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Jordan Trgovac creating her own path as a scout
As a scouting assistant, she's learning the evaluation business from the ground up, while being grounded in Panthers history herself.
By Darin Gantt Nov 09, 2022

CHARLOTTE — There have been dozens of moments over the last six months when you could tell Jordan Trgovac was becoming a scout. When you watched how focused she was when some of the older evaluators were teaching her how they broke down tape, or how detailed she was as she learned to write reports, or how organized she was as she planned schedules to cover so much ground. The way she gravitates to the more senior members of her department, and the way she watches practices, you can tell she's looking at the game differently.

But the moment you probably should have realized she might be destined for this kind of work was when she was in middle school and told the Panthers defensive linemen who wandered into the cafeteria for breakfast to beat it.

These days, Jordan Trogvac's screens are full of college tape from area schools in her job as a scouting assistant, the entry-level job in the personnel department, where she's laying the foundational blocks of learning the football evaluation business.

But the mortar for those bricks is kind of in her veins already since she grew up in the business and literally grew up in the building. Her father is former Panthers defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, who worked here from 2002-08, so she knows the offices and hallways of this stadium from the time she was in second grade. And since her dad handled some of the biggest dudes with the biggest personalities in the locker room, freezing them in their tracks when they wanted to take the remote away to watch highlights in the morning suggests there's something inside this kid that you don't necessarily want to mess with.

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"We'd go down cafeteria and eat breakfast, and the TVs in there just had regular shows on them," she recalled. "Dad said I'd Bogart the TV, and players would come in and say, 'Can you put it on ESPN or NFL Network?' And I'd say, 'No, we're watching SpongeBob; go away.'"

There are a couple of layers inside that story that serve Jordan Trgovac well.

First, she's used to the long hours endemic to the NFL lifestyle, because that year, she'd get up with her dad at 4:30 or so in the morning, ride in from their home by the lake in Albemarle, and arrive at the stadium at 5:30 or 6. She'd have a few good hours to nap or study and then get breakfast before she went to school at Holy Trinity, so the stadium became a second home.

Secondly, since those were years when the Panthers were known for their lines, that meant walking the halls (and lording over the remote) alongside cats like Julius Peppers and Brentson Bucker and Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins. She might be slight — it's a tall, athletic frame now, but remember, she was a kid then — but she wasn't going to be pushed around. By anyone.

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Thirdly, it's the way she prefaced the story, in a way you can tell is central to her personality, and why she's back in Carolina taking the first steps in her scouting career here when other teams wanted to hire her to leave the public relations department to learn the football business from the other side.

"Dad likes this story," she said with a grin as she began, and if you've ever been around Mike Trgovac, you know he does, and not just because his baby girl has him wrapped around her finger. You can tell because the former Michigan defensive lineman and longtime NFL assistant coach, a guy with nearly 40 years of coaching experience and a Super Bowl ring from Green Bay, wanted to train his daughter up to win one of her own.

Jordan got that ring when she was working in public relations with the Chiefs, but you can tell there's not just a little pride that she's back on the football side now, taking the first steps in what she's hoping is a long journey in the sport she already has so many years in.

There are plenty of sons who follow their fathers into the football business. There are far fewer daughters who do, and she understands the benefit of the networking, while doing everything she can to make it on her own.

"I don't tell people who I am, but because of my last name you can't really hide it. It would be easier if it was a normal last name or a common one," Trgovac said (it's pronounced TUR-go-vac, and it's Croatian, and certainly not a name that blends in). "But I very much wanted to go into the league and do a good job on my own, and basically, my dad would always say, as long as people want to keep you around must be doing something right.

"The amount of people who come up to me and talk about what a great person he is, I want people to say that to him. That's been the goal, I think, is to make him proud."

Of course, before the 28-year-old was able to follow in her father's footsteps in the world of professional football, she was often creating a path of her own.

Her parents kept her in sports throughout her childhood. It was gymnastics at first, starting when she was 2.

"Was I good? Probably as good as a 4-year-old could be," she said with a laugh. "But then I started growing, and I was too tall, so my parents were like, 'She's not going to be an Olympian; let's move her into the next thing.'"

That meant the usual cycle of kid sports, playing soccer and basketball and volleyball, before she found her talent for softball, playing in the rec leagues in Pineville and eventually on travel teams. She ended up a recruited walk-on at the College of Charleston, but begs you not to look up her stats (the run totals were better than the batting average, let's leave it at that).

Still, she's comfortable in a room full of athletes, and it's been her context her as long as she's been alive. So after she graduated from Charleston with a degree in communications in 2016, she worked as a training camp intern with the Chiefs that fall (hired by executive vice president of communications Ted Crews, who was working in PR for the Panthers when she was in charge of the cafeteria remote). After that camp, she bounced through jobs with USA Football and the American Junior Golf Association, before the Chiefs brought her back as a full-season PR intern and then hired her the following year.

In PR, she wrote a lot, dealt with media requests, and set up interviews with players. During the Chiefs' Super Bowl run in 2019, when they were getting plenty of attention, Crews had no problem passing off the defensive side of the ball to her, knowing she had some experience getting linemen in line. She also picked up a master's in sports industry management from Georgetown along the way, continuously adding to her toolbox.

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"First off, she's brilliant. She's extremely smart, the kind of innately smart that you can't teach," Crews said. "She's also not afraid of anybody, but in a good way. She has a feel for people that you can't teach or coach. Good instincts for people and players alike.

"She's also fearless, and has a great way about herself. When you encounter a unique situation, it's about knowing when to be around, when to be in the background, when to speak, and when not to speak. Questions to ask, and when not to ask questions. The subtle things she gets."

Other people in the building began noticing it too, even as she began to miss her family back home.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach was working on some new programs, and developing what would become the Norma Hunt Fellowship, a training camp internship program named for the team's matriarch, to develop a deeper pool of diverse candidates. He had gotten to know Trgovac over the years when she was nearby in the PR office, and there was something about her the scout in him latched onto.

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"I read through all the criteria for the Norma Hunt Fellowship, and I was thinking out loud one day, and I said, 'This sounds like Jordan,'" Veach said. "With her athletic background, she's been around football, she's experienced different departments, she is where scouting is headed.

"I thought, any time Jordan had come around our side of the building, it was always a positive response. We were interviewing, hoping to find certain things, and Jordan was right in our building. So I was like, let me run it by her. The person we're trying to find is right here."

By that time, in the spring of 2021, the Panthers had offered her a job back here in the PR department (the links between the Panthers and Chiefs PR departments run deep, through their mutual links to Charlie Dayton), and she accepted.

"So I really appreciated it because Brett saw something in me, and he had really been trying for a while. But I just wanted to come home," she said. "He always told me, 'When you're done being homesick, you can come back.'"

Veach laughed and confirmed that, and said he didn't think she'd be long for the PR world, since he's friends with Panthers GM Scott Fitterer.

"It's funny, I told her, when you go out there, you're going to end up in the personnel department, and I'll come and get you in a couple of years," Veach said. "It's kind of like scouting a player. When you got to know her, you kind of had a vision of how she'd help the organization in the years down the road."

That time may come. But right now, she's busy learning the particulars of the business she's seemingly always been on the fringes of, back in the place she's most familiar with.

During training camp in 2021, she worked alongside Fitterer as a PR liasion, and he got an immediate sense that Veach might have been onto something. Trgovac talked to a few people in personnel over the course of that year, and those conversations ramped up around this year's draft.

Immediately afterward, vice president of player personnel Pat Stewart emailed her to see if she had a minute to talk.

"I was like, am I in trouble? I don't think I've done anything on that side of the building to get in trouble," she recalled. "He asked, are you seriously trying to do this? And I said, yeah. And here we are."

Once they got her on that side of the building, the process of teaching a person with an innate eye how to become a scout began.

At that point, most of the film she had watched was with her father, but it wasn't just dad-daughter bonding time. He realized that when he was preparing for a draft one year with the Packers, and they were watching tape together, and she mentioned that a certain prospect was "stiff in the hips," one of those phrases football people use to describe an athlete who isn't necessarily fluid. She was right.

"She knew what was going on," her father said simply.

But the Panthers had to develop that kind of instinct from the ground up.

Throughout the spring and summer, national scout Jared Kirksey spent days on end in the office with her (he usually works outside the building), teaching the mechanics of watching film and writing reports. As it turns out, her background in PR helped with that, because communicating clearly isn't a thing that comes naturally to everyone.

"Anyone we bring in as a scout, we can teach them how we want them to scout," Stewart said. "You watch the tape, and whatever you see on tape is what you write. But having the humility to do that is probably the most important part of that. She knows what she doesn't know, and she asks questions. Just like all the other guys down there too. We're pretty lucky with all those scouting assistants; they're all pretty good.

"It's literally telling them, write what you see. Here's the grade scale, here are the factors we look for, here are the skills we need from each position. Watch the tape and tell me if they do those things, and where they do them, and if you think they can bring something to our team."

Stewart invoked the "10,000-hour" concept Malcolm Gladwell wrote about, saying her years of being around her dad and practices and players have given her an insight a lot of young scouts don't have.

"You see enough of it, you can tell what's good and what's not," Stewart said.

So now, they're developing her alongside a group of young scouts, and she's no different than any of the rest of them. She shows up early, she stays late (it's not uncommon for people in the business to eat all three meals a day in that cafeteria), and she builds her portfolio.

The Panthers have sent her out to a few schools already, some smaller schools where she might be the only set of eyes, and some where they have more players (places like Appalachian State or Liberty) where she's the second set.

She got to see some familiar territory on her first trip in August, when she went to Charleston Southern and The Citadel. Still, it was her first solo mission, so she called her father for some quick pointers, even though she used to bristle when he tried to coach her as a young softball player ("You coach the Panthers, you don't coach me, leave me alone," she'd say to him).

"I called my dad right before, and he didn't answer. So I called my mom (Angela), and said I was trying to get dad so he could give me a pep talk, and she was like, 'You'll be fine; go, he's golfing.' He called me after, and it was great. He loves to hear about everything."

Asked what she was hoping to hear from her father that day, she said: "I don't know. Dad's a coach, so he's good at coaching you up and telling you you're doing a good job; that's like his way of doing things. Mom is the other way; just go do it. Dad is good at making you think you're going to be good at whatever you do."

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Though she's new, it appears she is beginning to make a mark. In the small office among her peers, she fits in easily, giving it as well as she takes it, puzzling over the riddles fellow scouting assistant David Cobb writes each day on the whiteboard, and busting chops like the rest of the guys in there.

But she's not just one of the guys. Not in this business. While she's not the first female scout in the NFL, she still stands out in a crowd.

Samantha Rapoport, the NFL's senior director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, said that there are 33 women working in full-time scouting roles this year, a 9 percent increase from last season. And that group includes some standouts, such as Browns assistant general manager Catherine Raiche, but it's still very much a male-dominated profession.

Trgovac realized that when she was on the sidelines at East Carolina earlier this year, and she felt a set of eyes on her.

"I saw this lady taking a picture," Trgovac recalled. "Usually, I just move, figuring if we're around players, they're taking pictures of other people. I didn't say anything, just looked at her, and she said, 'I think it's so cool that you're a female scout.' I was like, 'Yeah, thanks, it's cool, I guess.' That was the weirdest thing at the moment.

"There are definitely girls out there doing it; it's just one of those things a lot of us don't think we can even get into it. Most people think you have to at least have played football in high school. You think in your head, and I've thought it too, what do I really know about it? How am I going to evaluate something I've never done? But there are coaches who have never played, and other personnel people who have never played. It's just about learning and having people teach you.

"I don't know that I'd say seeing other women do it made me want to do it, but I guess if seeing me do it makes another woman want to do it, then that's cool."

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Again, she's not a novelty anymore, there are other people doing what she does. But she still gets looks sometimes from people at schools where she's scouting, who ask if she's some kind of athletic training intern, or where exactly she fits in.

She can laugh that off without offense, because as confident as she is — and if you're willing to stare down Julius Peppers over the remote, you have confidence — she also knows she's very new at this.

That humility to know she is still learning is something her bosses see as a positive and not a negative.

"I think what's really helped her was being born into it, and being around the game. She's not in awe of anything, she understands the game as a coach's daughter, and her work ethic," Fitterer said. "What really separates her is her ability to be no B-S and get to people and connect with people. If you ask her a question, you're going to get an answer. She's polite, she's polished, but she's got the ability. If you send her to a school for a visit, she can sit with someone, connect with them, have a conversation, get the background.

"She understands the questions she's asking. She probably has more football knowledge than some scouts on the road who have been out there for a couple years, having grown up around it."

And that part of it is something that's just inside her. Veach compared it to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whose father was a Major League Baseball pitcher.

"When you grow up in it, you take a little of that fan element out of it," the Chiefs GM said. "The business is just ingrained in her. A lot of first-time people in sports can be starstruck.

"It's not one of those things with her. Her demeanor, when she's around the guys, they know she means business. And whatever you give her, she'll find a way to do it."

These days, that means writing reports on small school players, guys who could end up later-round picks, or undrafted free agents. And the more reports she's written, the more feedback she's asking for (without being high-maintenance, because again, she understands her position here from being in the industry for so long). One day, she asked Kirksey directly — because that's her style — if her reports were good enough.

"At the end of the day, that's why we're here, to make the team better. So if my reports suck, what's the point of me being here?" she said.

Around her, she's found a network of people who want her to succeed and have helped her, whether it's Kirksey teaching her the team's method for writing those reports, to assistant general manager Dan Morgan watching practice beside her and pointing things out. Around her, there are plenty of people trying to teach her as much as they can because they think she has a valuable perspective.

She's asked the difference between a good scouting report and a bad scouting report.

"A bad report is one where you read it, and you don't know how the person feels about the player," Trgovac said. "It's like, does she like this person, or not like this person? Is this person a second-round pick, is he a UDFA? What is the player's value to the team, and would we draft this person or not? Is he a good person?

"Dan gave me examples from when he was in other places that were not good. Basically, it's being vague in what you're trying to say. You have to be clear about what you're seeing and what you're saying."

Those who know her know this is seldom a problem for Trgovac. For all the things she's good at, she doesn't necessarily suffer fools gladly.

"Yeah, that's not really an issue with me," she admits.

"She minces no words. Everybody can't handle that," Crews said. "It's written all over her face. You don't have to guess what she thinks about you. She might not have a good poker face, but she's a great teammate."

Stewart laughs when it's mentioned that Trgovac appears to have a fully functioning B-S detector and quickly agrees.

"But if you have a good B-S detector," Stewart said, "you probably have a no-nonsense person who can make quick decisions and well-thought-out decisions, and you're able to make an evaluation on what a person or player is, and how they fit into the big picture of things."

And that's what the Panthers are hoping to see out of her in the future, as they give her new things to learn, and new ways to add to the organization. And they expect she'll continue to work humbly yet confident in her own abilities.

"I don't think I feel the need to let people know I know what I'm talking about, but I think that's more of a personality trait," she said. "I'm more the kind of person who just does my work, and people will see if it's good. But yeah, it feels good when you do an advance or put a report in, and someone says you did a good job."

Asked about her ultimate goals and whether she allows herself to dream about becoming a GM or a scouting director someday, and she shrugs. She is, as you might have guessed by now, kind of matter-of-fact about the whole future thing.

"I just want to do really, really well at whatever I'm doing and keep growing and maturing at that," Trgovac said. "There are only 32 general managers in the league. That's really, really hard. If that's your goal, that's great. But it can also be disappointing if you never hit it.

"I think just continuing to grow and get more responsibility and see where it takes me, honestly."

That approach is the one you have to take, especially when you're an entry-level worker in a field full of people who are also willing to do whatever is asked of them. It's the approach of someone who gets it.

People have noticed.

When she was still in Kansas City working in PR, her dad (that guy she just wanted to make proud) was talking to one of her Chiefs co-workers.

"He told me, 'I've never been around a young woman who gets it like she does,'" the father, who is indeed proud, said. "'She knows how to act when you win, she knows how to act when you lose, she's not intimidated by the players, she knows how to talk to them. She gets it.'

"I said, 'Thanks, she was about 6 months old when I got in the league, so she's been around it her whole life.'"

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