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March 26, 2021

How the combine interview process presents unique challenges

The job interview.

For many, it sends shivers down their spine. The promise of sought employment and everything good that comes with it is within reach but first you must prove yourself in a sit-down that could make or break your resume, work experience or draft stock.

That last one is pretty niche, but ask any CFL player who went through the evaluation process and they’ll say interviews are as important in setting a tone with organizations as testing performance and how you carry yourself around combine weekend.

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Dwayne Cameron is the Calgary Stampeders draft coordinator and defensive backs coach after spending two stints at Wilfrid Laurier University in roles varying from defensive backs and strength and conditioning coordinator to special-teams and recruiting coordinator. Cameron sees the game from all levels thanks to his previous work experience and knows how tough the evaluation process in 2021 is on everyone involved.

“Well, literally everything is remote this year,” said Cameron. “At least last year we had a Toronto Regional Combine and that class had participated in the previous East-West Bowl. This year the staff is flying a little blind. It’s always preferable to meet them and see them move in an in-person evaluation environment, but we roll with it.

“In August, once we knew the 2020 CFL season was cancelled I began putting together video cutups of the 2021 U SPORTS prospects right away. With no 2020 U SPORTS season either, and a lack of in-person evaluation process, an even deeper dive into the film was necessary. At least with most of the NCAA prospects, we have recent film. Making it easier to project how those guys fit into your roster.”

While this access to film is essential to 2021, the lack of face-to-face time at a combine clearly creates a unique hurdle to previously standardized evaluation.

That includes the interview, but Cameron finds some small positives in the forced fit on endless zoom conference calls with prospects.

“I think we actually get more in this way,” admitted Cameron. “We are well into the process at this point. We are able to schedule the times as it best fits our staff and you can have more eyes and ears in the interview online than you would in a combine setting. The downside would be the lack of face-to-face contact and maybe the non-verbal cues you get. Body language and how a prospect carries himself maybe is something you miss.”

Now in his seventh season with the Argos, Vince Magri’s primary function is to identify, evaluate and rank Canadian talent. He, too, sees the virtual interview with a glass half full approach, albeit a small glass.

“The only pro is that you don’t have a 15 minute time limit, and don’t have someone knocking on the door telling you to wrap it up,” said Magri. “The format lends itself to a more causal setting where the conversation can become less scripted and more authentic.”

Similar to Cameron, Magri feels the difference in conversation with every virtual interaction as they stack together week after week from lonesome offices.

“It’s definitely more difficult logistically setting up dozens of individual interviews and coordinating multiple people’s schedules, as opposed to knocking them out formally over a single weekend,” he said. “Obviously, losing the real face-to-face interaction is a big one. It’s never just about the content of the conversations, but there’s also the aspect of getting a feel for a person that is so hard to replicate virtually. That’s been made especially difficult this year as there’s been no in-person contact at all with any prospects. Last year, you still had in-person interaction with the prospects at the East West Bowl and on-campus during visits prior to the end of 2019 that gave you a great baseline.”

There’s that term again: ‘face-to-face.’ You really have to wonder what that term will mean in the near future and when we’ll be truly face-to-face again.

Despite the challenges, Magri knows how the game is played as a veteran evaluator who has already seen the process take multiple different shapes.

“At the end of the day, it’s a competitive business,” Magri said. “Every team has the same restrictions, and the world is going through problems much worse than these, so we adapt as we need to so that we can be prepared to make the most informed decisions possible in order to win football games.”

No matter what happens over the next couple months, the CFL Draft process of 2021 is unlike anything players, coaches, and scouts have ever and hope to ever experience again.

How will Dwayne Cameron remember the draft in ten years?

“Well I hope it’s a story that I can start with ‘remember when…'” said Cameron. “This is my second draft as a draft coordinator, and neither have been ‘normal.’ I look forward to a time when we can attend the loop of regional combines and gather as a staff at the national combine once again.”

Us too, Dwayne, us too.

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