If you haven’t had a chance to check Matt Maiocco’s podcast with former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan, it’s definitely worth a listen. As you probably know, McCloughan was arguably the most prominent person in making the 49ers team Jim Harbaugh would take over in 2011.
One of the more important draft picks of that team was none other than Frank Gore. Leading up to the draft, Gore had a couple question marks, namely his knee injuries that brought his durability to doubt at the NFL level and his ability to read, learn, and understand an NFL playbook.
McCloughan gave some great insight to what led to Gore getting drafted and a lot of the circumstances probably helped Gore buy into what the 49ers were selling at the time. Here’s what he said:
“The thing about it was, I was at his true-freshmen year. And they had, [Clinton] Portis and [Willis] McGayhee, who were both really good backs with good NFL careers. He came into the game in the 4th quarter, and I’m not even paying attention to him because he’s a freshmen. But all of the sudden I see this guy running around and he’s making plays everywhere, and I’m like “Holy Smokes”. Tough, running guys over, getting his pads level, really strong lower body. But the unique story is, I was at Coach [Mike] Nolan’s house the night before the draft. I had an agent call me and says, “Listen, Frank Gore wants to talk to you.”
I’m like, “OK.”
And Frank didn’t know me from a hole in the wall. At that point of course, I’m vice president of player personnel and we never met prior to that. Well, at the Combine I met him on the offside. At first he didn’t pass our physical, so he was off the board. So I wanted to talk to him face to face at the combine on the side. So he calls me, and I can barely understand, he’s talking so fast, he’s nervous—you know how he talks.
He’s like, “Going through this, one team said they are going to take me in the first, two other teams said they are taking me in the second”
I said, “I’ll be honest with you, Frank.” I’m always honest with all the players and the coaches. “If you’re there—and we have the first pick in the third round—we’re going to take you. I can’t take you prior to that, because of the medical issues.”
And he said “Well I’m not going to last that long,”
I said, “I don’t know. If you do, I’ll take you.”
So he lasted until the first pick of the third round and I took him. And from that day, we’ve been best friends. He said “I respect you and I trust you”. And if you get Frank’s trust—a lot of players, you get their trust? You got ‘em.”
There’s a few things that worked to McCloughan’s advantage, most notably three teams said they were going to do something and never followed up on it. Yet, McCloughan stuck to his word and was upfront with the organization’s hesitations towards Gore.
McCloughan earned Gore’s trust early and it paid dividends for the team later. I think a lot of people had no idea of the story going on the night before Gore’s draft, but had that phone call not happened, who knows how long Gore would have stuck around.