Ryan Summerlin June 11, 2013
As Nathan Washington sits at his kitchen table in Park City, laptop closed and set aside on top of a thick red place mat, his cell phone lights up constantly, signaling numerous incoming calls.
Such is the life of a professional football general manager. Washington, who is serving as the general manager for the Utah Argonauts, an NFL-style outdoor football team in the Professional Developmental Football League, gets innumerable calls each day from current players, coaches, other GMs, NFL scouts, players looking to catch on with the team, etc.
Washington couldn’t have imagined what he was getting into when he was approached at a Walmart a couple months ago.
"I saw the team chaplain, Steve Gordon, who’s a friend of mine," he said. "He asked me what I was doing and told me about the team. But we’ve seen a lot of semipro teams come and go, and I didn’t know if that was going to be the deal (with the Argonauts) or not. So I didn’t really pay much attention."
But things quickly changed when he realized exactly what he was dealing with.
"(Gordon) got me an interview with the owners and the head football coach, JJ Fayed," he said. "And they brought me on as the general manager."
Washington hit the ground running, selling tickets, generating fan interest and signing players.
Though keeping a roster intact is nearly impossible in a league like the PDFL, which is in its first year and features four teams this year with plans for eight new teams to take the field next year, Washington is confident in the work the Argonauts have done thus far.
"I like to think we’ve got the best roster in the league," he said. "We had two guys play a preseason game with us and then get picked up by Sweden and the CFL (Canadian Football League). So obviously, we’re bringing in the right guys."
He said he’d rather have talented players who come and go instead of lesser players who stay with the team for several seasons.
"It makes it challenging in that there are a lot of guys that we could bring in that have no college experience, that aren’t going to go anywhere, that are going to live in Utah and are going to play football for 15 years that’s a semipro guy," he said. "Or, you can take that step up to a guy that’s played college ball and maybe has some life issues or maybe he got screwed up with the law somehow and maybe didn’t have the quick feet when he first came out of college."
When signing former college players, Washington said he tries to sell the prospects on the chance to move up the football ladder.
"The selling point to us is the connections," he said. "We have 27 NFL teams that will accept us and look at our talent. We have eight NFL teams actively seeking talent from us via email, phone calls whatever it may be."
Washington’s own football career has taken him all over the country, from college ball in Missouri to stops in Southern California, Houston, Boise and Utah.
His playing career finally ended when, after a bout with pneumonia that caused him to lose weight, he injured himself in a tryout.
"I tried out for the Utah Blaze," he said. "I tore up my shoulder pretty bad, so I was pretty much done (with playing football) by 2008."
After that, he took up coaching at Murray High School from 2009 to 2011, followed by a brief stint as a scout for the Florida Tarpons of the Ultimate Indoor Football League.
"It opened up a whole new part of the game I never really realized," he said of the scouting position.
Now, with the Argonauts, Washington is trying to balance football with his other business, Benefit Professor (a company that specializes in customized videos for professionals and employee plans), and spending time with his wife, Amanda, and his four children.
Though he said an NFL job is a long-term goal, he’s focusing on the here and now, trying to make sure the Argonauts become a fixture in Utah.
"We look at it as an area to expand into that’s never been in Utah, and that’s professional football," he said.
At the end of the day, he knows winning will be the best way to make sure the team’s popularity continues to grow and the Argos can find a permanent stadium to call home.
"We’ve had people approach us here in Salt Lake County about building a stadium," he said. (The Argos currently play at the Judge Memorial High School field.) "But winning the PDFL Super Bowl in the first year would be huge."
The Utah Argonauts next home game is on Saturday against the Boise Bandits. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Go to www.utahargos.com for tickets or for more information.