Interview transcript: Connie Carberg, the NFL’s first female scout

Liz: Welcome to the show, Connie, how are you?

Connie: I’m doing just great Liz. How are you?

Liz: Aw, I’m really well thank you Connie and thanks for joining my podcast. You have got a career that fascinates me and I know that our listeners would love to hear your story too. Now your father was the team doctor for the New York Jets, so it was inevitable that football would play such a huge part of your life. What was it like to grow up in that environment?

Connie: Oh yes, it was wonderful. From the time I was young; I was just, what they call it, a tomboy. I always played sports of all kinds and my father was an internist and my uncle was the orthopaedist. And when I was 12 years old, they both became the team doctors for the New York Titans who then became the New York jets. I didn’t know that much about football. I knew all the other sports because girls in those days, girls played, we all played basketball, we could play baseball, we could play softball, all the other things but football really wasn’t. So I still really didn’t know what that well, but as soon as they became the doctors, I decided I better learn about it. And as soon as I started learning, I fell in love with the game.

Liz: After high school, you joined Ohio State where you learned even more about football from your friend and mentor Woody Hayes. Now I think it’s incredible, especially at that time to have been able to attend and be part of every OSU practice, whether it was open or closed to the public. How did this opportunity come around for you?

Connie: Went through high school and I did have a mentors as where I kept learning the game and learning the game. I went to every jet game and I sat next to a football coach who taught me a lot. So I had a lot of different, great male mentors that taught it. Then when I went to Ohio state I had to choose a major, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was in a sorority and all this type of stuff, but I started going to football games, which were really big at Ohio state. One day I decided to go over to the student union because I knew that’s where the football team ate and when they came out after eating I waited and coach Woody Hayes came out and I went over and I introduced myself to him, told him of my affiliation with the jets through my father, and about how much I loved it, and about going to the Ohio State games and all that type of stuff and he was kind of amazed, I guess with my passion and my knowledge and how I used to do mock drafts and all that type of stuff. 

He said you have so much enthusiasm and you have so much love for the sport. Come on over. Why don’t we just meet in the office over at the stadium one day? And I said, sure, I’d love to. So I took him up on that and from there I proceeded to meet with him. We had a nice long talk and at that time there were no girl sideline reporters, no girl trainers, no women even regular reporters or very, very, very few, no women on TV. There’s just was very, very few in the way of women role models. But we talked about my passion for the game and he said to me right now there’s probably no real openings, but don’t give up your passion, keep following it. What I want you to do is to come to every practice at Ohio State, whether I have practices open or closed to other Scouts or to other people that are exposed to come in, you’re welcome to come in. So I did, every single day I’d be at practice and I learned and a lot of times there’d be Scouts there and I would talk to them, pick up information, learn, and he couldn’t have been nicer to me. He was a great mentor and it just kept building until I graduated in ’74.

Liz: Aw, that’s amazing. Now after graduation you joined the New York Jets as secretary. How is it that you came to be part of the scouting department?

Connie: Yeah, I was hired when they built a brand new building of Rostra University. That’s where the Jets were practicing on Long Island. My dad had a 50th birthday party and I was there. I was talking to different people. I was planning on being a Home Ec. teacher and then coach girls’ sports after school. Well, I sat with Charlie Winter who was the head coach of the Jets at the time and we talked football for a while. He said you know what; we’re building this brand new complex would you consider working for the Jets? I said, you’re kidding me that would be my dream come true. I don’t care for anything more. I’ll be there any time you say anything you say. So that’s how I began my start there and they said we’ll start you out as a scouting secretary. But I also was a receptionist because I was the only girl in the whole building for the training staff, for the players, for the coach, for the general manager, for the head coach, for all the coaches, for everybody when they built that building and they didn’t start adding other secretaries and other people for a couple of months down the road. So that’s how that all began. So I was doing like just about everything all at once.

Liz: Wow. And I guess at time the NFL wouldn’t have had a lot of women working in like a professional football capacity. So what was that like?

Connie: Yeah, there really wasn’t, I didn’t even think about it. I just love, first of all, I love being receptionist at that time you didn’t have to go through a lot of different people, so you’d have to talk to everybody that called in and you got to know everybody and I was kind of like known as Connie from the Jets and so I would just get to know everybody then at the same time in scouting reports came in and working with the Scouts. I was doing that at the same time. So it was really very exciting. Then my only problem was I didn’t have skills to be a secretary as far as typing or shorthand or anything. And there was no such thing as Google. There was no such thing as looking up the proper way to write a letter to people and do all that. So that was the only thing I had to learn. I said I was very blessed that Coach Winter hired me for my enthusiasm and my knowledge about football, not how many words per minute I could type. So there were no computers at this time either. So it was a very different world. But I learned the skills. I always say you can always learn skills. You can’t teach attitude.

Liz: Absolutely.

Connie: I was very lucky, everybody that I was in there was just great to me. Then soon they would hire the head coach’s secretary, and then they hired another receptionist. And then I strictly went into the scouting part.

Liz: Wow. And I can tell how much she must’ve loved your role. So how did it feel when you were told by Leon Hess that he didn’t want a woman, I guess traveling about half of the team anymore?

Connie: Well, when I was doing reel to reel, I was doing a film work of grading films of the different players. At that time, it was real to reel on the thesis 16 millimetres and you weren’t grading the films or the scouting reports that were coming in. I was setting up where the Scouts were going and making sure the plans and making sure everything was all set there. And when I was working with a wonderful gentleman named Mike Hollaback, who had been an all American at Boston College and that time, and then he and Al Ward, who was the general manager they actually had me make a draft pick in 1975. I’m still to this day, the only females ever make a draft pick. And that time there were seven rounds now we only have seven rounds, but those days were seventeen rounds, then it went to 12, and now we have seven. So I made that and then soon after that first I didn’t even expect it. I didn’t look for it, but I guess they saw what I knew and different things and Mr. Ward and Mike Hollaback said we’d like you to do scouting. 

So that’s when at that time, right about ’75. I proceeded to go out to in ’76 to go out to Ohio State, Boston College, the Orange Bowl, the local areas. Like I said, I talked to players, graded films, met with different people. It was wonderful. So I am doing all that. Mr. Hess, we had a couple of different people that were owners at what time, then he became the sole owner. Before that there were about four or five owners and solely it came down to just Mr. Hess and he was an older gentleman and times where if you have to put yourself back in those times, title nine had just started in ’73 or ’74. Really it was a very rare thing. This was not even made a big issue of that I was scouting. If Dick Young, who was a very famous columnist and sportswriter of his day, hadn’t put that in the paper and the Ohio State written the article about myself, a lot of people wouldn’t have known because Jets didn’t say, okay, we have the first female scout here. We didn’t just make a big issue. It was just happening. But then Mr. Hess, I guess he spoke to Mr. Ward who came out and said, yeah, we just don’t want you traveling as far as the representative as a scout, but you’re still able to do local areas. You can still grade films; we’re going to start bringing players in for interviews like they do now at the combine because they didn’t have the combine at that time. 

The Jets were the first team to start to bring players in. As we got close to 1978, they brought in a hundred players for physicals and to interview them. And that’s really how as a combined idea began before it went to Indianapolis. So again, the Jets were ahead of the rest of the NFL in that respect. So I looked at it, yes I was disappointed that I couldn’t keep going, but it was again, a different time. And I looked at my whole job and I love, first of all, my passion is football. Secondly, my passion is the Jets. Thirdly, I just loved working there and you look at the whole big picture and what I was doing. I was totally fine with what I was doing and I’m still able to, as I said, grade films and do other things along with it and probably if I had made a fuss, I don’t know what would happen. But secondly the best part that happened to me a year later would not have happened.

Liz: And what happened a year later?

Connie: A year later I had a new boss that came in who was kind of a tough boss. I had to prove myself. He did not know me as all these other bosses, different people that I knew and we were going to coach the senior bowl and Walt Michael’s was the head coach and he was going to coach the North squad and then you have another coach doing the South squad. Well Mike, who was a defensive lineman, got hurt in a motorcycle accident and so we had to find a replacement. So my boss was on the road and he called, he said, I need you to see if you can find a replacement for the defensive line. So I proceeded. Now remember it’s not like nowadays where you have the computer, you just say, okay, I’ve got to find another guy that’s six foot five and 275 and runs a 4740 or all that type of stuff.

So whatever you have in the scouting reports and whatever films that you might have, they are in your office or be able to get you look at and most of the guys that are in the senior bowl already were the first round picks and some second round. So the defensive linemen that you’re looking at were probably figuring to go probably a fourth to seventh round somewhere in that area. Probably maybe fifth to seventh in that area because they’re not quite top. So I looked at them and I narrowed down to five guys and they were very, very similar except one player had much faster speed in the 40 but he was from a small school and back then you tended to say, oh well we went to a smaller school. I don’t know, you’re looking at the Alabama’s and the Michigan’s versus smaller school, right?

Liz: Yeah. 

Connie: So I looked at that, and so I decided to call them all. I’m very big on the interpersonal part and what I think. So I called each guy and again, at that time you can’t, people don’t have cell phones. You have to call the school. You got to track them down. You got find them. So I called each one of these guys. Four of the guys that I called said, okay, yeah, I’ll play or I’m ready. But when do I have to go? How long do I have to be? What is it going to entail? They were okay. One player that I call said, I’m ready on the next plane. Just get me out there. This is my passion. This is all I want to do in life. I’m so excited. This is everything. You could just feel him jumping out of the phone. So after I got off the phone, I looked up that player that came through with just like so much energy and passion and that happened to be the guy from a smaller school, but he ran a 4640, and that was Mark Gastineau. 

Liz: Wow. 

Connie: I can’t tell you that I knew that Mark was scheduled to be anywhere at that time, probably, fifth, six rounders, that type of thing. Didn’t know that he was going to be the superstar again. He had taken a year at Arizona State, but then had transferred back home because back home to East central Oklahoma. So he played, he just, they said once he got down to the practice down the senior bowl, he was unbelievable. He got the most valuable defensive player in the senior bowl in ’79 and that year the Jets ended up taking Marty Lyons in the first round that they had the CFO and Mark in the second round. So, and then it went on to history where Mark turned out to be the SAC holder for many, many years.

Liz: Yeah. Wow. And so I understand that your husband took a new job in Florida. So obviously you moved there. Were you not tempted at that point to like continue your career in football?

Connie: That’s a good, very good question. Very good question. I got married and met the man of my dreams and we had to make a decision because he had got really good job offer in Florida and it’s funny but when you first get married, I didn’t know what was going to happen but I said okay, let’s go try it. It was a big decision to leave the Jets because it’s where I had been my whole life. So I did go down to Florida. I worked for the NFL alumni for a short time. The Dolphins are there, but my loyalty and I had opportunities because Charlie Winter went to work for them. Who had been the gentleman, the coach that hired me originally. A lot of other coaches. This other girl, Gail Baldwin that I worked with, a lot of people, it’s funny, went to work for the Dolphins at some point. So I know that it would be very easy for me to go down there, interview and speak with them. But there’s no way I could work for another team, especially the Dolphins. We were really rivals back then and that was right at the time beginning of Marino versus O’Brian. Those were great, great years. Those are great games and there’s no way in the world that I could ever work for another team.

Liz: No, I like that loyalty.

Connie: You know, it’s really kind of a sickness, but I can’t help it. I could never give; it just is in my whole life for so long that no matter what the judge would ever do, they have my loyalty and love.

Liz: And so you must’ve seen how football has changed I guess from like when you’re a scout to like how it is today. Is there anything in particular interchanges that is like really surprised or shocked you?

Connie: Well yeah, there’s not a lot of changes. I don’t know if I like all the changes. I know part of it has to be for the safety sake, but I do miss how it; first of all, in the old days in training camp, they were there for six weeks and they were in little dorms at a college, really kind of roughing it. And they had two a day practices, sometimes three days and that was for two hours, sometimes two and a half hours of solid hitting at each practice, full pads and you’d go to practice and boy it was easy to pick out who the guys were that were going to make it. Plus that’s how they played themselves into shape too because they were off before that from the end of the season before and they worked themselves back into shape that way.

They had six preseason games, now they were down to four and now of course they’re talking about maybe changing it from four. So those rules now when I go to, when I go up there and just kind of watch it, they don’t tackle full force half the time. They’re not in pads and everything. It’s a little bit different that way. Also during the games the whole spread and the whole thing where now quarterbacks can’t be hit. Joe Namathused to get hit, and then Marino used to get hit and whoever you were, boy you would take hits high, low everywhere. Receivers coming over the middle they could basically, they would be afraid to cover the middle because they knew that where safety coming up was going to take their head off. But now it’s a very different game in that respect. Those hits and the ability now that a quarterback can slide and give himself up and not be touched and you can’t hit low and you can’t hit high and you can’t put your body weight on, there’s so many different things. 

So it’s a heck of a lot easier for a quarterback to run. I think that’s why there’s so much more mobility in quarterbacks. It’s one of the reasons versus what they’re used to be. And so when some of the changes, I don’t know if I like, I do miss the best physicality I can yet I know they have to do it for what they feel the safety reasons and everybody got so up in arms to some degree over things, but I do miss the old way, I have to admit.

Liz: Aw, and now you mentioned Joe Namath, so when you became a scout, how much pressure was there to draft like the next him?

Connie: Boy, he is especially, he really is. Joe, he had the quick release, but he had two bum knees. That’s what’s so amazing. A lot of it is so interesting. I don’t know if you see when you’re on Twitter and everything else and people talk about Joe and sometimes they go, why is he in the hall of fame? His interceptions and his pass and touchdown ratio and blah, blah, blah. And I would say if you weren’t alive and you didn’t watch Joe play well all and watch the quick release and how fast he got back on those two legs and he didn’t have great mobility, plus he didn’t throw many short passes back in those days. You really threw the ball down field an awful lot. Also he changed the game because of winning super bowl three, it legitimised the AFL. So for many, many reasons Joe you have to see him live and plus he was beyond football. He was show business, he was everything. So there was just so much to Joe. He was as big as the Beatles.

Everywhere we went there were just millions and millions of people at the hotels, everywhere. It was something that was I was so fortunate to know and he’s such a great guy, but to try to find another Joe, that’s why it was very hard on Richard Todd. Richard came in after Joe and he had gone to Alabama, the same as Joe. He was a better runner, not as good a thrower, but he got us to the AFC championship game by Walt Michael’s using what his strengths were around the team. That’s why Walt Michaels was a really good coach with the Jets.

Liz: And which play are you most proud of like having scouted that the Jets ended up drafting?

Connie: Well it’d be definitely Mark Marquez. That would be definitely the number one player because that’s the one that I had the most input on. Other ones that I looked at, my basically thing would be to look at them to write up reports and then put everything in the book just like you have the Scouts. Then one of my jobs in the day of the draft was sitting on the phone. We would all be in the big room and then when they announced who they would take, I would call it into New York and say the New York Jets select and in those days it wasn’t televised. So again, it started getting televised the year that I left the Jets and we took Freeman McNeil,and the Giants took Lawrence Taylor on the pick before us. So it’s become such big time compared to that. But as I said before that it was basically your director of player personnel made a lot of the picks, sometimes the general manager, but your director of player personnel had a lot of say and then some teams, the coaches had a lot of say so they were the ones once you got the reports in and then I basically was the one calling it in. I would have some certain favourite players that I hope we might take. But that’s you just kind of wait and see if they’re going to take any of those guys.

Liz: Now you’re well known for having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Jets. What is your most like obscure or fun facts about the team?

Connie: Wow. Obscure or fun facts about the team. Boy, you mean playing wise or just as a team or what?

Liz: Absolutely anything.

Connie: Well, let’s see. How can I think? Oh, growing up, the best part, the highlight was every Thanksgiving Day when we used to be at Shea stadium, I think when we went to the Giant stayed for a while, every Thanksgiving the guys would practice and everybody would bring their families to the stadium and we would have our whole Thanksgiving dinner with the team after they practice on Thanksgiving day and I think everybody that experienced that, we all still talk about it to this day. That was one of the highlights of course when Joe Namath was playing, that was the one time you really got to see Joe and talk with him because he could mingle. Otherwise he was mobbed by everywhere he went there was a thousand people around him so that was the one time he was just with Jet’s family.

That was like one of the most fun things there that I say that the Jets did that I thought was a wonderful family. Back in the old days it was very family. Now everything has grown so much. There are so many more people that work for the organisation. Back then as I said, we had a New York office that had the PR department and the controller and a few things and out on Long Island we just had the players and you just had the players, the coaches and the training department and scouting and that’s it. So, it was really very, very, very small and everybody knew everybody and it was very, very family like.

Liz: Aw, that’s a really lovely story. My final question Connie what advice would you give to a fellow female who I guess wants to follow your path and go into the scouting route?

Connie: Well, I’ll tell you what, right now there’s so many opportunities. First of all you see there is the opportunity; there is tackle football and flag football. I didn’t even have that opportunity to actually play the sport. So number one, women now have the chance to actually play the sport and put what they learn there, into them becoming a scout. So that’s a big advantage, number one there. Now of course, a lot of the colleges have sports management and people, a lot of young people are doing it, but there’s a lot of competition, so you’ve got to really put yourself and make yourself a little bit different in seeking people out and doing different things versus just a piece of paper because there’s so many people that want to get into it. But there are for the first time in the past couple of years, last two or three years now, you see a lot of the teams have women scouting internships and in fact, 2017, the Jets had three girls as a scouting interns and one of them just got named to be the; Kali Bronson, she just got named a chief of staff for the Cleveland Browns. 

Liz: Oh wow. 

Connie: So there are a lot of different opportunities now that I would say in the past, I would say three years, the whole world has opened up. There was nothing like this and now it’s just, there’s just Sam Rapaport with the NFL. She has all these different things at the combine and different things at the draft where she has people come and speak and she’s had a lot of different people hired by different teams. So you just need to kind of look on Twitter, look on that, seek people out, let people where your passion is and you really have to go after and just show that you love this thing so much. Also if you are scouting be willing, either having an understanding spouse or significant other or be single because you’re going to be on the road a lot and driving through little small towns, it’s not glamorous. I mean you might fly into and go to Alabama, which is great, but then you’re going to go to five other small, little schools around it and drive and everything. So you have to be really, and then the next day up again and you’re on the road probably eight months of the year. 

Liz: Wow. 

Connie: So, it’s a dedication type thing.

Liz: Absolutely. Yeah. Amazing. Thanks Connie. Do you know to me you’re an actually incredible inspiration and it’s been so lovely to speak with you today.

Connie: Oh, well thank you. So I can’t believe I was speaking to somebody over where you are, it’s amazing really to me.

Liz: Yeah.

Connie: And I appreciate this so much, and this opportunity and it’s been wonderful. I think we’re all drawn together with our love of sports and our love of football.

Liz: Absolutely. Yeah. Got to keep that passion going.

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