MIAMI — When Tim Terry’s career as an NFL player came to an end after the 2002 season, he wasn’t sure what he would do. He wanted to go back to school and get his master’s degree, but there wasn’t a plotted course for him to follow.
He had road-mapped his life pretty well up to that point, from multi-sport athlete at Hempstead High School to starting linebacker at Temple University to player in the NFL and CFL for six seasons. All of a sudden, though, there were no signposts.
That’s when John Schneider — who now is general manager of the Seahawks, had been with that organization during Terry’s three seasons with the team and was, at that point, working in the Packers’ front office — asked Terry a simple question.
What do you think about scouting?
“The first thing I said was ‘Heck no!’ ” Terry said.
He never liked scouts. Because he was always a fringe player in the pros, scouts were like harbingers of doom to him. He was one of the last names on the depth chart, which made him one of the first names to go when changes needed to be made. Scouts? They were the people charged with finding players better than he was and costing him his job.
But Schneider persisted and convinced Terry to apply for an internship in the Green Bay scouting department. It was at that interview that Terry found his calling.
“I was like, ‘You guys get paid to watch players and talk about players?’ ” he said. “That’s stuff I’ve always done!”
And still is doing. Terry is the director of pro personnel for the Chiefs, on the verge of having a hand in a second championship after picking up a ring with Green Bay a decade ago.
The players on the field for the Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV got there because they were athletically blessed, because they applied their talents and because they worked hard to overcome obstacles in their lives. But many also will be there because Terry, a kid from Hempstead, saw something in them and made them part of the organization.
“Who would have thought a little kid running around the streets on South Franklin, going to Hempstead High School, playing lacrosse and all those different things, would have made it to here?” he told Newsday this week, standing amid the hoopla and anticipation of the Super Bowl’s Opening Night. “I’m humbled by it. But at the same token, I’m just trying to be a steward of the things I’ve been blessed with.”
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach remembers the first time he met Terry. It was about eight years ago when they were young scouts working the long jump test at the Combine, measuring distances and writing them down. Menial work, but they made the best of it and had a good time, as Veach recalled.
It would be a lovely story if they kept in touch through the years because of that chance meeting, but they did not. In fact, they never crossed paths again for a long time.
In the spring of 2017, Veach was working as director of pro personnel for the Chiefs and then-general manager John Dorsey hired Terry away from the Packers.
“He comes walking in the door,” Veach said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, aren’t you the guy . . . ?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, from the long jump!’ ”
They hit it off again, so much so that a few months later, when Dorsey was relieved of his position with the Chiefs and Veach replaced him, Terry remained with the organization.
“Tim’s had an interesting path, if you think about how he got here,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said. “His first year we make a change and you don’t really know what’s going to happen. I think it’s a credit to Tim that not only did he survive that change, but he excelled through that change . . . That world [of scouting], it’s a closely knit bunch. So for Tim to be already here and brought in by Dors, I think it’s a big credit to him and his abilities that he found a spot and he’s excelled in that spot.”
Terry tends to make quick and positive impressions like that. His coach at Hempstead High School, Rick Voight, remembers Terry hyperextending his knee in a gym class while playing basketball one day. He was wheeled down to the nurse’s office, where Voight and the nurse argued over who should reset the joint.
“All he did was straighten out his knee, it popped back in, and he got back and kept playing,” Voight said. “That’s how tough he is.”
He wasn’t a great player with Seattle, but he did catch Schneider’s eye. Schneider compared Terry’s overall vision of the game and roster-building to those of Ted Thompson and Marty Schottenheimer.
“Tim was cognizant of the 53-man cutdown and what it looked like,” Schneider said. “He was often on the border but knew the importance of being a special teams player beyond just playing linebacker. With his empathy, communication skills and knowledge of the game, I always thought Tim would make a great personnel guy.”
And with the Chiefs, he’s endeared himself to a new crowd with a variety of responsibilities.
“Tim’s been great,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “His staff every Monday comes in and gives us a preliminary look at the upcoming opponent. He gives us the advance. Tim will come in throughout the course of the week to give us tidbits and changes and whatnot.”
He’s also always on the lookout for new Chiefs players (something Terry as a player would have gasped at). In the past few seasons, the Chiefs have added a number of pieces to their roster to help them reach the Super Bowl, from Sammy Watkins and Anthony Hitchens to Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Taylor.
“We try to roll our sleeves up and bring in guys who are going to fit the culture of the Kansas City Chiefs,” Terry said. “In my role, you always have to find the next guy, the next guy, the next guy to help you so you don’t have a big drop-off from Player A to Player B. But we’ve been fortunate.”
Terry didn’t bring them to Kansas City himself, but he played a large role in their acquisitions — a role he shies away from.
“The guy has no ego,” Veach said. “He’s not a guy looking for the spotlight, he’s not a guy looking to puff his chest out. He wants to come in and he’ll do anything, whether that means the forward man stuff or recommending guys in free agency or doing workouts when we bring guys in. He will do whatever whenever, no questions asked. You can’t have enough of those guys.
“You talk about the character of people and you talk about guys who are the textbook definition of a pro, doing everything the right way, that’s Tim Terry.”
LI STILL FEELS LIKE HOME
Terry, 45, said he doesn’t get back to Long Island much these days. His parents have passed away and he has a sister who still lives there. But when he does swing by, he makes it a point to stop by the places that forged him.
“That’s always going to be home,” he said. “Every time I get a chance to, I go back to the high school, visit with the people and talk to the kids, stop at the Percy Jackson Youth Center and see those people there. Hempstead means a lot to me.”
He also keeps in touch with other Hempstead products who are in the NFL. Two weeks ago at the AFC Championship Game, he caught up with former Jets wide receiver Rob Moore, who now is the receivers coach for the Titans. He often runs into old Hempstead teammate Ron Brockington, now the senior national scout for the Dolphins.
It was Brockington who got Terry involved in scouting without him even knowing it. When Brockington was a Jets scout, he would attend the Senior Bowl and Terry lived in Alabama, so he would visit with him, sit in the stands and watch practices.
Then there is his brother, Reggie, who also played in the NFL and is the assistant athletics director for football operations and player personnel at Boston College.
Growing up in Hempstead, he said, taught him lessons that stick with him to this day.
“If you are a coach, if you are a scout, if you are a janitor, everyone has a role,” he said of the Chiefs. “Without one person doing their role to the best of their ability, it doesn’t work. Everyone has a role and they have to do their best at it.”
Terry grew up dreaming of winning a Super Bowl as a player. That never happened (although he did help win the Grey Cup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1999). He was part of the front office that won a Super Bowl with the Packers. In 16 years in personnel, he’s been part of 13 playoff teams. Now, though, the Chiefs are one win away from a title that would have his fingerprints all over it.
Even if not everyone knows about it.
“Obviously, if you are a player, you can say, ‘I did X, Y and Z,’ ” he said. “But from my standpoint, you still helped. Maybe in the background, which is fine. But seeing guys, where they came from and how they grow into being what you want them to be, what you hope they aspire to be, I think it’s equally gratifying.”
Hempstead undoubtedly feels the same way about him.