In May of 2013, University of Washington’s women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors contacted Randall Edens and asked if he would be interested in a summer job.
A WNBA team was looking for a regional scout in Seattle, and Neighbors thought Edens — a teacher and the girls basketball coach at Lake Stevens High School — would be a good candidate for the position.
“He’s a guy with connections,” said Edens, who became acquainted with Neighbors after Neighbors joined the UW staff as an assistant coach in 2011. “Somebody reached out to him from Atlanta and he knew I was interested in looking at some different things.”
Intrigued, Edens followed up on the tip and wound up with a summer job that “is a perfect fit for being a teacher and a high school coach.”
The team turned out to be the Atlanta Dream and Edens became the franchise’s regional scout for the remainder of the 2013 season. The WNBA regular season runs from May through August.
As the WNBA playoffs approached in August, a second team contacted Edens. Word had spread that he was scouting for Atlanta. The Los Angeles Sparks had a similar need and reached out to Edens. Already enjoying the work he was doing for the Dream, he didn’t hesitate to add a second client.
The Dream went on to advance to the WNBA Finals, losing to Minnesota. After the season, the Dream declined to renew the contract of head coach Fred Williams, who took over as coach of the Tulsa Shock.
Williams was impressed enough with Edens’ work to hire him again.
“He knows what I want and he knows what to look for,” Williams said. “His work has been very efficient for us. When you get someone who’s really thorough getting the information back to you, you want to kind of keep somebody like that around and have him gain some knowledge himself on the pro side of things.
“He does a pretty good job for us.”
The information teams want varies. Edens said the Sparks were interested only in play calls, both verbal and physical. The Dream were looking for a more detailed report or, as Edens called it, “anything I can scribble down.” Offensive sets, defensive sets, player tendencies, what teams run at certain points in the game — the Dream wanted it all.
“Anything that can kind of give them an inside edge, they’re after,” Edens said. “I love that stuff. That’s my favorite thing to do during the (school) season with our kids, watching film, breaking stuff down and (creating) scouting reports, so it was right up my alley.”
Edens enjoyed his new summer job so much that this year he reached out to other WNBA teams before the season. The Chicago Sky and Washington Mystics responded and enlisted his services.
“I know he’s done it for other teams and there’s kind of a community in our league that if a guy has done it for somebody else, then he would probably be all right and you can use him,” Mystics assistant coach Eric Thibault said.
Edens currently works for Washington, Chicago and Tulsa, and is scheduled to do some late-season scouting for Los Angeles. He’s paid on a game-by-game basis. The amount varies from team to team. On a few occasions he’s received payment from multiple teams for the same game. For instance, when Seattle played Minnesota on June 6 at KeyArena, Edens scouted the Lynx for Chicago and the Storm for Tulsa.
“The biggest thing I’m looking for from him is to be able to give us the play calls of the team we’re having him scout — the signal or the verbal call and then the time it occurs, so that later on when we go back and match it up with the video and with our notes, (we can) compare it and make sure we’ve got everything accurate,” Thibault said.
“Also, since Randall is a coach who knows the game, I’ll ask him to give any other information he can about defensive coverages that the other team is choosing, or anything that we can’t get while watching the video. So, anything he sees in person, communication during a timeout, or something that he hears the bench yell or communicate that wouldn’t come across on TV.”
Edens evaluates his performance, in part, by how the teams he’s scouting fare. “I always feel a little responsible if they don’t go out and beat the team I was scouting for them,” he said.
Working for multiple teams isn’t considered a conflict of interest because scouts simply relay the information they see on the floor. They don’t directly affect the outcome of the games.
“I’m not associated with anybody specifically,” Edens said. “I just kind of feel like I’m a free contractor.”
During games, Edens takes frantic notes that aren’t legible to the average person. After the game, he watches the contest again on a DVD provided by the Storm. The second viewing helps him make sense of his original notes and prepare a legible copy for the team.
“I have to go back over it and hand write it out much neater than what I’m penciling down,” he said.
For someone with a coaching background like Edens, understanding what is happening on the floor isn’t a problem. Keeping up with what’s happening during the game, and jotting it all down, is the bigger challenge.
“You’ve got to have your head on a swivel a little bit during the game,” Thibault said. “You’ve got to be able to watch the coach and watch the point guard and be able to process any adjustments. It’s not as easy as it may seem even if the end result doesn’t seem super-complicated.
“It helps having experience and knowing where to look for stuff.”
The communication between Edens and the teams takes place predominantly through email, though Thibault said he contacts Edens over the phone if he has any additional questions.
Teams are able to use the information Edens provides in three ways: developing a written scouting report on opponents, team film study and at practice.
Just how valuable the information the scouts provide is up for debate, but Thibault and Williams agree it plays a role in a team’s success.
“You always want to be fully prepared and that’s a big part of being fully prepared,” Thibault said. “You don’t want to look back after a game and say, ‘Man, if only we knew what play was coming right there.’
“It can cost you a game — maybe you lose a game by one basket, that’s all it takes.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.