"Michigan Men" look out for each other.
This was the case when Jim Harbaugh arranged a job interview for 12-year NFL veteran defensive end James Hall to continue a lengthy football career with the San Francisco 49ers front office.
The 49ers coach, a fellow University of Michigan alum like Hall, had respect for the veteran defensive lineman, having spent the 2001 offseason as a teammate of Hall with the Detroit Lions. When Hall went on to finish his playing career with a five-year stint with the St. Louis Rams, Hall was constantly a thorn in Harbaugh’s side, disrupting the 49ers offensive progress by wreaking havoc in the backfield.
After games, however, both men would catch up and exchange pleasantries.
The bond carried over into what Hall called a “chance meeting” with the 49ers coach at a Michigan athletic department event.
From there, Harbaugh put Hall in touch with San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke to interview for a position in the team’s personnel department as a scouting assistant.
“It was an opportunity to get my foot in the door,” Hall said of his current post which allows him to review pro and college footage, produce written reports and contribute to player evaluation meetings with the team’s respected scouting department.
The man hours in the front office role were quite different than what Hall experienced as a successful NFL player, who went undrafted in 2000 but managed to produce 63 career sacks and 413 tackles in 12 seasons.
“That was interesting to see that aspect of it, coming from the locker room, to see how things were done upstairs,” Hall said. “It’s completely different than what you think it is.
“I did not realize the amount of time and work that is put into the evaluation process at the college and pro level. The man hours are – most people wouldn’t even be able to grasp the concept of someone putting that much time into their job. But at the same time, you wouldn’t be able to do it, spending as much time here in the office, if it wasn’t something you didn’t love.”
Hall said the 49ers camaraderie in the scouting department made his transition most enjoyable.
“It’s labor-intensive,” Hall said. “That’s probably an understatement. It’s a lot of long nights, but it’s great. One thing I’ve noticed about working here is not only do they have talented people, they have good people. It’s easy to come to work every day, regardless of how long you’re working.”
Hall’s role with the 49ers front office continued to grow this past season. In addition to aiding Baalke’s player evaluations, Hall also contributed to the team’s player engagement program headed up by vice president of football affairs Keena Turner.
The added task was easy for Hall to undertake. Almost a decade earlier, Hall paired with his alma mater’s athletic department to create a scholarship fund for athletes looking to complete their coursework.
“One of the main gripes I had was athletes not completing their degrees at a young age,” Hall began, “not knowing what direction they were going in life and then going into the real world and figuring out how rough it was and not being able to come back and have the funds to do finish their degree.”
The university matched Hall’s initial donation to kick-start a degree completion program. Seven years later, the school has funded scholarships for a wide range of athletes.
Hall’s thoughtful work has made ripples throughout the 49ers organization.
“You get the sense from his demeanor and personality that he’s a classy guy,” Turner, a four-time Super Bowl champion and longtime 49ers front office executive said. “Not a lot of words, but you see a very focused and diligent person. You get deeper into it and you see where his commitments are.
“It’s a phenomenal message and it’s one that (49ers CEO) Jed (York), coach Harbaugh, and Trent believe in here.”
Hall will continue his academic emphasis while aiding both Baalke’s staff and by being a point person for the team’s player engagement work.
The academic emphasis has been a longstanding tradition with the 49ers. Turner recalled Dr. Harry Edwards, the franchise’s longtime staff consultant, and Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh being instrumental in player’s completing their degrees.
“I was fortunate that Dr. Edwards and Coach Walsh made it a focus back in those days,” Turner said. “They wanted to present the opportunity to guys and enforce the message that it’s important that you can have these dual goals going on within the organization: winning Super Bowls, but also there’s the rest of your life and bettering your education gives you options. It’s all about options.”
Turner, himself, is a product of the team’s degree program. Dr. Edwards helped guide Turner back to school; he graduated from the University of San Francisco.
“I tell people all the time, my rings are in my sock drawer, but my degree is on the wall,” Turner said.
With that in mind, Turner and Hall will pair up to continue inspiring members of the 49ers to feel the same sense of accomplishment they did in their academic careers. The 49ers player engagement program helps members of the team reach their full academic potential around their football obligations.
“We want guys to maximize their opportunities,” Hall said, “because when you’re an NFL player, people want you around.
“When you’re done playing, not so much.”
In Hall’s case, San Francisco discovered a valued member of the front office and what Harbaugh would call, “a trusted agent.”
The opportunity to work for the 49ers is not lost on Hall.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to transition from being a player to still being in the NFL,” Hall said. “Most guys don’t get that opportunity. I was lucky that Trent even gave me that opportunity. I’m aware of that. I respect that. That’s how I approach the job, knowing that many guys don’t get this type of job.”
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