The one thing that's been a common thread in everything George Paton has done in football is his work ethic, and it goes back beyond just his days working for NFL teams.
As several of his high school and college friends recall in interviews with The Gazette's George Stoia, Paton has had a relentless drive to work hard. Whether it was in challenging his teammates at Loyola High School on the football field or challenging a friend in ping-pong, Paton was as competitive as they came, and that characteristic has served him well in the decades since.
After college and a brief stint playing pro football in Europe, Paton returned to his alma mater to coach football, eventually becoming the sophomore team's head coach.
"Our sophomore team was the most prepared group of 15-year-olds you've ever seen," Paton's friend and coaching colleague Chris Rising told Stoia. "I was doing it for fun and he was like, 'I'm going to do whatever it takes to win.' He just doesn't know how to do anything halfway."
Not long after, Paton got the chance to enter the NFL ranks as a scouting intern for the Bears. He didn't have a place to stay, but a close friend asked his brother to offer his couch for a few days. The days turned into years as Paton tried to earn his spot in the league.
"When I knew that George was different than I was, he was sleeping on somebody's couch and working 20 hours a day for the Bears," Rising said. "And that's all that mattered. I think he would have slept at the facility if they would have let him. It wasn't about making money, it was about how much he loved football."
Another person who saw that up close was Paton's longtime colleague and mentor, Vikings GM Rick Spielman.
"What makes George incredibly unique is his work ethic," Spielman told Denver media on Thursday. "What do you want to call it — a 'grinder.' I know how much film that we've watched together. Out of all the years we've been together, probably the thing that will stick out to me the most was last year … when the pandemic hit, and me and George moved into a hotel together for 30 days and got up, and that's all we did. We conducted our draft meetings. After the draft meetings, we would sit there and go through everything that we discussed today. After that, I said, 'Let's go ahead and do the board.' We would sit there and play with the board and [say], 'What do we want to present to the scouts tomorrow and to the coaches tomorrow off of everything that we know?' For me, that was invaluable to have a person that I trusted so much that had the work ethic that he had. … I remember I went up to bed that night and I came back down — I forgot something — and it was something we discussed that he wasn't sure of, and he was back down there watching tape again."
That kind of personality is invaluable in a GM, Spielman noted.
"Denver's getting an incredible talent evaluator," Spielman said, "and you're not an incredible talent evaluator, in my opinion, unless you're sitting there willing to do the work and do all the extra work that it takes and willing to look under every stone to find talent, and George does that."
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One of Paton's biggest decisions in his first months as general manager will be what to do with the ninth-overall pick in the upcoming draft. In Dane Brugler's latest mock draft for The Athletic, he predicts the Broncos will pick a cornerback with "a Pro Bowl ceiling," but notes that the decision could be complicated if any of the top four quarterbacks are still available.