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Updated: January 24th, 2012 8:22pm
One lie in interview 'tells you a lot,' Vikings GM Rick Spielman says

One lie in interview 'tells you a lot,' Vikings GM Rick Spielman says

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MOBILE, Ala. -- Crowded into a first-floor conference room at the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel, Minnesota Vikings coaches and scouts were scheduled to spend about four hours on Tuesday night interviewing 45 players as part of their effort to get face time with every NFL Draft prospect participating in this week's Senior Bowl.

Rick Spielman provided four reporters with a unique look at that process, granting temporary access to the interview room and allowing the reporters to sit in on his own interview with one of the draft prospects, Auburn long snapper Josh Harris.

The interview lasted 17 minutes and more than 40 questions, ranging from Harris' agent to his personal life to his plans if he doesn't make it in the NFL. It was a setup -- the Vikings had no character concerns about Harris, and he happily agreed to let reporters record the interview.

Nonetheless, it was a rare glimpse into the pre-draft world. All around, other prospects shuffled in and out, interviewing at tables with crosscheck scouts and position coaches, who also put them through the paces on the white board.

Afterward, Spielman turned over Harris to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and then answered reporters' questions about the interview process, the timeline leading up to April's draft and his preliminary opinions about the Class of 2012. The following is an edited transcript:

Where would (Harris) have graded?

He was an 'A' interview.

When somebody completely shuts down on you, do you keep going?

You just try to give them open-ending questions and just keep pressing them and seeing where they go. Most of the kids are going to be very open. Most of the kids and their agents are going to know that there are issues if they do have issues, that you're going to get pressed at these things -- not only by us, but every NFL team. So, they're pretty open. But it's amazing as they talk, you can veer with questions different ways as he says something and it kind of hits you as an interviewer, then you can kind of take it down that path a little bit. A lot of times we have gotten information that we didn't have in the book that the kid took us down that path.

What type of thing do you discover?

Everything, from A to Z. An example ... talking about the parents, and all of a sudden you find out he's close to the mother, didn't know the father, or all of a sudden he has a mentor. Oh, OK, we didn't know he had a mentor. So, then we say, 'What's your mentor's name?' So we can go ahead and look at the mentor a little bit. Is he a positive influence? And then if the kid has to go through adversity or he's having challenges, is he going to rely on the mentor or is he going to rely on his parents? Who does he rely on, or is he just going to be on his own?

Do you script questions for each guy, or do you have a stock set?

We've worked with the HRT group that we use from our psychological testing standpoint and they kind of script some questions and again, you kind of play off how the kid is going down the path. But it gives you some avenues to take him. So, it gives you a kind of a road map, but you don't know where the road's going to go, if that makes sense.

Do you ever have guys who say they won't talk about that, and then if they do, do you get confrontational?

No. Basically, have never had, I think, anything that was real confrontational. You can get some kids with a little bit of attitude. But again, I think all the kids know that this is a job interview and even more recently -- maybe back when I first started, it was a little bit (harder), because you didn't have the Internet, you didn't have the blogs, you didn't have all the stuff that you can go and use electronically to find out about these kids. It's all out there, where in the past, it was newspaper clippings, because that was your only source for information, or you used your security and your background checks and you dug into their hometowns, if they had any arrests there, if they had any arrests anywhere.

Are these kids more polished than they were 15, 20 years ago?

Yeah. The interviews are -- the kids get polished by the agents and what you're trying to do is get them away from the scripted and get them into the unscripted if you can.

Do you ever run into a situation where you know a guy's lying to you?

Oh yeah.

What do you do then?

Just keeping going.

Let him keep lying to you?

Yep. Tells you a lot about the kid. What am I going to say? 'You're lying?'

Do you press them on the subject?

Yeah, or just say, 'Hey, did you have this issue?' 'No, I didn't.' Then I'll say something else -- 'did you have any other issues?' and things like that. But then that tells you a little bit about the kid's character.

Do you ever get halfway through an interview and know there's no way in hell we draft this guy?

Oh yeah. Yep.

Do you end the interview?

We'll shorten it. We've got other people we need to move on to.

How often does that happen?

Oh, every once in awhile.

A few times a draft class?

Yeah. It's not like 50-50. No, there's a few every now and then that you just say, 'No way.'

Will you pretty much interview every athlete here this week or are there some you'll skip?

Nope, we'll do every single one here.

Because it saves you interviews at the combine?

Especially this year will be very important, because of how many juniors have come out, and predominantly those -- there are a lot of good players in that class.

You're limited to how many at the combine?

Sixty.

So, there are going to be five juniors you can't interview.

Well, we'll interview them, but our formal interview -- we have the combine interview at night, the 15-minute interview. You can only have 60 for the week, but you can go over to the train station and those are interviews kind of like this is here. This is a little more informal, because there's no time limit. Before you guys came in, I was with a kid for almost 35 minutes.

Did you know it was going to be 35 minutes going in?

Oh yeah. Yep.

Because there were a lot of issues you wanted to address?

There were issues, yeah.

Are there any specific examples of guys in the recent past who won you over in the interview room?

The most important thing is this is the first time we get to do this with the kids. This is actually the first time our coaches get in front of these kids. We'll go back and talk about the interviews. The coaches have got to put a grade on the interviews. Our scouts will put a grade on the interviews. When we go back, 'Hey, do we need to get this kid again? Do we need to get him at the combine, or do you feel good about it?' We may not be able to get him at the combine, but we may bring him in our Top 30 to make sure we spend more time with him or we'll be out at the schools in March. Like Christian Ponder, this was the first time we ever talked with him was here. And we spent an hour with him, but not because of character issues. We did it with all the quarterbacks here. Because Andy Dalton was here, Locker was here. Our quarterback process actually started here last year."

How important was Christian's interview in the decision to draft him?

Very important. All of them are, (Jake) Locker, again, that decision, because you're talking about the quarterback position, is so important that we spent, even though every one of the quarterbacks we talked to were great interviews, the kid from Nevada-Reno, (Colin) Kaepernick -- we had a lot of very good interviews. But then we continued the process at the combine, we continued through to March and some of them we brought back for our Top 30 (event)."

What did you like in Christian's interview?

The intelligence, the personality, again, just getting to know the kid. You knew his dad played for Florida State. You have it on the paper, but to hear the kid talk about his family and you can get a sense on, man, family is important to this kid. i don't think any of you have any question that that's his driving force. But you get all different, from A to Z, one end of the spectrum to the other.

Do you put everyone on the white board?

Yeah, for the most part, or if you don't do it here, we'll do it at the combine, especially the guys that we think they need some mental reps, or our coaches just want to make sure we put them on the board because we have an interest in them. We try to do a lot of the football stuff too.

How many players struggle with the board?

You have to dig in a little deeper, too, because he may not be a good teacher when he's trying to teach, and they may get nervous doing that, but again, that's why you go around the circle a few times with these guys. I can tell you, all the quarterbacks last year were excellent. They were great teachers to us about what they were explaining. This part, we listened to what they had to say about their offense. As we continued down, we got into our offense.

What are some of the more subtle red flags that might come up?

Who they are bringing with? Are they bringing three buddies from their hometown are coming to live with them in a house? That can be a, 'Who are your buddies?' Stuff like that. This kid is going to bring the girl he wants to marry. I'm OK with that. Just things like that that can, 'Whoa, why are you bringing them?' If they have situations with girlfriends or things like that, situations with a lot of players have kids coming in now, how they want to handle situations like that. There's a lot of things.

How many red flags on an elite player before the breaking point?

I think that doesn't get decided really until we get down to the end. This is the initial, where you may say, 'Oh, I don't know about this.' But by the time you get to the end, it's like, yeah, we feel comfortable with him. Because we're getting everything back. We're getting all the security background checks, we're getting all the HRT testing, all the psychologicals, we don't have any of that right now. It may be a, 'Hey, this guy, we may have some potential red flag issues here,' but in the end, by the time we get all the information, it could be up or down.

When do you do the psychological evaluations?

They start here, at East-West (Shrine Game), the combine. We'll catch some guys in the spring. That process starts along here. In fact, our group is here testing most of the kids already that were in this game. Then they'll test all the kids at the combine. There are some guys who pop up who aren't at the combine, that weren't in an all star game, but we'll go out and shag them down.

How much information does the NFL provide?

We can call the NFL and they give us their security background check. We also go a little bit further with our own. There's a security where you can call the league office and they have security and you can get the background on what the NFL has.

Do you talk to the bad seeds in players' lives?

We do a lot of things. Again, I'm very detail-oriented.

Do you check social media?

Oh yeah. We have our guys pull up all their facebooks, Twitter accounts, and there was a kid last year that his Facebook -- you've got to be kidding me. He put this on Facebook? And he was a talented player.

What kinds of stuff?

Bad stuff.

What about tweets that are just weird? Chris Cook posted something awhile back at 2 a.m. that said, 'I'm a Martian.' Do you look at that?

Yeah. But again, you talk to these kids so much that we might address it at some point. 'Hey, what the hell was that?'

You're doing 45 interviews (Tuesday)?

Predominantly we did the North team last night, doing the South team (Tuesday).

What is the rest of this week like as you wrap up Senior Bowl week?

What we'll do is finish most of the interviews this week. But again, we're going to know the North squad in and out. (Tuesday) we're focusing on (the South. Wednesday) night we'll clean up some of the guys we didn't get so we get everybody done while we're down here - if we missed anyone. And then usually, on Thursday, most everybody leaves because there's not a padded practice on Thursday. And Friday's a walk-through. The game's on Saturday. And we'll watch. And we get all the tape anyway. But we actually have our combine meetings Thursday and Friday. We'll be in there all day on the combine meetings. We're part of BLESTO (scouting service). So, we'll go through all the senior class. And then we'll actually do the junior class on Friday. So, that'll be the first time we'll hear the ratings from the combine scout on Friday. We had a meeting (Monday) night with our scouts, going over the juniors, working on who's got to do what and kind of organizing that. So, like I said, you've got all the stuff you did in the fall. And now you're throwing in whatever from the 60-some players on top of your workload now that you've got to get done between now and when we come in for our February meetings.

Why now?

Because everyone is here. They'll go home. They'll do the film work. They'll do a lot of calling from their house to get the background stuff. They'll get all the background information. And then we'll integrate them into our board. We had a December meeting. Now that we have the juniors in, we'll start kind of shaping the board with the juniors coming in for the first time in February before we go to the combine. We have a pretty good feel for where it's going to lay out, especially now that we've got all the juniors.

How do you guard against overthinking all of this?

You know what? By the time you get through this whole process, you're so overthinking it. To be honest with you, at the end, there's no one who can play. You've poked holes in everyone. And then it's coming, a day or two before the draft, all of a sudden you're excited -- 'Yeah, no, we want all these guys.' But that's part of the process, poking so many holes. But you just have to be careful that you're not killing guys because you're overanalyzing everything or very over-analytical on everything. But that's because, like all of a sudden now, you did the film but now you're putting all the other pieces together.

Why aren't scouts allowed at the NFLPA Bowl?

They were going to allow juniors in, I believe. And we do not support juniors playing. That's why they don't play in the Senior Bowl. That's why they don't play in any sanctioned bowls by the NFL. So if a junior is involved, we're not allowed to be associated with that (by NFL rule).

Your combine meetings will be here in Mobile?

Yeah. I'll be here for the game. Not going home until Sunday. Usually, I head back Friday night and start next week into all the tape.

Do you get medical checks here, too?

They have a physical, but it's not like the combine. They come in, go through, pass the physical and then they're allowed to be put out on the field. But the real physical as far as the MRIs and the detailed blood work doesn't happen until we get to the combine.

What are your impressions of this year's draft class?

Very excited. I think there are going to be a lot of great players in this draft. And I think with the junior class coming in along with this senior class and there are some very good players down here, I'm very excited about this year's draft.

How do the positions of strength here match up with your positions of need?

We do have positions of need in a lot of places. ... But there are a lot of talented players at every position down here that we're going to be looking at. We've got a whole week of practice yet to go through and a game to monitor. But what we've seen so far, we're very excited about some of the prospects here.

Is coaches' input going to be greater this year, given they're coaching the North team?

They'll have a big part of it, because they've actually worked with these kids. So, that'll be a big influence on us as we go in. because there are some things we may have collected during the fall where we've identified 'Well, this kid can or can't learn,' or 'This guy wasn't a hard worker.' But then you have to weigh that in with what our coaches are saying because they're with the kids all week. But then you've got to go back in and weigh. Well, was he doing it because he was at the Senior Bowl. Just because he knew it was a job interview all week. And will he revert back to what our scouts have seen. So, again, back to being overanalytical. It keeps going back and forth like that. What are you getting?

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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In this story: Chris Cook, Christian Ponder
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