One would think after ascending from ball boy to vice president/general manager that Randy Mueller had experienced just about everything as an NFL executive.
Not quite. The latest chapter in Mueller’s career doesn’t read like the earlier ones, and he’s fine with that. Mueller will exit pro football someday for a trout stream and the first tee box and when he does he’ll have run the gamut administratively, thanks to his current job.
The St. Maries native is in his fifth season as a senior executive with the San Diego Chargers.
“It’s a little bit of everything but I’m really the national scout and I see all the top college players,” Mueller said in a phone interview. “I’ve known (executive vice president and G.M.) A.J. Smith for years and I do whatever he needs.
“It’s the one aspect of the business that I hadn’t spent a lot of time with and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I came up in pro scouting, did all the advance scouting. As a G.M. you get involved in college scouting, but I’ve always wanted to sink my teeth into knowing every player in the draft.”
Mueller travels throughout the season. He’ll watch Michigan State-Indiana this Saturday, then head to Chicago for Notre Dame-Miami that evening. He’ll visit roughly 50 schools this fall.
“It’s always good to learn how someone else does it and the Chargers have done well in the past drafting players,” said Mueller, whose brother, Rick, is a player personnel executive for the Philadelphia Eagles. “When you’re the boss, you have more of a bird’s-eye view. I feel like I’ve really improved as an evaluator.”
Mueller worked his way up from the ground floor with the Seattle Seahawks, scaling the pro personnel department and eventually becoming vice president of football operations. He moved on to New Orleans, earning NFL Executive of the Year honors in 2000 when the Saints won the NFC West and claimed the franchise’s first playoff victory. One year later he was fired.
After a few years as an ESPN analyst, Mueller was hired as Miami’s G.M., though head coach Nick Saban had final say on roster decisions. Saban departed in 2007 and Mueller’s responsibilities expanded, until Bill Parcells joined the front office. Following a 1-15 season, Parcells officially began work on a Thursday and dismissed Mueller within days.
Mueller has always had a savvy eye for talent and was never afraid to make bold moves to improve a roster. Times have changed from when he first entered the business in the early 1980s – particularly prospects’ 40-yard times – and Mueller has changed with them.
“In the 1980s if you ran a 4.6 you were fast, now fast guys are 4.3 and change,” said Mueller, who quarterbacked Linfield College to the 1982 NAIA Division II national championship. “The players’ off-the-field character, just because society is what it is, has become bigger and a more prevalent element of the evaluation process. I spend maybe 60 percent of my time looking at film and the other part is gathering information on character, work habits, talking to people at schools.”
Mueller has worked with some of football’s biggest names – Chuck Knox, Tom Flores, Dennis Erickson, Mike Holmgren, Saban and, briefly, Parcells.
“You can see the reasons they’ve been successful,” Mueller said. “That group of names is all different, their strengths are completely different. Some of those days were pleasurable; some were a bit of a grind.”
In Seattle, Mueller dealt struggling quarterback Rick Mirer for a 1997 first-round pick that was used to select Shawn Springs. Then, he packaged a pair of picks for the sixth overall selection and took Walter Jones, a nine-time Pro Bowler. Springs made the 1998 Pro Bowl and was named to Seattle’s 35th anniversary team.
“Getting Walter and Shawn made that complete,” Mueller said. “In New Orleans we ended up trading Ricky (Williams) for two first-round picks but I was gone and didn’t get the chance to use them. I think that was a good move.”
Mueller has taken his share of draft-day heat, most stemming from Miami’s 2007 selection of Ted Ginn Jr. with the ninth pick.
“That (Ginn) is probably the one I took the most heat for, for not drafting Brady Quinn,” Mueller said. “Ted has been a solid player, maybe not the ninth player in the draft. I’m not really regretful, but I probably got more criticism for that one.”
With San Diego, Mueller supplies scouting information and he’s in the draft room, but others make the selections. Ex-Seahawk Paul Skansi and former Spokane Falls receiver Tom McConnaughey are in the Chargers’ scouting department.
Since 1983, Mueller has been out of the NFL only three years and during that time he kept a close eye on the league as an ESPN analyst. With 25-plus years in the NFL, he’s learned – and continues to learn – every season.
“Seattle, with the fact that it was home, was my dream job, but I will say this: I’ve learned a ton from every stop,” the 51-year-old Mueller said. “New Orleans was the most challenging and most rewarding, and that was in two short years, because we were so bad in every way and we had to instill a whole system of acquiring players and changing the climate.”
His current job allows him to live where he wants. He settled in western Washington, but he spends a lot of time elsewhere evaluating college players.
“I watch them play football,” Mueller cracked, “still getting by without working.”