How Denison is developing a pro football pipeline

issue 01 | summer 2024
Denison's Football team

Brian Mason ’09 — Special Teams Coordinator — Indianapolis Colts

Sam Fioroni ’13 — Pro Scout — New England Patriots

Max Paulus ’13 — Director of College Scouting — Cleveland Browns

Matt Iammarino ’18 — Asst. Developer and Analytical Researcher — Tennessee Titans

Noble Landry ’18 — Asst. Strength and Conditioning Coach — Chicago Bears

Anthony Rooney ‘22 — Scouting Intern — Pittsburgh Steelers 

Sam Secrest ’23 — External Film Analyst — Cleveland Browns

Denison football coach Jack Hatem can’t promise recruits a chance to play in the NFL. He can, however, show them evidence of former Big Red players working in the league.

As part of its presentation to recruits, the coaching staff has created a photo illustration of the university’s pipeline to the NFL. It features the faces of seven alums, working in various capacities, who were employed by pro franchises as of spring 2024.

While its greatest claim to football fame remains legendary college coach Woody Hayes ’35, Denison has made significant NFL inroads since Hatem’s arrival in 2005.

“It speaks to the type of program Coach Hatem has built,” said Max Paulus ’13, director of college scouting for the Cleveland Browns. “We tend to look out for one another, even well after graduation. And the truth is, there are people in everyone’s career that help them break through in a competitive industry.”

Hatem, the Big Red’s second all-time winningest coach, is proud of the connections his staff and former players have fostered. The university’s head coach since 2010 uses the NFL hook as a recruiting tool, understanding that some athletes would love to stay in the game after graduation.

The combination of a liberal arts education — one that develops critical-thinking and problem-solving skills — and the alumni network’s willingness to help current players find jobs gives Denison an NFL advantage over many Division III programs.

Sam Fioroni ’13, a pro scout for the New England Patriots, is a testament to Denison’s connections. The economics major was working as a financial representative for Northwest Mutual while admittedly spending too many hours on ESPN’s website reading about football.

After reaching out to Hatem, Fioroni received a call from Brian Mason ’09, now the special teams coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts.

“Brian gave me good advice as I was trying to get out of a career in the insurance business,” Fioroni recalled. “I started putting out hundreds of resumes.”

Fioroni and Paulus are good friends and former Big Red teammates. Through a contact, Paulus helped his buddy land an assistant coaching job at the University of Chicago in 2014. A year later, Paulus connected Fioroni with the Browns, who put him to work on an analytics project. The club was so happy with Fioroni’s performance it offered him a scouting internship, which led to a role as a scouting assistant and later a scouting coordinator.

The Browns recently added another Big Red alum, Sam Secrest ’23, as an external film analyst.

“Under Coach Hatem, players develop a trust and belief in one another,” Fioroni said. “Max stuck his neck out for me, and I’ll never forget that. Nowadays, I pick up the phone anytime Coach Hatem calls about one of his players who’s expressing an interest in scouting.”

Matt Iammarino ’18, an assistant developer and analytical football researcher for the Tennessee Titans, shares a similar story.

Iammarino was working as a software engineer in 2020 when Noble Landry ’18, now an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Chicago Bears, invited his former teammate to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. While scouting draft-eligible college talent is the combine’s primary function, it doubles as pro football’s largest annual job fair, the city’s bars and hotel lobbies teeming with gridiron go-getters looking to engage NFL personnel.

Landry, employed by the Colts at the time, offered Iammarino his couch and incredible access. A year later, Iammarino started his position with the Titans.

“Noble and I have talked about how we were grateful for our experience at Denison and how it helped us get to where we wanted to go,” said Iammarino, a computer science major.

Denison is believed to have the most former players working in the NFL from NCAC schools. Its total is likely to rise, and not just because former players are willing to pass along resumes and recommendations to NFL employers. Qualified data analysts are in high demand around the league, and the university’s burgeoning data analytics program is becoming a powerful launching pad for careers.

Mason, a history and economics double major, said the liberal arts environment turns students into problem solvers. Paulus, another history and economics double major, added that adaptability is crucial in the NFL, where turnover in personnel and pivots in organizational philosophies are commonplace.

Paulus has worked under five Browns’ general managers since 2013.

“In any profession, there’s a learning curve,” he said. “But especially in pro sports, where you are constantly being evaluated and experiencing shifts in leadership. The liberal arts experience exposes you to multiple disciplines and various ways of thinking, which allows you to be more pliable and adjust to different leadership.”

Published May 2024
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