Tim Ruskell, left, says that he, Rich McKay and the rest of the Buccaneers' personnel department draw their greatest work satisfaction from the team's success on the field
Tim Ruskell has been on the job one month or 15 years, depending on how you define it. If you're referring to Ruskell's new position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, director of player personnel, then Ruskell is still in the hit-the-ground-running phase. However, if you mean in the broader sense of player personnel issues for the Bucs, then Ruskell has been a key figure since his hire way back in 1987.
And so Ruskell has seen many players, administrators and philosophies come and go. Most recently, he saw former director of player personnel Jerry Angelo leave for Chicago, where he has taken over as the Bears' general manager. That prompted the Buccaneers to take Ruskell, who had excelled for nine seasons as the team's director of college scouting, and put him in Angelo's former position as General Manager Rich McKay's right-hand man.
Ruskell's college-scouting acumen has been reflected in the Buccaneers outstanding manipulation of the draft for years on end, but now he must add pro personnel duties and additional administrative responsibilities to his to-do list. And he must do it on the fly, with the 2001 training camp and perhaps the most anticipated season in team history just around the corner.
That didn't stop Ruskell from sitting down with Buccaneers.com to answer fans' questions as the latest guest on the interview series known as 'Your Turn.' He responded 20 pressing issues sent in by Buc fans, and you can watch the video of the first half of the interview here in the Buccaneers.com video archive.
You can also read a full written transcript of that portion of the interview below.
Transcript: Your Turn with Tim Ruskell, Part I
Moderator: "On June 18, Tim Ruskell, a Tampa native and a long-time member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' player personnel department, was named the Buccaneers new director of player personnel. Now, for the previous nine seasons, Tim had served as the team's director of college scouting, so even if you don't know Tim real well yet, you're familiar with his handiwork from the Buccaneers' string of outstanding drafts every April.
"Now it's a month later, with the team about to head into training camp, and we have Tim in our Your Turn studio for the first time. As usual with our Your Turn interviews, all the questions that Tim is going to here were sent in by Buccaneer fans using Buccaneers.com.
"Tim's ready, so we'll just jump into the first question."
Cecil Magilacuty of Polk City, Florida: Could you explain what the director of player personnel does and how hard it will be to fill the shows of Jerry Angelo?
Tim Ruskell: "The director of player personnel for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be a little bit different than the rest of the league, in that I'm going to be asked to oversee the college and pro departments for the football team, and to procure players from the college draft, free agency and oversee bringing in guys that we call 'out-theres'. Those are guys that are on the street that didn't fill either one of those categories and are available should an emergency arise.
"As far as filling the shoes of Jerry Angelo, those are big shoes. Jerry had his strengths in terms of coming from the college arena, which I am coming from. Jerry had a vast network of agents and personnel people to get information from, an area that I will have to work on because I've been mainly in the college area. Big shoes to fill, but I'm excited about the opportunity and I think I'll be able to handle it."
Michael Rerecich of Louisville, Kentucky: Could you tell me how this year's draft picks will help the team?
Tim Ruskell: "The most immediate and obvious impact will be with our first choice, Kenyatta Walker. We got him with the idea of putting him as a starter at the left tackle position. If he does that adequately through training camp and does indeed win the job, we've got a starting left tackle that's got to play well for us to be the team we think we can be. That's an immediate and obvious impact if Kenyatta Walker can reach his potential right away.
"For the rest of draft, a guy like Dwight Smith can fill a role immediately in terms of special teams and even come in and play some corner in the nickel position, or even as a starter. He has that kind of ability. It will just be a matter of how quickly he develops.
"The guys that we got on day two, and our free agents after the draft, are guys that we see as role players, guys like Than Merrill and John Howell, who could come in, make the team and, special teams-wise, initially give us something. So these are role players later on, guys that fill out the roster and add depth, and guys like Kenyatta and Dwight Smith can help out right away."
Matt Melnick of Brandon, Florida: Besides Kenyatta Walker, what player would the Buccaneers love to have drafted in the first round?
Tim Ruskell: "It's funny…I was talking to Rich a few days ago, and Rich, myself and Tony, when we talked about our dream draft going into the draft, what's the best-case scenario, we all had 'trading up, Kenyatta falling a little bit and we take him.' That rarely happens, especially when you're picking from the position we were at number 21.
"That was our number-one scenario. Were there other guys that we liked in the draft? Absolutely. Guys like Santana Moss, Todd Heap, players of that ability that we were excited about. We would have been happy to get (one of them), but it was exciting to get the number-one scenario, as well."
David of Lutz, Florida: I happen to know that you played a huge part in Jerry Angelo's success while in Tampa. Now that you are at the personnel helm, how confident are you in the ability of the people assisting you?
Tim Ruskell: "I appreciate the compliment as far as helping Jerry. I did the best I could. But we don't look at in terms of individual success in the personnel department. We've always looked at it like a team. That was part of Jerry's philosophy and that will be part of my philosophy. We all share in the triumphs and we try to get better from the mistakes, move forward and don't dwell on them.
"We have very good people. Ruston Webster has taken over my position as the director of college scouting and he's been here a long time, just about as long as I have been here. Continuity is something that Rich McKay wanted to develop when he became the general manager here, and we've done that. When you do that, this is an easy transition. All the guys, our area scouts, the people in pro personnel like Mark Dominik, are all good, competent people that have been here for awhile. We shouldn't miss a beat on the way to whatever the season holds."
Roger Palco of North Ridgeville, Ohio: The fans don't see the heroes in the back office when the season starts. Does this get to you a little, and where do you get your feeling of 'Yes, I did it and I'm proud of it'?
Tim Ruskell: "No, it doesn't get to me at all. I enjoy what I'm doing – we all enjoy what we're doing. It's hard work but we have a passion for it. Any time you enjoy what you're doing, you're not worried about where the credit is coming from.
"Like the fans, like the coaches, our feeling of enjoyment comes from winning and having a successful football team, having a good football team year in and year out, trying to get to the Super Bowl. The feeling of 'I did it' and what makes me feel good – it's almost like a teacher. When we get a player on day two (of the draft) or as a free agent that makes the team, number one, then contributes in some way to the point to where he has been noticed, that's a great feeling. You can't describe that feeling of seeing a young guy develop and help the football team, and you didn't have to pay a high draft choice or a lot of money. That's a great feeling and we've been able to do that quite a number of times over the last several years."
Michael Hotaling of Wesley Chapel, Florida: With as many improvements that have been made to this team in recent years, why have we not been able to address the punt and kickoff return 'problem'?
Tim Ruskell: "Well, we haven't had the touchdowns, and everybody seems to focus on, 'Hey, the Buccaneers in a million years haven't had a kickoff return for a touchdown.' But we've done pretty good, we've just been a little bit inconsistent. Karl Williams, obviously, when he's had his chances over the years, has done pretty good and was one of the leaders in the NFL in terms of his average on punt returns.
"Kickoff returns, our yardage of where we started from hasn't been so bad if you compare it with the rest of the league but, again, we haven't had that big, smash-your-home run return every game, so the fans don't see the big, exciting play. It's a little bit different of a position to fill in that, when you're filling your roster, you try to fill it with positional players. We don't – or we haven't – just draft a guy because he's a kick returner or a punt returner. We've tried to get the positions filled, in terms of what is he, a safety, a corner, a wide receiver, a running back? Then, if he's done return in colleges, we try to exploit that deal.
"Teams that get a returner that has done well, there's a little bit of luck involved there. It's a combination of how you're team is playing, and he's hit a crease and gotten on TV with the highlights of the touchdown. There's a little bit of luck involved there, but we're always looking and we would like to get better on kickoff returns.
"We feel we have that guy. We're excited about a gentleman by the name of Frank Murphy, who we brought in here as a free agent last year off the Chicago Bears' practice squad. If the potential holds true, and he fills it, we might have the guy that's going to break the curse and get that big one for us."
Chuck Fries of Ft. Myers, Florida: What are the specific factors that you use to evaluate lineman candidates in the draft and how do you evaluate character and personality?
Tim Ruskell: "The specifics we look for in defensive linemen – for this team and maybe not for the rest of the league – would be in terms of quickness and disruptive ability across the line of scrimmage. Rod Marinelli, our defensive line coach, wants guys to get across the snap on the ball, guys that are quick, disruptive, mean and can run and go run a guy down and rush the passer. We don't really look for the big, stout, hold-the-point, two-gapper type guys that maybe the Packers or Cowboys would look for.
"If you're talking about offensive linemen, again, we don't really want the big, statue, power guy. We need a guy that is able to pull from our guard and center positions, even from our tackle position on occasion. So you need a guy with quick feet, a smart guy that can learn quickly because there's a lot thrown at those guys. So we may not have the 380-pound, 350-pound guy you're starting to see in the league. We might have a small guy, relatively speaking, in the 310s, who can move a little bit. We need a little bit of movement from those guys for what we ask in terms of our offensive line.
"Character is obviously very important to Tony Dungy, very important to Rich McKay, very important to all of us. We've emphasized it over the last several years. When we evaluate character, that comes from talking to people, talking to a player's coach and the support people that work with him. You divide it into two areas. There's football character, which is work ethic, the desire to be the best and toughness mentally and physically on the field. That's the football character evaluation, then there's just character overall. What kind of human being is he? Is he responsible? What's his maturity level? A lot of factors, a lot of specifics go into rating character. It's very important to us, and there's not a player that comes in here that hasn't been scrutinized that way. We try to get a high level there, in combination with his ability as a player."
Ken Carey of Bradenton, Florida: Where are we on the signing of our draft choices, especially the top picks?
Tim Ruskell: "I think basically we're down to working on the number one guy, and that's the way it has worked the last couple of years. Rarely do you see the holdouts anymore that you used to see. There are deadlines that these guys don't want to miss. Rookies now know that if you miss a week or more of camp, you're so far behind that your chances of playing and contributing for that team are almost nil. So it's very important for the agent, it's very important for the player and it's very important for us that it all gets done prior to coming into training camp. We'll get that done."
Jason Crayne of New City, New York: What is the best way to become involved in the administrative end of a football franchise? Are there internship opportunities for college students, or is it a closed field?
Tim Ruskell: "Well, the answer to both of those questions is yes. There are internships for just about every team on every level – marketing, personnel, coaching at training camp. Is it difficult? Yes, it is difficult because there are very few spots. There are only 32 teams, so persistence is the key. Having a sports administration background is helpful. Having a sports background – playing – is helpful to have a feel for the sport you're getting into. But every year we bring in new people for internships. The ones that show some ability and show a work ethic can go on and have nice careers. There is that opportunity. If it's a passion for you and it's something you really want to get into, and you have the background educationally, it's just persistence. If you really want it bad enough, you'll get it done."
George Mulligan of Stratford, Connecticut: Bryce Paup and Mike Mamula have been good passrushers and are still free agents. For the right price, could either help?
Tim Ruskell: "As you know, we've got a line that we're real proud of and real happy with…one of the best units in the National Football League, probably, man for man. So we think we're in good shape that way. Obviously, you never know what injuries and things can do as the season goes along, but right now we feel pretty good about the unit.
"Those guys are guys that would command a little bit in terms of the years in the league and what there minimum salary would be. And I doubt if either one of them would really be interested in the minimum. They would be guys that you have to pay a lot of money to. Obviously, salary cap-wise, we as well as all teams are kind of bumping up against that cap ceiling. Right now, they wouldn't be guys that we would be focused on getting. We're happy with the way the line looks. If something happened in terms of somebody going down or not playing up to what we thought, maybe we'd look at them, but right now we're pretty pleased. Those guys will find homes."
Moderator: "That concludes the first half of our Your Turn interview with Tim Ruskell, the director of player personnel. We'll come back for more questions for Tim, including 'Who's going to be the backup to Warrick Dunn?', 'Can Keyshawn Johnson flourish in the Buccaneers' offense?' and 'How long can the Buccaneers keep their stars together?'
Note: The second half of Tim Ruskell's Your Turn interview will be posted next week.