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All Packer fans should know about this man

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by JBlood, Nov 27, 2010.

  1. JBlood

    JBlood Cheesehead

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    All Packer fans should know about this man:

    Pioneer NFL scout Jack Vainisi was pivotal in picking future hall of famers for Green Bay Packers

    by Pete Doughertypdougherty@greenbaypressgazette.com • November 26, 2010


    Jack Vainisi died 50 years ago today.



    If you’re a Green Bay Packers aficionado, or you’ve read David Maraniss’ biography of Vince Lombardi or seen the Broadway play based on that book, then you’ve at least heard of him.

    If not, suffice it to say, though Vainisi isn’t famous, he’s an important figure in Packers history. He was a pioneer in NFL scouting who essentially started the Packers’ college scouting department in 1950. He also was a major force behind bringing Lombardi to Green Bay and recommended the drafting or signing of eight college players who went on to Pro Football Hall of Fame careers under Lombardi.

    One reason Vainisi isn’t better known is he died at only 33 years old, just weeks before the Packers’ dynasty of the ’60s started with a trip to the NFL championship game at Philadelphia. But considering his performance as a talent scout and role in bringing Lombardi to the Packers, Vainisi should be an easily recognizable name in team lore, rather than a footnote to the Lombardi era.

    In the late 1940s and early ’50s, scouting for most NFL teams was primitive, with most teams relying on a loose network of contacts around the country to advise them about players, and some clubs literally drafting based on ratings in Street & Smith’s magazine.

    The Packers weren’t the first team to hire a full-time scout when new coach Gene Ronzani brought in the 23-year-old Vainisi as his personnel director in 1950 —Ronzani hired him on the recommendation ofhis top assistant coach Hugh Devore, who had been a coach at Notre Dame when Vainisi played offensive line there as a freshman. The well-heeled Los Angeles Rams were at the forefront of NFL scouting and by the late ’40s they’d hired a personnel director, former Packers back Eddie Kotal, to crisscross the country scouting college players during the football season.

    But Vainisi was one of the pioneers in turning NFL scouting into a systematic endeavor, and with his obsession with football and engaging personality he set up an exemplary system of evaluating and drafting players.

    During the season, Vainisi did whatever college scouting in person the Packers’ budget allowed and paid an extensive network of contacts, primarily college assistants around the country, to file reports on players from their own teams and opponents that they thought would interest the Packers. Vainisi kept meticulous records, and by the time he died, he had 18 thick notebooks with detailed reports on more than 4,000 players.

    “The whole NFL wound up copying the system,” said Jerry Vainisi, Jack’s brother and a former front-office executive with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.

    Vainisi’s system identified players he should scout more closely in person during the season and at all-star games, and his network of contacts funneled unknown prospects his way. Bart Starr’s promising career at the University of Alabama had flamed out after his sophomore year because of a knee injury, but the basketball coach there, Johnny Dee, was one of Vainisi’s contacts and recommended the quarterback.

    Vainisi didn’t have final say over the Packers’ drafts — that fell to head coaches Ronzani, Lisle Blackbourn, Scooter McLean and Lombardi — but they selected based on his recommendations. And the list of players he had them take includes Hall of Famers Paul Hornung, Starr, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke, Forrest Gregg, Jim Ringo and Ron Kramer. The Packers also signed Willie Wood as an undrafted rookie in 1960.

    In 1961, which was the first of Lombardi’s championship winners, 17 of the 22 preferred starters were players Vainisi helped bring to the team. Aside from Lombardi-era standouts, he also brought in end Billy Howton, who led the team in receiving six straight years in the ’50s; defensive back Bobby Dillon, who was a borderline Hall of Famer; and running back Tim Brown, who was a three-time Pro Bowler for the Philadelphia Eagles after Lombardi cut him.

    And in 2008, NFL Network named the Packers’ 1958 draft as the fourth-best in NFL history. That group included Taylor, Nitschke, Jerry Kramer and Dan Currie.

    Vainisi also was close with many of the NFL’s major players, such as George Halas and Paul Brown. He and Brown had an arrangement where if they had any players they liked but could not keep, they’d trade them to the other instead of cutting them and allowing teams from their conference a shot at them. Many former Browns came through Green Bay that way, and though Lombardi’s name as general manager was on the deals for eventual Hall of Fame defensive linemen Henry Jordan in 1959 and Davis in 1960, it’s almost a given Vainisi’s arrangement with Brown was a factor.

    Vainisi also was a major player in the Packers’ hiring of Lombardi in 1959. Many try to take credit for it, and the fact is, the Packers first offered the job to Iowa coach Forest Evashevski, who turned it down.

    But in the Lombardi biography “When Pride Still Mattered,” Maraniss said Vainisi was the prime mover. Vainisi, according to the book, contacted his many sources in the league, including Halas, Brown and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell, for recommendations on a head-coaching candidate. All named Lombardi. Vainisi then contacted Lombardi, without team authorization, to gauge his interest. And after Lombardi answered affirmatively, Vainisi suggested that team president Dominic Olejniczak and the team’s Executive Committee consult Halas, Brown and Bell for recommendations, knowing they’d say Lombardi.

    Vainisi's life was cut short on Nov. 27, 1960, from heart problems that dated to his rheumatic fever while in the military in 1946. Just three days earlier, the Packers suffered a devastating Thanksgiving Day loss at Detroit that dropped their record to 5-4. Vainisi didn't live to see the team rally for three straight wins before losing to Philadelphia in the championship game, 17-13. Over the next seven years, the Packers would win five championships, with many players he procured at the core of those teams.
     
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