12:47 AM, May 31, 2011
When Brian Gaine was a fifth-grader and playing for the Orangetown Patriots, he rode the bench for most of his very first season in organized football. It could have been the end for him. He was scrawny, couldn't find his way onto the field and very nearly saw his career derailed before it ever got going.He didn't quit, though. Stayed with it. And in his second year, as a sixth-grader, he went from bench-warmer to a starting spot. "My football career took off from there," he says now, laughing.
Truth is, it has. And all along the way, whether it was in Pearl River or at Don Bosco High School or the University of Maine and on into the NFL and its team front offices, Gaine has followed the same script: Start at the absolute lowest point, grind and grind and grind some more before somehow, some way, finding a path to the top.
"Every step I've taken in football, I've started at the bottom and worked my way up," he says. "I've never known any other way."
Gaine is talking from his offices in South Florida. He has worked for the Miami Dolphins for four years, following one of his mentors, Bill Parcells, there when Parcells left the Cowboys for the Dolphins.
Recently, Gaine was promoted to director of player personnel, which means he oversees all potential player acquisitions, whether through the draft, free agency or anything else. Essentially, Gaine is constantly evaluating players, forever trying to decide whether a player is capable of helping the Dolphins win.
"If any player is honest with their skill set and their ability, you immediately see what is good and what is not and what is right down the middle," Gaine says. "From being a former player to now, once you come into the business and see how players are evaluated, it can be an eye-opener. It's comprehensive and expansive."
Fortunately for Gaine, he always reveled in the "cerebral" side of the game, he says. While some of his teammates at Maine might grumble about more video work or pregame scouting of the opponent, Gaine loved it.
He grew up physically at Don Bosco, going from a 6-foot, 150-pounder as a freshman to a 6-4, 220-pound tight end by graduation, but his mental development peaked at Maine. Playing under Kirk Ferentz (now at Iowa), Gaine devoured game plans and schemes and formations, soaking up as much knowledge as he could about how players and teams were judged.After graduation, he ended up on the Jets' practice squad in 1996 and the Giants' practice squad in 1997. Though he never played in a game in the NFL, he did have the opportunity to work out with former Giants tight end Mark Bavaro — a hero of Gaine's growing up — when Bavaro was a guest coach for the Giants.
"Just to be around him was amazing," Gaine says. "I was like a sponge just trying to soak it all up."
As it turned out, that might have been the high point of his playing career. Gaine tried again in '98, but was waived by the Chiefs before training camp and turned his attention to the next stage of his life. Even if he couldn't play, he had decided, he wanted to work in football anyway.
"I knew it would hard," he says. "But I also knew everything that I'd done before it had been hard."
It was always the same story. From string bean to standout at Bosco. At Maine, he'd been an afterthought as an underclassmen; by senior year, he was a captain. Now he was just going to do it again. He started with the Jets in the college scouting department in 1999, working his way up to pro scout and then assistant director of pro scouting by 2004.
"I still remember what (Parcells) told me when I became a pro scout," he says. "He said, 'The opportunity is all up to you now.' And it was. I had to make something of it."
He followed Parcells to Dallas in 2005, then stayed a year after Parcells left before heading to Florida. When he arrived, he was the assistant director of player personnel, and his only purview was pro scouting; with this promotion, he is the "umbrella," he says, over all the available prospects for the Dolphins.
It has been an amazing ride, one that started 14 years ago when Gaine's playing career ended. He was at the bottom then, just like he'd been so many other times before. Now he is near the top. Again. All that is left, really, is being a general manager, and Gaine hesitates when he's asked about it. Right now, he says, he just wants to be the best director of player personnel he can be. The future will take care of itself.
Finally he admits it would interest him, would be something he'd like to try someday. "But I wouldn't just want to be a general manger," he says. "I'd want to be the general manager of a champion."
He quotes Parcells again. "There's either winning or misery," he says.
"That's the way this business is. And if you want to win, the only way to do it is to work hard."
Gaine knows that better than anyone. Just look at his history. He's been doing it his entire life.