NFL News: Cincinnati Bengals Mourn the Passing of Bill Tobin

Bill Tobin, who was 83, joined the Bengals as a scouting consultant in 2003 and worked in the team’s player personnel department through 2022.

Bill Tobin, who built one of the NFL super teams before ending his 50-year career in the league as a friend and mentor in the young Bengals personnel department that helped shape one of the most recent Super Bowl teams, has died. He was 83.

Tobin, the father of Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, joined his son before the 2003 NFL Draft as an area scout after selecting eight Pro Football Hall-of-Famers during 27 years as an executive with the Bears, Colts and Lions.

A proud, grass-roots-old-school scout who watched 16-millimeter film of that first Hall-of-Famer Walter Payton on a locker-room wall at Jackson State in the fall of 1974, Tobin worked the Southeast and later the Midwest for the Bengals, as well as serving as a national cross-checker and a comforting sounding board into the decade of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase.

“He was a true NFL success story,” said Bengals President Mike Brown. “He was a good person and I considered him a good friend. With Bill, I respected everything he said. I just took it as a given. He had an eye for players and what they would develop into. If he said the guy was a good player, then he was a good player; that’s all I would need to know. We will miss him.”

Tobin is best known for being at the hub of a Chicago draft room that selected six Hall-of-Famers for the 1985 Bears juggernaut that wrecked the league with an 18-1 record on the way to winning the Super Bowl. And he wasn’t afraid to share his experiences with the young staff Duke Tobin has been developing this past decade.

“He taught me a lot. He taught a lot of scouts along the way. He’ll leave a lasting legacy,” said Bengals director of college scouting Mike Potts. “He did a lot of cross-checks on tape. There’s no more trusted eye in terms of evaluation. Not just with the Bengals, but I would say in the whole NFL. Just in the terms of his eye for talent.”

Director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic recalled Friday upon his arrival in 2012 from UCLA when Tobin took him into his office and showed him offensive line tape.

“He was one of the best. I was fortunate to start my career in the NFL with him as a mentor,” Radicevic said. “He took me under right away. Showed me how to evaluate players. I watched tape with him early on. He showed me what NFL players looked like. He shared his wisdom of the game and knowledge of it. He showed us his ways. I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Bill Tobin revealed his philosophy in a Feb. 20, 2016 Bengals.com story detailing Duke Tobin’s rise in the Bengals personnel department.

“I think the team out here is very similar to what we put out up there (in Chicago),” Bill Tobin said. “We didn’t have any bums. We may have had one, but that would have been an accident.

“They were smart. They were tough as nails. They were courageous. They were team oriented. They weren’t always the biggest. They weren’t always the fastest. But they were pretty damn smart and courageous, stable, and they liked the game.”

In the same story, Duke Tobin said of his father, “I’m proud to look at myself as an extension of him.

“We look at players the same way. We like guys that mean a lot to the teams they’re on. Guys who elevated the team. Gave maximum effort. Weed out the guys that play because they want to, not because they can.”

Bill Tobin grew up on a Missouri farm and when he went to Columbia to play running back for the University of Missouri, he met Dusene Vunovich, his future wife and Miss Missouri 1960. He was drafted in the 14th round by the 49ers in 1963, but played for the AFL Oilers for a year before playing in Canada for a few seasons. Packers new head coach Dan Devine, his coach at Missouri, then called him into the league and a scout was born.

“He loved to scout at his core,” Potts said. “A lot of people just want the end result. He loved the process and a lot of the minor details that go into the scouting process. He loved putting that work in and evaluating players and helping put the draft board together.

“The amount of experience and knowledge he had and the talent and skill that he had on top of his work ethic was unbelievable. Even the last year he was working. He was working as hard as anybody and very detailed for a guy like me, that rubs off on you. You can see why he was successful everywhere he went in his career.”

Tobin bridged the eras from carrying projectors on scouting trips to using a laptop to punch up video. He’s got a ninth Hall-of-Famer in the wings. Although he didn’t call the shot on Georgia tackle Geno Atkins in the fourth round in 2010, he scouted him early and often in his region and recommended him enthusiastically.

Bengals coaches also got along well with Tobin. In a 2020 Bengals.com story, former secondary coach Kevin Coyle recalled how they compared notes daily before the 2006 draft and the first-round selection of South Carolina cornerback Johnathan Joseph, a player who became a 15-year NFL standout.

“Bill Tobin always said the toughest position to evaluate is quarterbacks and corners coming off college tape,” Coyle said.

The no-nonsense man Coyle kiddingly called “Crusty,” had another side beyond the demanding detail man who detested what he viewed as non-essential personnel in the draft room. They just might spill the beans, he feared. He once told a wide-eyed employee, “We had guard dogs in Chicago,” but he said it with a smile.

“I can’t say enough good things about the guy and how he treated me as a mentor and a friend,” Potts said. “I learned a ton just being around him.”

On Friday, the Bengals held one of their last draft meetings in the run-up to next weekend’s event. Mike Brown couldn’t help notice the timing.

“He’d come into my office and we had a talk every year just about this time,” Brown said. “He had his list of the guys in his area. I would talk with him not just about the players, but I would ask him about some others. He had a background that was a little special because both of us went back in time and we could talk about the old-time guys that we saw and the impressions they made with us and we could make comparisons to the guys of today. It was fun.”

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