritz.

Marcus: So you made the switch from scouting, I got it right that time, into Executive Director for the Senior Bowl. How has that transition been, because the roles are really, it feels like it would be different from the outside but I don't know, maybe it's not.

Jim: It's a lot different. It has been a transition. And now we're three months into the job. June, July, August, four months now. But it's been a transition because when you're in scouting and you're working in the NFL it's football 24-7. And that's really all it is. You're going to a school, you're evaluating players, you're writing reports, you're going to games on weekends. Whereas this role, you wear a lot of different hats. The Senior Bowl's taken on a really big profile around the country, because we're on the NFL Network and ESPN for our practices and-

Marcus: You described it as a large event. It's really not just a game, it's an event. It's a week of-

Jim: It is. I mean you look at the NFL draft and they had 11 million viewers last year for the NFL draft. So the draft is a huge event. We kick that off. The Senior Bowl is really the first stage of the process, that's how the NFL views it. We're the first stage, the combine's the second stage, and then you have the draft at the end of April. So it is big event, but that being said we're still a really small operation in town. It's myself and four full-time staff members and I've got a couple young scouting assistants as well, but it's a small operation. So it's kind of all hands on deck. We try to do different events throughout the year, we're gonna continue to try to create different events. It's managing people, which I've never had to do before. There's the sales aspect of it, there's the marketing aspect of it, there's the public relations aspect of it. When you're in the NFL, anything short of sitting in the GM chair you can't do any media. There's no public speaking. All those things are new to me. It's been a little bit-

Marcus: Different.

Jim: Yeah.

Marcus: Let's just leave it at that.

Jim: It's been different. But how else do you grow as a person unless you push yourself outside of your comfort zone every once in a while?

Marcus: That's cool. Now you don't own a business, but you run a business. So if you were talking to somebody that was thinking about going into business, or maybe into moving into a role of executive director for a nonprofit, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Jim: Set the culture, and surround yourself with people that have that same mindset. One of the biggest issues, not issues, but one of the things I've learned working in the NFL because I've worked for a couple different teams that have had completely polar opposite cultures. The New England Patriots were ... it was a great place to work, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to bad mouth it, we won a lot of games and they've been very successful.

Marcus: Really, I've never heard of them before.

Jim: But it's kind of an eggshells environment. You go to work and it's work, it's business. It's okay, put your nose to the grindstone and let's get it done. There's not a lot of-

Marcus: There's a lot of money involved.

Jim: Yeah. Whereas Seattle, working for the Seahawks it was completely opposite. There's music going all over the place, it's more loose, it's a really fun place to work. But really both places, anytime you work in the NFL you're working with really highly competitive people. So that's what I'm used to. My thing would just be, if you're the leader, you've gotta surround yourself with people that match what you have, or you're gonna be disappointed and looking elsewhere for help. You have to get the person right. You gotta hire the right people. That would be my first-

Marcus: Very cool. If you look to the business world, who's the one person that motivates you?

Jim: That's a good question.

Marcus: That's why I'm here. 120 episodes, I think we're right around there, right Jared? I think we're close to 120 episodes so I'm-

Jim: The person who's had a great impact on me, when I worked for the Green Bay Packers like I talked about, is my first job. So I'm this 21 year old peon intern for the Green Bay Packers. And they're a unique organization because they don't have an owner. They're publicly owned. You can buy stock in the team.

Marcus: I did not know that.

Jim: But they do have a team president. So my first day on the job, his name was Bob Harlan, greatest man ever. He pulled me up in his office and we sat for about two hours. He asked, "where are you from? How did you get here?" Basically wanted my whole life story. He talked about what the expectation is in Green Bay with the Packers, and just set it out. He took time for everybody in the building. He was such a good mentor. And I was only there one year. But just to see how he led that group, because again when you're in a football operation there's so many different aspects in the building, whether it be equipment or the trainers or ... Then it's a full-fledged business, there's the marketing arm, there's the PR arm. And just to see him float within the building and oversee all of it was really impressive. Really just the human element to it, too. He didn't take himself too seriously which was huge. He didn't put himself above others. So he made a big impact.

Marcus: Very cool. That's awesome. What's the most important thing that you've learned about running an organization?

Jim: Most important thing ... well I'm still learning that. I'd be lying if I said I had that totally figured out yet. The big part for me is gonna be, because our game is in late January, it's gonna be interesting. I know that's when everything is gonna go down for us. So right now we're really in the planning stages. We're working on some other events, but that's the big event. And that's gonna be the stressful time. Just to see how that week is pulled off. I know I'll learn a lot from that aspect. But to me, as the leader you have to set the example. You have to be consistent. I think the most important thing being a leader is the people that work for you need to know what they're getting every day. Because I've worked for people before where I didn't get that, and it was really hard to come in every day and not know what to expect from that person. The people that I've really respected that I have worked for, you show up to work and you know they have stuff going on in their personal life, but you wouldn't know it by the way they came into work every day. They put that stuff aside when they come in, and that's how they set the tone, and I think that's really important.

Marcus: Business still has to get done. Two more questions. Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been really helpful in moving you forward in this current role?

Jim: I haven't had a lot of time to read.

Marcus: Come on. It's not like you've had anything going on.

Jim: I've had a couple people pass along some books to me, and I've got into two of them.

Marcus: Even outside of this current role, are there any books maybe in the last year that you've read that have really been impactful on your way of thinking?

Jim: Well one of them is called The Power of One. It's really just the singular thought of the one mission of what you're trying to do.

Marcus: Is that Simon Sinek? I can't remember. We'll find the author and we'll add it to the notes.

Jim: That would be good.

Marcus: I know that book though, I've seen it before.

Jim: It's really just, focus in on what you do. Because we do a lot of different things at the Senior Bowl, I really wanted to focus, what are we? We're a football organization, really, so let's focus on that and build around that. So that's been a helpful book.

Marcus: Awesome. Last question. How do you like to unwind?

Jim: How do I like to unwind ...

Marcus: Give everybody the tip. What can they do to kind of release the stress of a busy day running a business?

Jim: I would say get back with family. And that's been the greatest thing about this new job, is I get to go home every night to my family. The nights I am stressed out, I walk in the door and my daughter will run downstairs and then it just kind of-

Marcus: All falls off from there.

Jim: Snaps you right back into, okay, this is ... yeah. That and a cold IPA.

Marcus: That's awesome. Now tell people where they can find out more information about the Senior Bowl and all the things that you all are doing.

Jim: Everything we're doing is gonna be on seniorbowl.com. We try to keep the website current with everything we've got going. And again, here's another transition adjustment for this new job. I've never been on social media, so that's been really frowned upon in the NFL. It's a very secretive-

Marcus: You don't say anything that doesn't have to be said.

Jim: Exactly, it's a very paranoid league, it's a very secretive league. It is taboo to be on social media. So I just hopped on Twitter like three weeks ago for the first time, and trying to build more of a little presence in that area and reach out to some of the people that we haven't reached. And it's really been cool, because ... I hired a football staff outside of Mobile that are all around the country. I've got four scouts that have 69 years of NFL experience right now. Got a guy in San Francisco and one in Madison, Wisconsin. We're kind of all over. But they go to games on the weekend and they shoot me video from pregame on the field. And then I post it up on my Twitter. So if you wanna keep up on what we're doing on the football end of things, it's my Twitter account which is just @jimnagy_sb for Senior Bowl.

Marcus: Cool.

Jim: And everything we do we're gonna be updating. And again, we do have new events coming on. We started the Senior Bowl Ambassador Club in August. We announced that, which I'm really proud of. Which is an organization of all the players that played in Mobile or Baldwin counties that went on to play in the NFL. I know the people down here realize how big football is, and that this is a hotbed for football, but we had 25 guys in NFL camps this year. And then after the cutdown day, Miami had the most players in the NFL this year with 24 when the opening season started. And Houston was two with 20, and Fort Lauderdale was third with 16. Now we weren't part of that equation because we just weren't. But if you combine Mobile and Baldwin counties, we had 16.

Marcus: Wow.

Jim: If you did that per capita, we'd be blowing everyone away. So between our two counties we've got 16 guys in the NFL right now. And then there's three or four more on practice squads. This community really should embrace, it's almost like a natural resource down here.

Marcus: I was really quite surprised when I moved down here, just how big ... I get it, I knew football was big down here. But football and baseball are just such massive things down here. And for it not being a large metropolitan area with all the resources and money and stuff like that, that goes into the programs that you're gonna have in say Atlanta or D.C. or Boston or whatever, there's just something about the grit of the people that are here in the area. There's definitely some grit when it comes to the players. So I've been impressed, to say the least. I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Jim: No I just appreciate you having me on. This is a unique thing for me, so this is cool, I've enjoyed it.

Marcus: Awesome, man. Well I appreciate your willingness to sit with and share your journey as an executive director. It's been great talking with you.

Jim: Awesome, thanks Marcus.

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