One thing that comes across in a conversation with Brian Gaine is that the Pearl River native appreciates the journey from a humble beginning to rising within the world of National Football League management.
And, at the ripe young age of 38, the journey is far from over for the erstwhile state football champion at Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey.
Gaine, the youngest of five brothers to an Irish immigrant family—his mom Alice, and dad James (Jim) still reside in the same Pearl River home where they have lived since moving there in 1977 from the Inwood section of the Bronx—recently was promoted to Director of Player Personnel by the famed Miami Dolphins franchise.
The University of Maine graduate is entering his 14th year in the NFL, and fourth with the Dolphins, having served the previous three years as assistant director of player personnel. Before that he served three years as assistant director of pro scouting with the Cowboys, and six previous seasons in various scouting and player-development roles with the Jets.
Gaine easily recounts his humble beginnings. The journey, which actually began in his backyard, started as a bench warmer with the Orangetown Patriots, a midget football league team, continued to where he earned a starting position the next year, and further continued at Don Bosco. In college, he went from an undersized 215-pounder to a 255-pound tight end.
He first tried to make it in the NFL as a player. He was an unheralded free agent who played on the practice squad with three NFL teams before moving on to a low-level position in the front office of the Jets in 1999.
“It’s been quite a journey, and I’ve been fortunate to have excellent mentors like Bill Parcells and Dick Haley (who helped build the Steelers’ dynasty in the 1970s), and my college coach Curt Ferentz, now the head coach at the University of Iowa,” Gaines noted. “I learned a number of things under Parcells; that was an excellent starting point, and Haley had 40-plus-years experience at Pittsburgh, where they had a championship run for years.”
Gaine--who lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL, with his wife, Tricia, 6-year-old daughter Kelsey, and sons Connor, 2, and Ryan, 4—said one thing he learned under Parcells, if anything, is that the position of player personnel director, and scouting, is a 365-day, 24/7 responsibility.
“He taught me that you have an opportunity to improve the team each and every day, that you must constantly and continually try to improve,” said Gaine. “I’ve been fortunate to be at Miami, and if the possibility exists to ascend, to develop and learn, I want to be a general manager of an NFL team. That, obviously, would be a pinnacle of my profession.
“But that comes with one caveat,” continued Gaine, deliberate and pointed. “If I become a GM I want to be, if fortunate enough to be in that position, the GM of a champion, to be the best in the NFL—to be the general manager of a championship franchise.”
Pearl River Roots
Yet for all his success, for all his travels around the country and around the world, Gaine’s roots are still embedded in Pearl River.
“I have friends and family in the New York area, my roots are in Pearl River, always will be,” he said. “In summers, I try to reconnect with family and friends. I’ve traveled the world, the country—north, south, east and west. Wherever I go, my home will always be Pearl River. My mom and dad live in the same house where I grew up.”
And for all his many memories already, at many levels including the pros, one in particular remains etched in his memory—an autumn day in 1995 when he and his teammates at Don Bosco Prep won a state championship in magnificent come-from-behind fashion.
“The title game? Do I remember it? I do,” Gaine stated. “We were state champions and weren’t the top seed. We went into the playoffs at 8-3 and won in the first round; we beat Bergen Catholic in a road game, at their field. We earned a shot against Queen of Peace (North Arlington), and fell behind 20-0 at halftime. We talked about what we had to do: we had to stop them in the second half, and score on at least three of our possessions. We did it, and won 21-20”
On the decisive drive, Gaine, as a receiver -- as he tells it – ran a drag pattern on fourth-and-9 for a first down, but the pass went incomplete. However, a pass interference penalty gave Don Bosco a first down, and kept the drive alive.
“Subsequently we scored,” Gaine said. “That was probably the best group of men I ever played with. I was surrounded by selfless players, who came together with one goal, one purpose, who put their egos aside.”
Ego, one might surmise, is not part of Gaine’s psyche, despite his ascendancy on and off the field.
“He’s very good everywhere he goes. I’m very proud of him,” said his mom, Alice, who emigrated from County Mayo along with her husband Jim, of County Kerry, and their children to Inwood—“Good Shepard Parish,” Alice instantly recalled—before the move to Pearl River.
“He was always very humble, even in Little League, and this thing (NFL),” Alice continud. “He never lived to be in the limelight. If he did well, and when he did well, it was always because of teamwork.”
Teamwork, Gaine wants to emphasize, that first was exhibited by his older brothers: John, the oldest, a fireman from Queens; James, a retired policeman in Manhattan; Patrick, a fireman in the Bronx; and Brendan, a Division III QB who is now a successful businessman in the insurance industry.
“When you asked about mentors, my household has been my biggest mentor,” Gaine confided. “My mom and dad ran a tight ship; they loved and cared about their children. When I think about those late evenings, early mornings--the drilling, the reps at the gym, the film sessions, my brothers were there every step of the way, came to all my games. I’m very grateful.”
The affable Gaine also well remembers his many trips to the Pearl River track and field for arduous workouts.
“All the strength and conditioning I went through, the training, the running, a good dose of that was done at Pearl River High School,” said Gaine. “Even when I was in college, I had many experiences on the field and track at the high school. At Don Bosco, I developed from a skinny receiver … made friendships that remain to this day.”
The Gaines were always into sports, with Brian’s dad a player and fan of Gaelic football in his younger years.
“But my husband is as much into American football as his sons are,” Alice said. “Now football is our favorite, absolutely. Football is the only language spoken in this house.”
Growing up, the family owned two season tickets to Giants games, and Brian’s mother would often take him before he was able to drive, and because his older brothers were working and unavailable to use the second ticket.
Gaine’s mom, who said she especially enjoyed the tailgating—“It was a big thrill,” Alice recalls—noted that family members went from rooting for the Jets, to the Giants, to the Chiefs, shifting their allegiance to each team as Brian moved on.
“Now we are Dolphins fans, even though at one time we were strictly Giants fans—except James. He’d never wear a Miami jersey, except for his brother!” Alice said
In his new role, Gaine said success will be based on results and productivity.
“One thing I learned from Parcells is that the name of the game at this level is all about winning and misery. Misery and losing—you’re either one or the other,” he said. “I’m been fortunate, I’ve had many experiences with people who know the game, who can communicate, who have excellent football intelligence.”
Although Parcells recently left his post as Miami’s director of football operations, Gaine savors the relationship he enjoyed with the two-time Super Bowl champion coach.
“Parcells is a leader of men, he’s someone who has a passion for the game, and is an excellent psychologist, with a depth of experiences,” Gaine said. “He’s an excellent communicator, never anything left to be misunderstood. He’s hard-working, tough-minded, sought out players who loved the game, and shared his passion. My hope is, I’ve picked up his ability to adapt, and to improvise.”
Summing up his primary responsibility, Gaine used the words of Parcells
“Bill always said, ‘At all costs try to eliminate your margin of error. Do what is necessary to eliminate the margin of error. Your job is to get the coach players.”
Judging by Gaine’s background, the process is probably well under way. He will find a way to find those players for general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano.