August 9, 2017

SUNDERLAND’S DAD ESKS GM’S BEST FRIEND

Brock Sunderland, 37, may be the youngest general manager in the CFL, but that doesn’t mean anything to him.

“The expectations are the same whether you’re 37 or 67,” said the Eskimos’ new GM, who has been on the job since late April. “I just feel I’m prepared for the role.

“The thought I have is if you’re 55 and have eight years experience as opposed to 37 with 14 official years, but almost a lifetime of experience on top of that, does the 55-year-old make you more qualified because of the age? I don’t think so.”

Sunderland really has been training to become a professional football team’s GM for most of his life. He just didn’t realize it at the time when he was in press boxes scouting players alongside his father, Marv, at the age of eight or watching game film with his dad at his first New York Jets training camp when he was nine.

“I always say ‘Take your son to work day’ was me getting in the car with him and driving to a game, sitting in the press box and getting a list of players to scout right along with him,’ ” Sunderland said about his dad, who was an NFL scout for 41 years until retiring in 2016.

“He was usually one of the last people in the (Jets’ training camp) office watching film so I would just go in and hang out and watch film with him. He would stop and point things out while he was watching: ‘This is what you look for at this position’ and ‘This is how you build a winning team’ and all of the above.

“So much you learn through osmosis,” he continued. “You don’t even realize you’re learning it, but just being around the environment at that level and seeing the athletes at that level and understanding what it takes to be a player at the professional level and what goes into it from the meeting times to the film study to the playbooks and all the above. It is all encompassing. I learned a ton without even realizing I was learning it.”

This wasn’t a case of a father trying to force a son to follow in his footsteps. Sunderland was the one initiating his dad’s involvement.

“I always had to drag him out to play catch with me,” he said. “Even when I went with him to games, it was me asking to go with him.

“In his words, he saw a lot of coaching friends and other scouts ruin their relationships with their sons because they tried to force the game or the love of the game onto them or try to live vicariously through them. He was very cautious about that. He never forced anything on me. Maybe it backfired and made me want to be around football more.

“I just loved it on my own accord,” Sunderland added. “He was always watching (football) himself so I’d go and watch it and always enjoyed it. But playing catch and asking him for pointers and everything growing up, I had to go to him and say, ‘Will you play catch with me?’ ‘Will you show me how to do this?’ ”

Even when Sunderland tentatively dipped his toes into the scouting business while working as a mortgage broker in Louisville, Ky., his dad tried to talk him out of it.

“In the back of my mind, I had a little bit of interest and it’s growing,” Sunderland said. “He said the hours are long, it’s not as glamorous as people think it is and there’s easier ways to make a living.

“When I got into pharmaceutical sales, he said the same thing. ‘Hey, you’re with a Fortune 500 company. You’ve got a good gig there. Why would you want to go and work until one in the morning and be up at five driving to the next school?’

“I think he realized quickly that I wasn’t trying to be who he was or trying to love something just so he and I have something in common. He’s my best friend, so we’re close, even without football. That wouldn’t change. It finally dawned on him that this was something I loved as much as he does.”

Marv Sunderland showed his support for Brock’s career choice by attending last year’s East Division final, watching his son’s Ottawa Redblacks defeat the Eskimos, and has also been to each of the last two Grey Cups, with the Redblacks winning their first CFL championship last season. Brock was Ottawa’s assistant GM.