Share “Collected Wisdom: Tom Ciskowski”

Collected Wisdom: Tom Ciskowski

Interviewed by By Mike Baldwin, Published: May 3, 2009

photo - Medford native Tom Ciskowski runs the Dallas Cowboys’ draft. Photo by James D. Smith, special to the Oklahoman
Medford native Tom Ciskowski runs the Dallas Cowboys’ draft. Photo by James D. Smith, special to the Oklahoman
Tom Ciskowski, the Dallas Cowboys’ director of scouting, was a linebacker at Medford. He graduated from Cameron and was a high school coach at Pawhuska before coaching at Arizona State, Wichita State, Miami, New Mexico State, UNLV and East Central.

Ciskowski joined the Cowboys in 1991, first as a scout for the BLESTO organization at the combine, then becoming an area scout, a national scout and assistant director of scouting before being promoted to the top position a year ago. Last weekend Ciskowski ran his second NFL Draft for the Cowboys.

My job is to know the top 150 players in the country. We categorize players in A, B and C categories. An A player is a first- through third-rounder, a B is a fourth- through sixth-rounder and a C player is a seventh-rounder or free agent. There have been players that one spring is a C player, but by the time the draft rolls around a year later has moved up to an A player.

Your Oklahomas, Miamis, Ohio States, USCs and Floridas always will have good players, but every year is a new challenge. One year they may have a running back. The next year they might primarily be defense. Even though you go back to the same school (as an area scout) your evaluations are completely different. That’s the challenge. That’s what makes the job fun.

There were 36 students in my graduating class. I wouldn’t trade growing up in Medford for anything in the world. I was able to play all sports instead of specializing in one, which is what happens frequently at bigger schools. We never locked our doors and left the keys in the ignition.

When Jimmy Johnson first approached me, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get out of coaching. He told me to try it and thought I would be good at it. If it didn’t work out, he promised to help me get back into coaching. The first year, I really missed coaching. By year two, you develop the same fraternity of friends in scouting. I fell in love with it.

Life as an NFL scout isn’t sitting behind the desk 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.). You’re probably on the road 100 days a year, maybe more. It’s an exciting challenge. As an area scout you’re required to grade players at every position, ranging from a quarterback to an offensive lineman to a defensive back.

We’ve tried to put more emphasis on our scouts and cut down our draft board. We now try to zoom in on players we like as an organization. If that player is there in the third, fourth or fifth round, we feel comfortable taking them.

There’s a misconception about (owner) Jerry Jones that he takes a dart and throws it and if it sticks that’s who we draft. But Jerry is a great listener. He trusts us as a scouting department to turn over every rock, to research players through the (college) head coach, strength coach, academic advisor, anyone we can find.