When I spoke to a former personnel director recently, he asked why we weren’t promoting Eddie Kotal for the Pro Football Hall of Fame … and I had an immediate answer.
That would be former Rams’ scout Eddie Kotal, a guy who was critical to the success of the L.A. Rams in the 1950s and 60s, who is considered “the father of modern scouting” and someone I not only know about now … but endorse for Hall-of-Fame consideration.
So much so, in fact, that I’m going to contact the Hall about including his name on next year’s list of contributor candidates because … well, because A) he was one of the game’s pioneers and B) if other voters know what Eddie Kotal did for the Rams … and the NFL … they may realize he deserves to be more than remembered.
He deserves to be enshrined.
Kotal was hired in 1946 by former Rams’ owner Dan Reeves and, together, the two had an enormous impact on scouting through the pioneering of techniques that others would copy years later and the drafting of African-American players.
Reeves was the innovator, fascinated with locating and evaluating collegiate football talent, while Kotal was his tireless bird dog, a scout who scoured the country so extensively by automobile that he once estimated he was home for two days during a nine-month period.
Together, they formed a scouting system so complete and so far ahead of the rest of the NFL … and its time … that when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for L.A. in 1958, they approached Reeves for advice on setting up a scouting network for baseball.
He should’ve told them to hire Eddie Kotal.
A fullback at Lawrence College, Kotal played for Curley Lambeau’s Green Bay Packers from 1925-29 before rejoining the club in 1942 as an assistant coach. Within four years, he was hired by Reeves and became the Rams’ chief scout for the next two decades.
Kotal’s job was to help close the gap between the Rams and arch-rival Philadelphia by finding elite players. The Eagles had dominated the series from 1944-50, winning seven and tying once, and had inflicted two of the Rams’ most painful losses during that period.
The first was in 1945 when the Rams were in Cleveland, and Philadelphia dealt them their only loss that season. The second was in the 1949 league championship game when they were shut out, and the Rams were in L.A.
But by then, they were beginning to crowd their opponent, and Kotal was a primary reason. He had begun to find top-end players that others did not, and look no farther than the quarterbacks on the 1949 roster: Bob Waterfield, Jim Hardy and rookies Norm Van Brocklin and Bobby Thomason.
Waterfield and Van Brocklin are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hardy was traded and became and became a top quarterback the next four years for the Cardinals and Lions.
It’s been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and what the Rams did with scouting during Kotal’s tenure forced others to copy … sometimes years later … with Hall-of-Famer Tex Schramm, then the GM of the Rams, later taking the system to Dallas.
“The Rams made all of us look like we came from the boonies,” former Chicago Cardinals’ personnel director Ray Geraci told Cliff Christl in Christl’s book, “Sleepers, busts and franchise-makers: The behind-the-scenes story of the pro football draft.” “Everybody tried to emulate them.”
But not everybody was as successful.
The Rams were the first to do extensive research on collegiate players, with the team arriving at the annual draft with trunks full of reports. They were the first to use telephones at the event, too, to make last-minute calls for updated information. They initiated the “best-player available” philosophy in an era where others often drafted for need, and they invested heavily in the draft, with reports having them spen an estimated $100,000 annually by 1961. Moreover, they and the Browns were the first to break the color barrier that existed in the NFL.
In 1946, the Rams signed UCLA’s Kenny Washington. A year later, it was end Woody Strode. Then, in 1949, they added Grambling running back Paul “Tank” Younger, the first player from a black college to play in the NFL. Younger became part of the Rams’ “Bull Elephant” backfield, along with another African-American, “Deacon Dan” Towler, and the impact was immediate.
The 1950 Rams set a raft of all-time single-season franchise and individual records. The 1951 Rams won the NFL championship over Cleveland … with an all-rookie offensive line.
“The Rams,” said Hall-of-Fame nominee Bucko Kilroy in Christl’s book, “had more personnel in the 1950 and 1951 than the rest of the league put together.”
And, with Kotal covering the country, they found them everywhere. Towler played at Washington and Jefferson, a small school in Washington, Pa. Hall-of-Fame defensive end Andy Robustelli was a 19th round choice out of Arnold College. Hall-of-Fame nominee Eddie Meador was a seventh-rounder from Arkansas Tech. Hall-of-Fame defensive end Deacon Jones was a 14th-round pick from South Carolina State.
Then they found defensive tackle Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, Hall-of-Fame defensive back Dick “Night Train” Lane and running back “Touchdown Tommy” Wilson playing service ball.
“Exploding the myth that the Dallas Cowboys were the first to look at players in other sports,” Christl wrote, “the Rams notched major finds from both basketball and track. The digging never stopped.”
One example: In 1955, the Rams chose K.C. Jones, a member of the University of San Francisco’s NCAA championship basketball teams in 1955-56. Jones was the Rams’ future pick in the 30th round of the 1955 draft, and, by all accounts, would have made the team had he not chosen another sport.
He became a Hall-of-Fame guard with the Boston Celtics.
Then there was wide receiver Bob Boyd. I hadn’t heard of him until Minnesota’s Adam Thielen this season passed Boyd for most 100-yard games to open a season. Boyd had five in 1954. He went to Loyola of L.A. and was the NCAA’s 100-yard dash champ his senior year when he ran a 9.8. The Rams signed him as a free agent, and he not only made the team; but, along with Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears, comprised one of the game’s most explosive trio of receivers in his seven-year NFL career.
There was talent everywhere, with the Rams so top heavy that in the spring of 1952 they traded 11 players to Dallas for the rights to rookie lineman Les Richter. Richter went on the become a Hall of Famer.
Yet with all that talent the Rams would win only one Western Conference title (1955), losing to Cleveland in the league championship game. So what happened? An abundance of riches, that’s what, with too many good players and not enough good coaches or talent evaluators.
“We were looking at too many people and not spending enough time to settle down and start coaching them,” Hall-of-Famer Sid Gillman, then with the Rams, told Christl.
And that was good news for the rest of the NFL.
With a surplus of talent and not enough roster spots, the Rams supplied others with great players. Robustelli starred for the Giants. Lipscomb for the Baltimore Colts. Linebacker Harland Svare was with the Rams for two years before moving to the Giants. Don Burroughs started on the 1960 championship team for Philadelphia. Defensive tackle Billy Ray Smith spent one year with L.A. before moving on to Baltimore. Fullback Joe Marconi and linebacker Larry Morris helped Chicago win the 1963 championship. Van Brocklin, Billy Wade and Frank Ryan all left to win championships elsewhere.
Eddie Kotal found most of those players, yet the Pro Football Hall of Fame hasn’t found Eddie Kotal … and that’s an error that must be corrected. Reeves is in Canton. So is Schramm. And so are so many of the players that Kotal discovered.
So when is it Eddie Kotal’s time? The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s contributor category was created in 2014 expressly for someone like Eddie Kotal … if, that is, anyone remembers him or knows what he did.
I didn’t. Not until now. But now that I do, I strongly endorse his election to Canton.
They were the first to ar