Eric Ellingworth’s journey into the craziness that is big-time collegiate and professional football has been a memorable one. From the Florida Gators, to the New York Jets to landing a gig working for the one and only Jerry Jones... it’s been an interesting three year stretch to say the least.
“It’s all been a great learning experience,” Ellingworth said. “I really don’t know for sure where this is going to take me, but I’m soaking it all in and enjoying the ride.”
The former Redwood Valley and Augustana graduate has been in love with the game since growing up as the son of a former coach and a player who starred at wide receiver for both the Cardinals and Vikings.
It was when his playing days were over when his journey into the hugeness that is big-time football began. In 2015, he was offered a job as a graduate assistant at the University of Florida under Head Coach Jim McElwain. It went so well that by the start of his third and final season as a GA, he was brought in by McElwain and was told that the staff wanted to bring him into a bigger role at the end of the season.
“Back in 2017 I was just starting my third season as a GA at Florida. We were coming off back-to-back SEC East championships, so things were looking promising. Knowing it was my last year as a GA, I had a few talks about my future with Coach McElwain, and he very graciously told me he’d like to move me into a more permanent support staff role at the end of the season – given the fact that we had been decently successful in ’15 and ’16 and trending in the right direction, I was pretty excited about the opportunity to stay and be with the Gators for years to come,” he said.
Unfortunately, the fickleness that is big-time sports hit the Gators hard, as they experienced a season with 10 year-long suspensions to start the season, lost starting quarterback Luke Del Rio to a broken collarbone injury and suffered numerous injuries on defense. As a result, the Gators started 3-4, and McElwain was fired.
“When the head coach gets fired, the remaining assistants pretty much know they’re done at the end of the year, so it made for some stressful times trying to figure out what’s next,” Ellingworth said. “We finished out the season, Dan Mullen was hired as the head coach, and he brought in his own staff which as you know, is very common practice.”
After being let go at Florida, Ellingworth spent the next three months without a job. He made trips to the AFCA National Coaches convention and Senior Bowl to network and try to find something that would stick. He received some offers from some smaller programs that he didn’t feel great about and continued to mull his options. While at Florida, NFL scouts would roll through the building frequently during the year, and he was able to build relationships with some of those guys – one being player personnel executive with the New York Jets, Zach Truty.
“We often texted back and forth and reconnected at the Senior Bowl,” he said. “It was there that he asked if I had ever thought about scouting instead of coaching. I told him I’d definitely be interested in it, and he said ‘well let’s stay in touch, we might have some opportunities in New York after the draft.’ I was excited to hear that, but I was also sort of thinking to myself ‘this is January, I currently have no paychecks coming in, I need to figure something out quicker than May.’”
Ellingworth returned home to Redwood Falls to teach for his former middle-school, but just weeks into his subbing experience he was contacted by the Jets to interview for a scouting assistant role.
“I got a call from the Jets (early April) to head out to their facility in Florham, N.J. to interview for a scouting assistant role,” he said. “I interviewed with about six different people in their scouting department, including the general manager Mike Maccagnan. Interviews went well, and about three weeks later they called and offered me a scouting assistant position and I accepted.”
According to Ellingworth, his year with the Jets was an awesome learning experience.
“They really did a great job showing me the way and gave me lots of responsibility which I fully embraced and enjoyed – there I was responsible to scout and evaluate three NFL teams in the pre-season (Saints, Redskins, Seahawks). As those teams cut their roster from 90 to 53, I was responsible to put a claim or practice squad grade on the guys they cut, basically informing my superiors if I thought any of their guys would upgrade our roster at various positions. I also served many other roles in the pre-season, one being the ‘turk’ in New York – if a player needed to be cut, I was the guy who would be sent to go find them and bring them up to our GM’s office – some of the players nicknamed me “the dream-killer. Coming from the coaching side of things, where my focus was building positive, meaningful relationships with players, I hated being the turk," he said.
Once the season started, Ellingworth was responsible for evaluating and ranking all practice squad WRs and ILBs across all NFL teams. On top of that, the Jets sent him to 15 colleges across the country to evaluate their players.
In January, he was sent to the East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl to evaluate the players there.
On the pro scouting side, he was responsible to evaluate potential free agents from the three teams (Saints, Redskins, Seahawks) he scouted and present those evaluations in free agency meetings to the GM and VP.
“Jamison Crowder is a slot WR that I remember being very excited about in free agency meetings, and he was a guy we ended up signing,” he said. “I was pretty pumped up about that one. In February, we had a few weeks of day-long draft meetings where I presented my evaluation reports on the 15 schools I visited in the fall. In late Feb./early March we went to the NFL Combine to further evaluate, and then I was sent to four pro days in the Bay Area to evaluate those players (Cal, San Jose St, Sac St, UC-Davis). April was another three weeks of final draft meetings, where we present our final reports/evaluations on the prospects we’ve scouted. From there, I was given all WRs with fifth-round grades or worse to complete cross-check film evaluations on. Then came the draft where I was in the war-room. It was exciting soaking in that environment.”
Two weeks after the draft, Coach Frank Nussmeier – who Ellingworth worked closely with as the offensive coordinator for McElwain at Florida and current tight ends coach for the Dallas Cowboys – called Ellingworth and said a few scouts had moved on from the Cowboys scouting department and was curious if he wanted him to tell the VP of Player Personnel, Will McClay, about him.
It was a tumultuous time for the Jets organization as the GM and VP had been fired. Ellingworth, having been through staff changes before, was a bit unsure about what all might happen with the scouting department in New York. Knowing the reputation McClay, the Jones’, and the entire Cowboys organization has, he was very interested in the opportunity the Cowboys had.
“Not long after speaking with Coach Nussmeier, Will McClay called and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for a college scouting role there in Dallas, which was an upward position than the scouting assistant role I had in N.Y., so I gladly accepted,” he said. “It was quite the interview process. The first part in the process was having me complete five different scouting assignments. I advanced through that piece of the process and then interviewed with six different people in Dallas’ scouting department. After that, they offered me the position, I accepted, and was flown down to Dallas a few days later for OTAs.”
According to Ellingworth, thanks to McClay and the rest of the organization the transition to Dallas has been a smooth one.
“It’s been awesome being here. It’s a first-class organization, and Will McClay is an awesome guy to learn from. He’s helped me grow tremendously and has given me a ton of responsibility. My title with the Cowboys is a 'college scout,' but I have a few pro scouting responsibilities as well. I studied and evaluated one NFL team in the pre-season, cross-checked one position on the offensive side of the ball from all NFL teams prior to final cuts and I grade a defensive position on our own roster after each regular season game. On the college side, I have 20 schools in the southeast that I scout, so my in-season schedule is pretty hectic, but it’s been a lot of fun. For example, my weekly schedule during the first part of the season looks like this: Cowboys game Sunday, go to the office early Monday a.m. to grade the film and submit my evaluation on my assigned position, meet with the pro scouting department at noon to present my evaluations, then head to the airport to fly out Monday night for my college scouting assignments; Tuesday, be at a school by 8 a.m. for a full-day visit (let’s say Florida), then drive two hours to Orlando that night for my Wednesday UCF visit; Wednesday, spend all day at UCF, then drive 1.5 hrs to Tampa for Thursday USF visit; Thursday, spend all day at USF; Friday, type preliminary reports on the guys I saw that week; Saturday, drive back up to Gainesville to scout the Florida/Auburn game; early Sunday morning fly back to Dallas, go to the Cowboys game, repeat the next week. “Lots of travel, lots of film, lots of report writing, but lots of fun.”
When evaluating collegiate talent, Ellingworth described how he would meet with the trainer, strength coach, academics people, support staff and coaches to gain character, background, injury history, etc. on players to determine and project how those prospects will act when they become a pro.
Do they love process? Do they eat, sleep, and breathe it? What are they like off the field? Do they take care of their body? Do they have negative influences away from ball? How will they act when they have a lot of money in their pockets? How do they treat people? Are they respectful to women? How well do they learn football?
All of this information factors into the final draft grade that is put on a player.
“Once I submit my report, that report is forever in our database,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure to be ‘right’ on players. You don’t want to be the scout who has the report in the database that says ‘Patrick Mahomes is a fifth round QB’ or whatever.”
Ellingworth said December will consist of more film, cleaning up reports and preparing for the pre-draft process of all-star games, combines, pro days, etc., along with draft meetings.
“With all the report writing, I feel very fortunate to have an English teacher for a mother,” he said. “Growing up, I always got annoyed with how much she’d pick apart my school writing assignments, but now I am very thankful for the impact she’s had on my writing abilities - after my first two seasons being a scout, I probably will have written close to 1,000 full player evaluation reports.”
While still in the process of learning the business, Ellingworth has come a long way in a short period of time in a bottom line business that can be very cutthroat.
“Football has always been a passion of mine, so I feel fortunate to be working in a field I’m extremely passionate about. Outside of my faith, family and positive relationships I have, I don’t really love anything else nearly as much as I love the game of football, so I feel very blessed to be getting paid to do something I love,” Ellingworth said.
This past Sunday night the Vikings were in town to face the Cowboys in a key midseason NFC match-up. It was his first go around in the battle between head and heart.
“It’ll be exciting having the Vikings come to town. I’ve always loved the Vikes, and still root for them. I’ve been through the ups and downs of Viking football since the day I was born. I can still recite the starting lineup from the ’98 (15-1 team) from memory,” he said. “However, I’ll be rooting against the Vikes on Sunday. Like everyone working for the Cowboys organization, I’m a team guy, and want to do whatever I can to help the Cowboys win a Super Bowl.”