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My Friend Jake

Dan Shonka

Jake Hallum The scouting and coaching professions lost one of its truly great members this week with the passing of John Jacob Hallum. We all knew him by his nickname “Jake”. Jake was genuinely one of the good guys from head to toe. When you were Jake’s friend, you were always a priority in his life and he was always looking out for you. He supported you and encouraged you when you were feeling down, and uplifted and kept you focused on the positive side of life. Simply put, he was there for you. Jake was a positive life force. I always loved listening to Jake because he imparted worthwhile opinions and valuable wisdom. Jake loved everything about football – the smell of newly cut grass on the practice fields, the early morning practices, the film study, player evaluations, the late night meetings, and most of all the camaraderie with the players and coaches.

When Jake visited a college he knew the coaches and they gave him the “sweet feed” about a prospective player. Jake mentioned several times about the staff meetings with Jerry Claiborne at Maryland and Kentucky that Coach Claiborne would pass out Snickers candy bars to the coaches while they were studying tape and talking football. Jake and I kept the tradition alive when he got into the NFL.

Jake had a little kid’s Christmas present anticipation type enthusiasm and excitement each and every fall heading into a new football season. It has been said if you find something you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Jake was passionate about his job and was a self-motivator whether he was coaching or scouting. He gave numerous animated clinics to young scouts on what to look for in potential NFL linemen. Jake would search every college, university, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse to find a player to help his team win. He loved the feeling of being a contributing member of an organization. Jake was a blue blood NFL scout with a coaching background that knew no clock, no boundaries, and no calendar to find the best players.

While an Eagle scout, Jake went to bat for Brian Dawkins and mentioned to defensive coordinator, Emmitt Thomas, that the smart, big hitting Clemson corner would make a great safety. In New England Jake campaigned long-time Patriot offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and Bill Belichick for tackle Matt Light. Light helped Jake win three Super Bowl rings as a Patriot scout. Jake was not only a keen-eyed talent evaluator on the NFL level, but as a college coach he recruited and coached Steeler and NFL Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson at Kentucky and Detroit Lion Kevin Glover at Maryland. In 1995, 1996, and 1997 both of Hallum’s centers made the Pro Bowl.

If Jake recruited you he took care of you like you were one of his own sons. As an incoming linebacker at Maryland, Bobby DePaul reported to camp with shoulder length hair. Before he ran into Coach Claiborne, Jake hustled Bobby into a car and whisked him to a local barbershop to get the freshman a high and tight haircut. DePaul is now a senior player personnel associate with the Cleveland Browns.

A native of Liberty, South Carolina, Jake played linebacker and guard at Newberry College (1957-1960) and coached high school football at Pickens (SC) High School, Hopkinsville HS (KY), and Paul Blazer HS in Ashland, KY where his teams won state championships. Coach Hallum, over his six-decade football career, won championships in high school, college, and professional football. His last coaching stop was last fall in 2014 where he coached the offensive line at Georgetown College (KY) to the NAIA playoffs. Jake then evaluated offensive linemen for Ourlads’ NFL Scouting Services at the 2015 Senior Bowl.

When celebrating a man’s life like Jake’s, you can’t bypass the humorous events that made Jake laugh, sweat, and then laugh again. While a scout with National Football Scouting, Jake and Mable traveled to Canyon, TX to pick up Jake’s new-to-him vehicle from John Fitzpatrick who had been hired by the Minnesota Vikings. Traditionally, the scouts with National had Blazers or Crown Victorias. Not Fitzpatrick, he had a four-speed on-the-floor pickup with a clutch that fit his Cowboy lifestyle. Rumor has it that by the time Jake and Mable drove back to their new home in Cypress, TX, both had to be treated for whiplash. I never heard Jake swear or say a bad thing about anyone, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the ceiling of that pickup.

Along Highway 52 North in Southern Minnesota, there was an exotic dance club called “JAKE’S”. I took a photo of the building and sent it to Jake and asked him if Mable knew about his part-time business. Jake phoned me and said in his best Foghorn Leghorn imitation – “Dan, Dan, Dan, you know that’s not mine.”

Blessed with a great football memory, Jake tells the story of when Jim and John Harbaugh were about 7 and 8 years old. They were playing out in front of Morehead (KY) University where Jake and their father Jack coached. Mrs. Burgess, the secretary to then president, Dr. Doran, was watching the Harbaugh boys for their mother, Jackie, who was running an errand. There was a 5-6 foot ditch and culvert the boys were playing in when Mrs. Burgess hollered down to John and Jim to come out so they wouldn’t get hurt. As boys do, they didn’t scurry up the hill. Mrs. Burgess then threatened the boys that she would tell their parents that Jim kicked her in the shin. The boys then came out from the ditch and the 7-year old Jim said to Mrs. Burgess, “If you tell ‘em, I’ll kick you in the other shin!”

Jon Cooper, one of Jake’s and my best friends was visiting us at the Eagle training camp one year. Cooper, the head football coach at Illinois Benedictine College wrote reports for Ourlads’ NFL Scouting Services in the off-season. Cooper mentioned to me that he and Jake loved Pete Kendall, the hard-nosed blue collar guard from Boston College. “Coop, you can make that a trifecta,” I said, “but I need your help pulling Jake’s leg.” We got in the car after practice and Coop asked Jake what he thought of Kendall. Jake said he loved his toughness, grit, physical tools, lower body flexibility, and was a good enough athlete to be able to redirect versus double move pass rushers, and then proceeded to talk about Kendall for the next 10 minutes describing all of his strong and few weak points. Coop then asked me what I thought. “John, I believe Kendall may be the most overrated lineman in the draft,” and of course I exaggerated Kendall’s weak characteristics to the point that I made him sound like a free agent. Jake looked like he was heartbroken and Coop couldn’t hold back anymore and burst out laughing, “Dan loves him too.” A relieved Jake looked at me and said “Dan, Dan, Dan you rascal, you can’t keep doing that to me.”

Jake liked to get a long walk in every day because as a scout there is a lot of film and interviewing time where you’re sitting on your gluteus maximus. Jake and I got our exercise together at National Football Scouting and then with the Eagles where we would walk the perimeter of Veteran’s Stadium during meeting breaks. Our most productive walks by a 2-0 vote were our hikes to practice with John Wooten, our director of player personnel. Wooten is now the Chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance after a long career as a player and personnel executive in the league. During training camp we walked the hills of the Lehigh Valley from the dorms to the practice fields. We all agreed that if one of us hit the dirt on the exhausting hike, the other two would roll us over on the side of the road and cover the body with leaves. We chatted about our families, the Eagles, and scouting personnel. Jake and I learned many things from John, but one key point Jake took to heart was the importance of what you say in a report about the player is more important than the grade itself. Jake would paint a clear picture of a player at every position but was especially astute on offensive lineman. Jake believed that scouting was a series of declarations – follow the trail and the clues of how a player plays.

Jake was legendary for his love of desserts and putting ketchup on eggs and meat. Mark Gorsack, long-time Steelers’ scout tells the story of breaking bread with Jake and Mable at the Hula Bowl All-Star Game one year. At the conclusion of the main course, Jake ordered a dessert for the three of them. The dessert sat on a stand in the middle of the table. Mable was nibbling on one side of the cake and Mark on the other. Unbeknownst to them, Jake hollowed out the middle of the dessert and it collapsed all over the table. I asked Jake one time why he had a sleeve of low calorie SnackWell cookies in his briefcase and he chuckled, “You’ve got to start somewhere.” Mable convinced Jake and me not to always grab a hamburger at the drive-through after our late night film sessions. Especially because we would polish off the sandwich before we reached the hotel. A beneficiary of Mable’s suggestion was an office intern by the name of Jay Muraco who later scouted and won Super Bowl rings with Jake in New England. The three of us visited several of the Philadelphia diners where we had sit-down meals and Jay, as an unpaid intern, never saw a bill thanks to Jake.

Ball clubs traditionally take their scouting and coaching staffs for a meal in Indianapolis during the Combine. Jeffrey Lurie and the Eagles treated us to a feast at the world famous St. Elmo’s Steak House one year and between the jumbo shrimp with fiery sauce, the yellowfin tuna, or the 14 oz New York Strip, fun was to be had by all. After the salads, the drinks and hors d'oeuvres were served, the main course was rushed out and as always I sat next to Jake enjoying his stories and company. The waiter delivered to each of us the finest looking marbled New York Strip east of the Mississippi. Before I could slice through my tender piece of heaven on earth, Jake had emptied a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup over that premium gourmet steak. Jake and I had some trying times in our relationship, but I had to do something to tame this Southern gentleman from the use of this overpowering condiment on a carefully crafted blend of prime beef. I excused myself from the table and went back to the kitchen and asked for a chef. I asked the chef if he would come to our table and ask how the steaks were, etc. then focusing on Jake’s steak would he act like he was insulted that Jake would cover his creation with ketchup. This chef earned an Academy Award after lecturing Jake on the why-nots and what-fors of holding off on smearing ketchup on steak. Jake turned red and was scraping off the ketchup before the chef ended his diatribe. The chef turned and acted like he was returning to the kitchen and came back laughing, hugged Jake and said, “You can eat your steak any way you like!”

I can imagine Jake now talking football with Coach Claiborne, Coach Bryant, and numerous other coaches who have passed on. He is trying to explain the new pass protections in the high tempo spread offenses of today. Jake never retired. His game clock just ran out. Jake lived by the mantra “if you want a friend, be a friend.” He believed that friendship isn’t a big thing, but a million little things. An unknown author wrote “to lose a friend is hardship, but to forget them is as if you died too.” John Jacob Hallum will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace, we love you Jake

Jake is survived by his wife Mable and two sons, Todd and Bart. A visitation is scheduled from 3 to 8 pm Monday, August 10, 2015 at Milward Funeral Home on Southland Drive in Lexington, KY. A second visitation is planned in Hallum’s home state on August 17th at Dillard’s Funeral Home in Pickens, SC to be followed by a private graveside service on August 18th.