Football

Arlington-based NFL scout C.O. Brocato has become a legend among his peers

C.O. Brocato, left, with Tom Kelly, became a legend among scouts and coaches in the southwest.
C.O. Brocato, left, with Tom Kelly, became a legend among scouts and coaches in the southwest. Special to the Star-Telegram

Tennessee Titans clothes, some in unopened boxes, fill three closets in C.O. Brocato’s Arlington home; a pile of Titans’ shirts, shorts, warm-ups, hats and bags — individually wrapped in plastic — sit in a corner chair by the front door; and more than a hundred baseball caps, some signed by Steve McNair, take up part of a guest bedroom.

The team’s longtime scout wears his heart on his chest, his shorts and his head.

“I don’t know what else I would wear,” he said. “This is who I am.”

Brocato moved to Arlington in 1971 after UT Arlington hired him as defensive coordinator. He joined the Houston Oilers as a scout in 1974, and only a brief stint with the United States Scouting Combine has interrupted his time with the organization.

Brocato, 85, calls himself “semi-retired,” but he enters his 41st season with the Titans, now as a “scouting consultant.” The team honored Brocato last month by naming the draft room in its Nashville training facility after him.

“I’m going to do it as long as they let me,” Brocato said. “I enjoy it. I’d be dead a long time ago if I wasn’t doing this.”

The Titans/Oilers franchise has played 599 games since hiring Brocato, and he has worked for two owners, seven general managers and 10 head coaches.

“He’s sort of a walking history book,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said. “He tells the story of working out Earl Campbell, and those things are priceless. I think we all enjoy hearing them. It’s helpful for people coming into the organization to know a lot of that history, as well as for everyone in the organization to know about him.”

Since the Oilers/Titans hired Brocato, they have drafted four players who became Hall of Famers. Brocato still tells the story of watching Campbell in the Red River Shootout in 1977.

Sitting in the Cotton Bowl press box, Brocato saw Campbell hurdle an Oklahoma defender on his way to the game’s only touchdown — a 24-yard run in the second quarter — as Texas upset the No. 2 Sooners 13-6. Brocato tipped his cap and said, “I don’t need to see any more,” and headed home at halftime.

The Oilers drafted Campbell with the No. 1 overall pick in 1978.

“Earl was my best draft pick,” Brocato said. “He’s a 4.75[-second] guy [in the 40-yard dash], but I told them, ‘Ain’t nobody going to catch him.’ He ran as fast as he needed to run.”

Brocato also gushes with pride over the choices of Ray Childress and Mike Munchak. Jeff Fisher, the Oilers/Titans head coach from 1994-2010, remembers a first-round pick the team made despite Brocato’s sixth-round grade on him. Fisher declined to name the player but said Brocato’s evaluation proved correct.

“C.O. was THE best scout,” said Fisher, now the St. Louis Rams head coach. “He was the guy you listened to. It was just him. He had it down. He did his work. He had his opinion, and his opinion never changed year after year after year. He was consistent, and he was right. He was always right.”

Brocato, who grew up in Shreveport, La., became an all-conference linebacker and kicker at Baylor. His sister kept scrapbooks filled with newspaper stories of his exploits. One lauded him for beating or tying seven opponents with extra points or field goals in 1951 and ’52.

Another called him the “lightest linebacker in the Southwest Conference at 181 pounds,” prompting Brocato to chuckle, “Yeah, but I was the meanest one.”

Brocato jokes that he and the only other Catholic on the team were voted captains at the Baptist-affiliated university in 1952.

The Chicago Cardinals drafted Brocato in the 17th round, but because he stood only 5-foot-11 and weighed only 185 pounds, the coaches showed no interest in having him play linebacker. Brocato lasted only a week at training camp, heading back to Louisiana, where he took a high school job that paid $2,800.

Brocato displays 16 gameballs in the living room of his Arlington home, with a Louisiana Class AA state championship ball from 1967 among his favorites. He won the title at his alma mater, Jesuit High School, earning coach of the year honors after the team went 13-0.

In 1968, Brocato became defensive coordinator at Northern Arizona, and in ’71, he assumed the same position at UTA.

Brocato became a scout only because the Mavericks took too long to replace John Symank as head coach. Brocato expected to get the job, but the Oilers hired him first.

“[Oilers scout] George Blackburn called me on Feb. 6, and said, ‘You need to come to Houston and sign a contract,’” Brocato said. “I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I hired you Feb. 1. You’re now a scout.’”

Brocato covered 36 Texas colleges, nine in Arkansas and 11 in Louisiana when he first started. He also traveled other parts of the country. He stayed on the road for weeks at a time, putting 45,000 miles a year on his car.

Brocato quickly became a favorite of secretaries, janitors, trainers, public relations directors and weight coaches at universities everywhere. College coaches trusted him. The other scouts respected him.

“He’d take donuts to the coaches and flowers to the secretaries,” said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys player personnel director from 1960-89. “That way, he was not just coming to take something, but he was giving something, too. At any school he goes to, he’s going to know who the assistant weight coach is, the third assistant trainer, and they all know him.

“He’s a special, special individual and a talented evaluator of football players.”

Brocato invented the three-cone drill, now a staple of the NFL Scouting Combine, and another drill frequently used to test defensive back prospects also bears his fingerprints.

In 2014, he made the initial list of candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural contributor category. Webster and Fisher stand among those campaigning for Brocato, with Webster referring to Brocato as “legendary.”

For most of his career, Brocato, like most scouts, toiled in the background. But Green Bay Packers senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith, who was drafted by the Oilers with the third overall pick in 1987, credits Brocato with not only his advancement, but also several other scouts who started out in the southwest. That list includes Joe Schoen, the director of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins, Chris Ballard, the director of player personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs, Chris Driggers, the director of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Matt Berry, director of college scouting for the Seattle Seahawks.

“The more you hung with him, the better scout you were,” Highsmith said. “I was fortunate to spend my first 14 years on the road with C.O., so I learned from him. He’s been a big part in my success as a scout, and everything I do I pattern myself after C.O. Brocato. Those are true words.

“You look at the southwest area scouts and what they’ve done, and it’s all because of C.O. Brocato. The guy had a huge impact on a lot of scouts.”

Charean Williams

817-390-7760

Twitter: @NFLCharean

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