Meet Mark Sadowski: the South Sider who runs Bears’ college scouting

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It was 2006, and the Bears were headed to Miami to work out cornerback Kelly Jennings before the draft. But Mark Sadowski, a new scout at the time, hoped that the Bears’ brass would see more. He asked them to see one more cornerback.

Or maybe he was a receiver.

Or maybe he was only a returner.

Regardless of his position, the player was too special to overlook. Sadowski tracked him for years as the Southeast area scout for the New Orleans Saints and now the Bears. His work on him was expansive.

“I haven’t seen anybody like this in my career,” Sadowski recalled. “I really like this guy.”

It was Devin Hester.

“Mark led the charge on Devin,” former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said.

The Bears had questions. Miami moved Hester from offense to defense. He never started. But his overall athleticism made him intriguing, particularly on special teams.

Sadowski sold him as a cornerback, but also as a touchdown threat.

“He’s the fastest guy I’ve ever seen with the ball in his hands,” Sadowski said.

It worked.

“Mark did suggest we go down to work him out and get a better feel for him,” Angelo said. “We did and came away very impressed. Not only his talent, but his determinant mindset to be a great player.

“[Mark’s] methodical approach in how he presented Devin, that facilitated us drafting him.”

For Sadowski, now the Bears’ director of college scouting, it was the beginning of a dream.

A kid from Bridgeport and St. Rita High School played an integral role in his hometown team’s selection of one of its most memorable players ever.

* * *

Sadowski was watching practice when head groundskeeper Ken Mrock — “ ‘Brother ‘Rock,’ I always called him,” he said — approached him and presented a stat.

“Did you realize, Mark, that there are actually only three of us here that are actually from Chicago?” Sadowski recalled Mrock saying.

“Kenny, there is no way. What about the McCaskeys?

“Nope. They went to Notre Dame High School in Niles. Niles! (Mrock yelled Niles with a thick Chicago accent, Sadowski said.)

“So who are the three?”

“Me. You. And Mrs. Virginia McCaskey. She was born in Chicago. That’s it. We are Chicagoans. All these other folks say they’re from Chicago, but they’re suburban guys now.”

Sadowski enjoys sharing the story. It’s difficult to confirm with all the changes over the years.

“Who knows where it is now,” he said.

But being from the South Side remains a source of pride.

Sadowski grew up in a two-bedroom apartment. His parents, Bob and Marirose, worked multiple jobs and double shifts over the years. For his father, an avid fisherman, it included running fishing camps for the Chicago Park District.

“They instilled the long work habits and keeping family first,” said Sadowski, who went to Bridgeport Catholic Academy before St. Rita. “We saw it.”

Sadowski followed his older brother, Jeff, to St. Rita. Jeff, an All-Catholic League receiver, was his hero. Sadowski’s younger brother, Jonathan, a working actor, attended Mount Carmel, but that can be a tense subject.

“The Mount Carmel-St. Rita rivalry is crazy,” Sadowski said.

Sadowski left an impression at St. Rita.

He was a special athlete. Todd Wernet, St. Rita’s former football coach, remembers a multisport star who was a hard-hitting safety and an aggressive running back.

Sadowski was a rare three-year starter for the Mustangs, who were among the best teams in the state his sophomore and junior seasons.

A highly recruited player, Sadowski scored the last touchdown at St. Rita’s old Pat Cronin Field to cap a 21-6 victory over Leo. The play call was “25 trap.”

“Those were his plays,” said Wernet, now the superintendent at Lockport. “He was a coach’s dream. He was a great teammate. He was tenacious.”

He was a leader. Michael Kisicki, a longtime St. Rita administrator and teacher, remembers how Sadowski, the president of St. Rita’s student council, spoke passionately to his school.

Sadowski and Eric Johnson, an African-American teammate and fellow council member, once eased racial tensions by giving heartfelt speeches at an assembly.

“They embraced each other right in front of everybody,” Kisicki said. “The place just stood up and applauded.”

He also was one of the guys. Kevin Donoghue, a St. Rita teammate, remembers a loyal friend who once attended a Kennedy Cup hockey game dressed as the wrestler Ultimate Warrior to cheer on St. Rita.

“He had the gall to show up like that,” Donoghue said, laughing. “He had all the tassels wrapped around his biceps and arms. He had the headband. It was awesome.

“It’s pretty crazy to think that a kid from 28th and Wallace is running the scouting department for the most storied franchise in the NFL.”

* * *

Looking back, Sadowski wishes he framed a check he received in New Orleans instead of cashing it. It came from Mike Ditka.

Sadowski, who spiked his hair like the “Punky QB” Jim McMahon as a kid, began his NFL career working for “Da Coach.” Ditka coached the Saints after the Bears. Sadowski was a Saints pro scout before shifting to colleges.

After the draft, Ditka expressed his gratitude to the team’s college scouts through personal checks.

“And we’re not talking 50 bucks,” Sadowski said. “In retrospect, I wish I would have taken a picture of it to frame it to be like, ‘This is what old-school people do. This is what loyalty was.’ ”

Sadowski’s career is full of intertwining connections. He scouted for Ditka in New Orleans after his playing career at nearby Tulane was derailed by a knee injury that resulted in six surgeries.

Former Tulane coach Buddy Teevens honored his scholarship to Sadowski, an engineering major, and asked him to coach. It became the launching point of Sadowski’s career trajectory.

“He just came from a very humble, hard-working family situation,” said Teevens, who now coaches Dartmouth. “That’s who he was, just a grinder. And that’s a term of great affection and great respect in the football profession.”

Bears general manager Ryan Pace saw that years ago. Before Sadowski left for the Bears, a younger Pace, who spent 14 years with the Saints, learned from a younger Sadowski.

“[It was] his passion for evaluating players,” Pace said. “How much pride he took in his job, and it was obvious that he’d put in an extreme amount of work.”

In 2005, Sadowski replaced Phil Emery as the Bears’ Southeast area scout when Emery left for the Atlanta Falcons. Emery referred him to the Bears.

“People spoke volumes about his integrity,” Angelo said.

When Emery was named the Bears’ GM in 2012, he promoted Sadowski to national scout and then to senior national scout. Pace promoted Sadowski to college scouting director in May 2016 after Joe Douglas left for the Philadelphia Eagles.

At Halas Hall, Sadowski’s fingerprints are all over any technological advances the team has made in the personnel department, colleagues said.

In scouting circles, Sadowski’s interviewing skills are renowned. He has an innate ability to engage players for long periods, and he’s thorough with his research. From tutors to police, he surveys entire campuses.

“He’s just incredibly inquisitive,” a rival scout said. “When Mark’s in the room, I’m staying on top of my game and I’m trying to learn from him.”

Colleagues point to Sadowski’s intelligence, often mentioning his engineering degree.

“When a scout is a really good scout, you’ll say, ‘He’s a scout’s scout,’ ” the rival scout said. “He’s beyond that. He’s just got more tools than most of us do.”

Sadowski’s work on Hester was an early example.

“Mark did an excellent job of letting us know about his personality and what were the right buttons to push, so to speak, to get Devin to play this fast,” said Greg Gabriel, the Bears’ former director of college scouting. “He was right on.”

Tight end Greg Olsen and receiver Alshon Jeffery were other Bears whom Sadowski was “right on” about, too.

“It’s even the guys we didn’t take, guys that we liked but never had the opportunity to draft,” Gabriel said. “He was very, very thorough in doing his job.”

Sadowski always has stood by his convictions. In New Orleans, he boldly said the Saints should draft running back Deuce McAllister despite having Ricky Williams. McAllister turned into the Saints’ all-time leading rusher.

“My misgivings were, I should have listened to him more,” Angelo said.

When the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky, Pace cited Sadowski’s grade as part of the team’s consensus.
Sadowski, like Pace, had Trubisky as the best quarterback.

“Mark is one of our top evaluators,” Pace said. “He’s seen a lot of quarterbacks come and go in our league. His unbiased opinion on any player is significant for our team.”

There is a deep level of trust.

Sadowski runs his department from the road. Once a scout, always a scout. He has millions of Marriott reward points to prove it. He plans to see even more players and games as a director.

Once based in Georgia as an area scout, he moved to California with his wife Holly, who works in the movie industry, and daughter, Raffaella Rose.

But working for the Bears for 13 years has brought him closer to home – physically, mentally and emotionally.

* * *

After receiving his NFC championship ring from the Bears’ Super Bowl run in the 2006 season, Sadowski penned a letter to Virginia McCaskey. He called the ring outstanding. He said he loved it.

But it wasn’t good enough for him — or her.

Only a Super Bowl win would be.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to help do that for us, our team and our city,” he wrote.

Being from Chicago turns his fumes into a fire.

“Growing up on the South Side of Chicago with no grass — worked for everything I got,” Sadowski said. “I’m not going to stop until we win the Lombardi Trophy.”

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.

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