Time in Guelph helped Falcons GM

Dave Pollard, SLAM!Sports

, Last Updated: 4:14 PM ET

TAMPA, Fla. – Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is the answer to a trivia question that would be enough to win most bar bets.

Question: Name the only current National Football League general manager to have played Canadian university football.

Answer: Thomas Dimitroff, former defensive back and captain of the Guelph Gryphons from 1987-89.

“I believe I am, but you guys might have to do a bit of research on that,” Dimitroff said while doing the rounds at the media centre set up for Super Bowl XLIII, after it was announced that he was named the Sporting News executive of the year.

No research is necessary, though. He’s the founding member of the club.

Sounds surreal, doesn’t it? Here’s a halfway decent football player who learned many of the nuances of the game in three-down football, playing before a couple of thousand fans every week, rising to one of the top positions in the NFL.

“As big as the National Football League is, and being with the (New England) Patriots and now the Falcons, I realize that football is still football at the core,” Dimitroff said.

“Although we weren’t grandiose in our expectations and approach at Guelph, we were football (players) and we believed our world revolved around football. I just think that speaks to the passion for the game at the University of Guelph.

“I had some friends come down recently to visit the Falcons and we all reflected on our time at Guelph together and how we all bonded as teammates and friends. My time in Canada and the friends and people I know up there are very dear to my heart.”

Dimitroff may not have the typical background you’ll find among the NFL elite, but that doesn’t mean he lacks a serious football pedigree or training.

While he played at Guelph, his father, Tom, coached the team. Tom, the elder, played in the NFL with the Boston Patriots and coached in the CFL.

Dimitroff realized he wouldn’t follow in his father’s footsteps as a player so he drifted into scouting, joining the Saskatchewan Roughriders as their Canadian scouting coordinator in 1990. Stops with the Kansas City Chiefs, his first NFL job, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and the Patriots followed in quick succession.

The Pats promoted him to director of college scouting in 2002 and, over the next five years, he developed a reputation as someone with a keen eye for talent while working alongside the likes of highly-regarded Scott Pioli, hired to run the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this month, and coach Bill Belichick, a three-time Super Bowl winner.

That caught the attention of the woeful Falcons, who hired him just over a year ago to turn the franchise around. It took him less than a year as Atlanta improved from 4-12 to 11-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

“It was a unique, circuitous route coming back to the United States but a very enjoyable one and one that I would never look back and change anything,” he said.

The hiring of Dimitroff might have been considered odd to those outside the NFL, but the job really was something the 42-year-old had been apprenticing for all his life.

“I really live by the adage that when you’re on the bench waiting for the starting call, you’d better be ready,” Dimitroff said. “If not, you may never get that opportunity again. I’ve been preparing over the last few years for an opportunity to be a general manager. I think this validates a lot of the hard work, whether it was when I played of happened to be scouting.

“I never ever, or will ever, claim I have arrived. I am always growing and always learning so many different facets of this game. I believe I will until my final day working in football.”


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