It’s never too late to try something new.
After more than three decades as a college coach, George Belu made the transition to NFL scout in 2001. Eight years later, he’s arrived on the sport’s ultimate stage.
Belu, a native of Lorain, was headed to Tampa, Fla., on Thursday to experience his first Super Bowl. Belu’s a scout for the Arizona Cardinals, who will battle the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
He took a break from draft preparations to join the rest of the organization in the buildup to the Cardinals’ first Super Bowl.
“People have always told me you could go to Rose Bowls, go to Orange Bowls, but there’s nothing like the Super Bowl,” Belu said Wednesday from his home in Columbus.
It’s fitting Belu used a college reference. He spent 33 years as a college coach after graduating from Ohio University.
Belu made stops at Denison, Miami of Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina State, Louisiana State, Indiana, Wake Forest and Ohio State. He was offensive coordinator for five schools and reached the Orange Bowl with LSU and Colorado.
“George is an outstanding football guy,” said Browns scout Jake Hallum, who coached against Belu for decades. “He’s a dedicated coach and dedicated scout. His M.O.’s the same. He’s a hard worker and I’ve always had a lot of respect for him.
“We went to the Super Bowl in New England, and I know what a great thrill that was. I’m really happy for George.”
Belu’s final collegiate job was at Ohio State in 2000 as offensive line coach under John Cooper. When Cooper was fired, Belu got an offer from the Cardinals.
“I was not preparing for it,” Belu said of the switch from coach to scout. “This came along, and I really like what I’m doing.
“I’m involved in football, involved in evaluating young men and still involved in going to colleges and universities. I’m still around people I had coached with, guys who had played for me. It’s a really good situation for me.”
Belu works out of Columbus and his coverage area consists of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. He’s responsible for some SEC schools and most of the Big Ten.
“I don’t care what people say, the Big Ten is still a strong, strong, strong conference,” he said.
Scouts spend their lives in the background, but Belu has played a pivotal role in the Cardinals’ march to the Super Bowl. He scouted rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at Tennessee State, linebacker Karlos Dansby at Auburn and Michigan defensive linemen Alan Branch and Gabe Watson.
“I like to think of it as a team,” Belu said. “So many people are involved in the decision-making of deciding on the young man.
“I really like working for the Cardinals. I have a responsibility and if I have something to say, they’ll go ahead and listen.”
Despite the Cardinals’ three-game run to the Super Bowl, Belu knows there’s more work to be done for the organization to be considered elite. They went just 9-7 during the regular season and benefited from a weak NFC West to even reach the postseason — a rarity for a franchise that hasn’t won a championship since 1947.
“Once I got with the Cardinals, the Super Bowl was in the back of my mind,” said Belu, a Lorain Sports Hall of Famer. “But you can’t put the cart in front of the horse. You’ve got to build things. It’s not an overnight deal.
“I enjoyed seeing the team get better. We’re certainly not there yet, but we’re there in the Super Bowl. The big thing now is to keep us up at that level.”
When the big game’s over, Belu will head to Phoenix for the team’s second weeklong pre-draft meeting. Then he’ll head to the scouting combine in Indianapolis and visit colleges for “pro day” workouts.
“I still believe in the character of a young man,” he said. “What kind of worker, what kind of heart.”
Belu wouldn’t reveal his age, but said he graduated from Lorain High in 1956.
His wife, Janet, went to high school with him and they have four kids. Whenever they’re back in Lorain, they drive by their childhood houses — his on 26th Street between Elyria Avenue and Broadway. Two of his three brothers, Jimmy and Bobby, still live in Lorain.
Despite a long career and a trip to the NFL’s biggest game, Belu has no plans of slowing down.
“I feel good. I like what I’m doing. I have a lot of energy,” he said. “I’ll do this as long as I can, or as long as the Cardinals will have me.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SUPER BOWL XLIII
WHO: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals
WHEN: Sunday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
TV/RADIO: Channel 3; WKNR 850-AM
FAVORITE: Steelers by 7