The well-publicized relationship that star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had with a girlfriend who allegedly died was revealed as a hoax earlier this week.
What is very, very real: The extra scrutiny Te’o will now be facing from interested NFL teams before April’s draft.
Franchises already spend months sorting through player backgrounds trying to determine whether there are any warning signs that can affect where a prospect is selected. These range from legal issues to character flaws, and aren’t always known to the public like the tall tale surrounding Te’o.
One general manager told FOXSports.com on Friday that he once repeatedly asked a player if he had ever run afoul of the law. The player repeatedly denied doing so unaware that the GM had photocopies of his mug shot — "front and side," he said with a laugh — from a previous arrest.
If the player was honest, there was still a chance of him being chosen. Instead, the general manager took his name off the team’s draft board.
“I just knew he wasn’t the one,” the general manager said.
How Te’o handles the questions coming from NFL clubs will determine whether he remains a first-round projection or slips into a later round, along with six to seven figures in guaranteed salary.
“This is just like any other player potential off-field issue. You hear about this or that,” said the general manager, who still has Te’o ranked as a first-round pick. “We have a grade on him from the fall. You don’t all of a sudden change that or move him up or down your board until you get all the facts and research. That’s when you make your assessment.”
Because he isn’t playing in any postseason college all-star games, the first chance Te’o has to meet individually with NFL teams will come in late February at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He also will be expected to speak with the media and recount the saga that has made Te’o the talk of the country for painting the picture of a relationship with someone who didn’t exist in multiple media interviews during the college season.
T’eo’s oft-repeated tale of losing his girlfriend to leukemia as well as his grandmother (which is true) in a short span of time this past fall made him a sympathetic and inspirational figure. It also may have helped fuel his bid to win individual accolades like the Heisman Trophy.
In a statement released through Notre Dame, Te’o has claimed he was duped. Other family members have backed him. Te’o hasn’t made any other public statements after the initial expose by Deadspin.com. Numerous media outlets have since speculated about whether Te’o was intentionally perpetuating the girlfriend myth trying to gain attention for himself, or got caught escalating what he thought was a harmless story that ultimately spiraled out of control.
“I think this immediately sends up red flags from a character aspect,” said Ted Sundquist, who was the Denver Broncos’ general manager from 2002 to 2007. “I’m not saying he’s a bad character. But any time you have something of this significance, it’s not just a little flashpoint.”
Sundquist said it will fall upon teams to perform due diligence on their own to find out the truth about Te’o. Sundquist told FOXSports.com he is concerned that Te’o will probably have received coaching about answers to the topic from his representatives, which adds to the challenge of getting to the bottom of the Lennay Kekua controversy.
“The opportunity you get for a one-on-one (interview) on your terms is probably going to come during a pre-draft visit,” Sundquist said of invitation-only sessions held at a team’s headquarters in late March and early April. “Sit down to talk to the kid. Let him give you the story and look you in the eye with his side of it without any other influences. And then you’ve got to follow up. That’s very important.
“If I just go off what I’m seeing on television from the people at Notre Dame that know him, they feel this is not the Te’o they know.”
Gil Brandt left no stone unturned during 29 seasons as a top figure in the Dallas Cowboys scouting department (1960-88). After meeting in person with a coaching staff about a player, Brandt would speak to others at the university, like the equipment manager, for what would be a less-politicized and often truer assessment.
Brandt thinks NFL squads should use another resource when it comes to scouting Te’o — psychologists.
“I don’t think (coaches and personnel departments) can decipher whether he’s a con guy and we’re being lied to or a guy who’s telling the truth,” Brandt told FOXSports.com.
Brandt had Te’o ranked as the No. 19 overall prospect in his latest NFL.com mock draft. Until more is known about the fake-girlfriend situation and he conducts pre-draft workouts, Brandt believes T’eo’s draft stock is “kind of in a holding position.”
Brandt said Te’o already was difficult to evaluate as a football player alone because of some inconsistent performances during his senior season.
“If you throw tape of the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game on, it’s like he’s (playing at) 110 degrees,” Brandt said. “You throw tape of the Alabama (national championship) game on and it’s negative-20 degrees. I’ve never seen such a difference in a player as this guy right here.”
Another general manager who spoke Friday with FOXSports.com believes Te’o is one of the best inside linebacker prospects entering the league in some time. He also said Te’o will remain a first-round pick unless “something really, really messed up” is revealed about the hoax.
The GM, though, is curious to see how Te’o handles explaining what has transpired.
“Part of me wants the kid to come out, be a man and say, ‘Hey, it ended up being a hoax. I’m a linebacker. At my core I’m a meathead ball-buster. I got carried away and I apologize,’ ” the general manager said. “Maybe that would be simplifying it, but instead so far he’s trying to come across as naïve. That’s a little funky in itself.
“You’ve got to look through all this and make a judgment. If it’s a lying and major fabrication issue, you need to determine the depth and duplicity of it. In light of what’s going on with Lance Armstrong, we all know the best way to do this.”
That’s tell the truth before it destroys your reputation, career and legacy, which is something Te’o can accomplish that Armstrong didn’t.