Whatever happened to: Ken Herock

Ken Herock spent 10 of his 31 seasons as an executive in the NFL with the Falcons, but two of his draft picks stand out as a pair of the NFL's best ever.

The first came in 1989 when he took Deion Sanders with the sixth pick in the first round, the Hall of Famer arguably the greatest cornerback of all time. The second was the 1991 second-round choice of Brett Favre, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August and is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.

Herock, though, began his football career far away from a front office, in the streets of Pittsburgh, not playing organized ball until he was in the eighth grade. At Munhall High School, he was a standout in football, baseball, basketball and even volleyball and played linebacker and tight end. He was recruited by Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Frank Kush from Arizona State, but chose West Virginia and coach Art “Pappy’’ Lewis, who he said, “Came to my house and had dinner with us and drank beer with my father.’’

Freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity in 1959, and Lewis was fired during first Herock’s first year and Gene Corum was brought in. Herock started at tight end for three years, caught 24 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns, and the Mountaineers finished 8-2 his senior season. He thought he was a shoe-in to get drafted in 1963, but no one called his name in either the AFL or NFL, and he signed with the Oakland Raiders and owner and coach Al Davis, beginning what would be a long relationship between the two men.

Herock wanted to play linebacker for the Raiders, but was moved back to tight end, catching 57 balls over three seasons. He then held out in 1966, upset that the team drafted Tom Mitchell out of Bucknell and was paying him more. He came back to Oakland for the ’67 team that lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl II. From there, he went to Cincinnati for a season before finishing his playing career for the Boston Patriots in ’69.

At that point, Herock remembered what Bengals coach Paul Brown had told him the year before when he cut him and that was to “get into your life’s work.’’ For Herock, he wanted to scout talent, and he began the first of several stops in Oakland.

At that time, the team had only two scouts, Herock and player-personnel director Ron Wolf. Herock also coached special teams for John Madden in ’72 and helped build Oakland’s Super Bowl-winning team in 1976, though he had left that year to become the first director of player personnel for the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and legendary coach Jon McKay.

Within three years the Bucs were in the NFC Championship game. At Tampa, he also was one of the key players in starting what would become today’s NFL combine and took quarterback Steve Young in the supplemental draft of USFL players in 1984. But things had begun to sour when owner Hugh Culverhouse wouldn’t pay Doug Williams what he felt he deserved, and the quarterback bolted for the USFL after the 1982 season.

Herock then was offered a job in the USFL by the Washington Federals, who were planning to move Miami under coach Howard Schnellenberger. But Herock was fired after Culverhouse found out he was talking to Washington and the move to south Florida never happened. He then returned to Oakland for three seasons before joining the Falcons as director of player personnel in 1987.

Herock’s first three seasons in Atlanta were rough ones under coach Marion Campbell. Herock took Auburn’s Aundray Bruce as the top overall choice in the 1988 draft, the linebacker turning out to be a bust. The team won only 11 games during those seasons, but things started to turn around in ’89 when he picked Sanders and Jerry Glanville came on as head coach.

The next season, Herock made a huge trade when he sent the Falcons’ first-round pick (No. 1 overall choice) to Indianapolis for receiver Andre Rison and offense lineman Chris Hinton. The Colts took quarterback Jeff George, and it paid off for the Falcons. In 1991, the year he picked Favre, the team went 10-6 and beat New Orleans in the playoffs before losing to Washington.

The Favre pick was a fiasco as Favre clashed with Glanville, and Herock traded him to Green Bay after one season. Herock then traded to get George after the 1993 season and the Falcons went back to the playoffs with a 9-7 in 1995. But George was a hothead, would eventually be suspended in 1996 for an on-the-field encounter with coach June Jones, and Herock remained with the club through that season when Jones was fired as coach and Dan Reeves was brought in.

Herock then returned to Oakland for two seasons and joined Wolf in Green Bay for three seasons as the vice president of player personnel. He is in the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

Where he lives: With his wife, Barry, of 53 years, Herock lives on Lake Lanier in Gainesville and has two boys, Shaun, who works for the Raiders as their director of college scouting, and Ken. He has five grandchildren.

What he does now: Herock is 74 and since 2002 has had a business called Pro Prep, which prepares NFL prospects for their pre-draft interviews. He has worked with more than 1,000 prospects and during an average year works with between 10 to 15 first-round picks.

On his senior season at West Virginia: "We were 8-2 and lost to Penn State and Oregon State who were highly ranked. But we didn't go to a bowl game because there just weren't that many bowls back then.''

On playing with the great George Blanda at Oakland, who finally retired at the age of 48: "He is the most competitive people I have ever been around. Also, when he was the scout-team quarterback and Daryle (Lamonica) was the starter (at quarterback), he would try to embarrass the first-team defense. If he was on the field, he was going to beat you. He played forever.''

On being the Raiders front office with Stabler as the team's quarterback: "Funny, but when he first came to Oakland he ended up playing in the Continental League (Spokane) and then was a backup, backup and backup in Oakland. But he could take a team and lead you to victory. He was great and well liked but very free spirited. Also, back then quarterbacks called their own plays and he knew what he was doing on the field.''

On his relationship with Al Davis: "He gave me my start both on the field and in the front office. He was in charge and we would make recommendations on the players but he would make all the picks. (The Raiders way) wasn't a myth in those days. It was Mr. Davis' way and he knew he could resurrect players, milk them and get something out of them. I remember being at the old combine one day and we were sitting in the corner of the stadium and he looked around and said we could make a lot of money on this, people want to see this and we could put it on television. He had the ability to look into the future.''

On John Madden: "We were neighbors and I would drive him back and forth from work every day. I love him but I think anyone coaching the Raiders during those days would have been successful. He just had a way about delivering messages to the team and I think that carried over to the public when he went on TV.''

On getting fired at Tampa Bay: "Mr. Culverhouse called me in and asked if I had been talking to the USFL and I said yes and he said you are fired.''

On drafting Bruce first overall for the Falcons in '89: "Marion was a defensive coach and he wanted to go defense and I wanted to get Tim Brown out of Notre Dame, who had won the Heisman and really could have helped us at receiver and running back kicks. But Marion wanted to go defense and at that point we didn't know the downside of Bruce and that was he wasn't dedicated enough, he didn't live in the weight room, he didn't study the game. It was all natural ability.''

On Deion Sanders: "There isn't any athlete to come out of college like Deion. There are guys that are close, but not like him. I would challenge anyone to say that Deion isn't the greatest athlete to ever play. He wasn't necessarily the best football player ever but he changed the whole image here and we started to win.''

On Jeff George: "His agent Leigh Steinberg told us not to draft him because he would sit out the entire year. We then had a workout for Jeff with just Indy and us and he threw 50 balls and the first 45 were perfect and everyone was caught. I said after that the workout is over, and in a couple of days the Colts called us and we got a Pro Bowl receiver and lineman for Jeff.''

On bringing George to the Falcons: "June Jones really liked Jeff, and he got us to the playoffs. But then came the big blowout with June. It just didn't work.''

On his Pro Prep business: "I wanted to work for myself so I started it. I knew players needed help preparing for their interviews for the draft. I take only combine players and it has kept me in the game.''