By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 9, 2008
Morocco Brown made the drive from Dulles International Airport to Redskins Park more often than he can remember during the year he spent as an intern for the Washington Redskins. But among those monotonous journeys was one serendipitous trek that changed his life and jump-started his career as an NFL executive.
Brown's duties included picking up prospective players and employees from the airport, and during the summer of 2001 the Redskins were interviewing candidates for pro personnel director. Ten minutes in the car with one visiting executive, Bobby DePaul, and their brief time together inside Redskins Park led to Brown's first real job in pro football, and after seven years with DePaul he finds himself back in Washington, doing the same job for which DePaul interviewed.
DePaul, a scout for Philadelphia at the time, instantly was taken by Brown's passion for scouting and inquisitive nature. While at Redskins Park, DePaul received a call offering him Chicago's pro personnel director job; he quickly tabbed Brown to join him there and watched with pride as Brown was named Washington's pro personnel director last month, becoming the third-highest ranking official behind Vinny Cerrato, the vice president of football operations, and player personnel chief Scott Campbell.
"He was a young, aggressive kid who was totally focused and left a very favorable impression," said DePaul, a Bowie native who played football for Carroll High School and the University of Maryland. "He was like my shadow in Redskins Park. I go to meet [Coach] Marty [Schottenheimer] and [owner Daniel] Snyder, and he's right next to me. They tell me to go in the office and evaluate tape, and who's next to me? Morocco Brown.
"He's a special kid. This is a passion for him. He's always asking questions and he's always trying to get better. We didn't want to see him go, but it was very easy to recommend this guy. Very easy. He's paid his dues and he's definitely a young up-and-coming guy."
DePaul is one of many around the league who became immediately enamored of Brown, 32, and the footprints the Hampton native left early on have resonated throughout his rise, inside Redskins Park and out. Happenstance also played a role in Brown's internship with the Redskins in the first place, but what Brown considers to be good fortune, others believe to be a worthy reward for a diligent and tenacious young man.
"That situation, that was all God," said Brown, who points often to the Bible passage James 1:17 when discussing his life. "That stuff doesn't just happen. I had never met Bobby and just went to pick him up, and there was nothing special about the meeting. I just was picking him up.
"I remember we had to watch some tape together of some Seattle guys and I didn't think anything of it. And then as Bobby was leaving he said, 'I just took this job with Chicago.' The way that worked out made no sense to me. I didn't do anything special. God set it up."
Brown was always around sports, and both of his brothers also played collegiate athletics (eldest brother Milan is men's basketball coach at Mount St. Mary's). Their father, Charles, was a legendary high school and college coach in the Hampton area, and Morocco played three varsity sports as a high school freshman. He was a standout linebacker at North Carolina State from 1994 to 1997, but was not drafted.
Brown had an unsuccessful tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers, went back to school to complete his degree, then did odd jobs. He worked at a bank and interned for the ACC while sending out résumés to every NFL team. His only response came from Indianapolis, and Brown interned there briefly in 2000, doing mostly grunt work like re-sodding fields.
Carl Francis, a family friend and the director of communications for the NFL Players Association, wanted to help out, and contacted Melvin Bratton, the Redskins' pro personnel director at the time. Cerrato, who declined requests to comment for this story, had just instructed Bratton to find a local kid who could help out as an intern (no relocation costs and a tight budget of about $300 a week) and Brown drove to Ashburn for an interview.
"His football savvy and knowledge, he was just so impressive," Bratton said. "It was very difficult to say no to the kid. So I went to Vinny and said, 'This kid is good. Let's make this work. Let's get him in any way possible.' "
The Redskins had just drafted wide receiver Lloyd Harrison, a college teammate of Brown's, so with a place to stay Brown leapt at the opportunity. "So many people helped me get here," Brown said. "I didn't do this on my own." Brown attached himself to Bratton, absorbing all he could and assuming larger responsibilities, such as making presentations to the staff on potential free agent acquisitions.
"It was amazing," Bratton said. "I'd keep my door cracked when I was working and every single time this kid would come in, and come sit up under me and ask what was I doing, why was I watching this tape? To me it was nerve-racking at the time, but I had to step back and realize that this kid really wants it."
The 2000 Redskins flopped, with aging, overpriced stars and little chemistry (Snyder fired Coach Norv Turner late in the season). But many of those players gravitated to Brown, with Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders among those who would visit the youngster before practice.
"He's a quality individual and I took an interest in him," said Sanders, who remains in contact with Brown. "He had all the intangibles -- he's trustworthy, honest and hard-working. Do you know how hard it is for African Americans to break into an organization in the front office? It's very tough. So when you see a kid like that, it warrants your attention and you want to give a helping hand."
At season's end the Redskins were in transition, with Schottenheimer taking full control. Though Schottenheimer offered Brown a low-paying job, he had no contract at the time DePaul interviewed at Redskins Park. Brown was about to marry his girlfriend, Kendra (the couple have two boys, Macari, 2, and Macaiden, two months), and was fretting about his future.
When DePaul, who was a coach in Joe Gibbs's first stint with the Redskins, reported to Chicago, he was given a limited budget, and limited time, to locate two assistants. That night he woke from his sleep, grabbed a nearby notepad and scribbled two words: Morocco Brown.
The next day DePaul called Bratton, seeking confirmation on his instinct. "Mel sold Morocco hard," DePaul said. "He confirmed everything I was thinking." Brown became Chicago's assistant director of pro personnel in July 2001.
The Bears won two division titles and reached a Super Bowl with Brown in the front office; he was assigned 11 teams to scout as well as the Arena League. DePaul credits Brown for finding receiver-special teams standout Rashied Davis in the AFL; Davis is entering his fourth season with the Bears and was a key slot receiver during their Super Bowl run.
As Chicago became successful -- 14 of the Bears' Super Bowl starters came from the pro personnel department -- DePaul knew other teams would begin noticing Brown, but there were no promotions available internally. The Redskins released longtime pro personnel director Louis Riddick in May and targeted Brown as his replacement. Brown interviewed for the same vacancy with Arizona, but the Redskins pursued him with greater intensity, he said, and the opportunity to be close to home was significant as well.
Now Brown will help fill the back end of the roster and create an "emergency list" of players to call immediately should injuries occur. He will file reports for free agency and identify players who could be cut by other teams. Brown also will help evaluate Washington's existing talent, and prepare advance scouting reports for all divisional opponents.
"My goal is to try to make the team -- and each position -- as competitive as can be," Brown said. "We already have a good team, and all those other small things, over time, help out."