While the NIC (National Invitational Camp) Combine was created for college prospects to receive medical examinations in one central location, it has evolved into something bigger. Besides the medical exams, the prospects are put through workouts, interviews and psychological testing, too.

The combine breaks the interview sessions into three stages. 1. Video interviews done by NIC personnel lasting up to 10 minutes (sometime longer depending on the response to the questioning). NFL coaches and personnel are not allowed in these sessions. 2. Interviews conducted by coaches only lasting 15 minutes. A horn blows sending players in a rotation to the next table (a scout is standing by to escort him to the team in waiting). 3. Teams talk to their top 60 prospects at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. These are the private interviews with the head coach, general manager and other team personnel. These sessions are timed, and a horn blows at the 13-minute mark (telling the coaches it’s time to wrap it up) and a second horn two minutes later. At that point, the player is released and a club rep walks him to the next interview session.

All 32 teams get a jump on the interview process in January during All-Star games such as the Cactus Bowl, East-West Shrine, Senior Bowl and the Texas vs. Nation Bowl. Clubs assign positions to their scouting staffs and a list of questions to ask, which starts the process of confirming any and all information they received on the school visits from their sources.

At the Senior Bowl, teams rent out ballrooms and arrange tables and chairs in semi-circles throughout the room. They have large easels or white boards brought in for the interview sessions and placed at each table. These are used to test the prospect’s ability to teach the coach some of their favorite plays regardless of the position.

The main focus of the interview sessions at the NIC is the top 60 interviews. While many of the teams work to get the edge on the others, some use it as a strategic tool. Some teams don’t get to the limit of 60. Others only interview all early-out juniors with a few seniors.

Other teams use this session as a “get to know you” period, asking questions about family, girlfriends, college coaches and relationships. Other questions that could be asked include: Who was the best player you every played against? Who is the best player on your team? If a player has any off-field issues or major medical issues, this is the time when those questions are asked.

Some teams really do it right. They grill the players with video cameras in the room. They watch college game tapes and ask questions wanting a quick response. They also put them on the white board, asking them to teach the staff a favorite play. Once they are done the position coach gets up and draws out a play. For example: An offensive play with a defensive front opposite. The coach sets up a run play, blocking the defensive front while explaining all 11 players’ responsibility. Then the coach erases the play and asks the player to redraw the complete play with blocking assignments. The coach is looking for total play recall.

While it is very tough to get a true gauge on a prospect’s personality in 15 minutes, it is a very important step of the process that must take place. The prospect receives coaching like people preparing for an interview at IBM receive assistance from the headhunter in interview situations. This is no different for the agent and the player. The problem is they get over-coached and their answers are not sincere. As an executive you then spend a lot of time sifting through information they give you.

Some players pull it off pretty good while others are nervous and uncomfortable in the interview process. I’ve seen bubbly personalities take over the room and the coaches never even get to ask a single question. I’ve seen others come in and start sweating, avoiding eye contact throughout the entire session.

There are former general managers and personnel men that have formed developmental camps or prep schools to prepare prospects for what lies ahead of them. They have the prospects practice the Wonderlic test multiple times. These camps/schools teach the prospect how to dress and present himself while preparing the player to blow the coaches away in the interview process with their personalities and presentation.

I’ve enjoyed going to the NIC in my 15 years as an NFL executive. The Combine is really about the players. It is a special time for them. They are out of their comfort zone and you really get to see them in a different light.