Eagles GM Howie Roseman said he has been trying to hire Gamble ever since Roseman's closest adviser, player personnel VP Ryan Grigson, left a year ago to become the Indianapolis Colts' GM. Gamble's hiring looks like a strong response to one of the major criticisms of the Roseman regime, that he needs stronger "football people" around him.
"Just finding someone to replace Ryan, we wanted to get the right guy, a person who we thought could come in and fit with the people we have here . . . Tom Donohoe [former Steelers and Bills GM], Rick Mueller [former Saints player personnel director], Ed Marynowitz [former University of Alabama personnel director]," Roseman told a conference call with reporters. "He's going to really fill the void we've had since Ryan left."
Gamble is a Haddonfield High grad who has 24 years of NFL personnel experience in a career that started with the Eagles in 1988, when Harry Gamble was the team president.
"Even though he may have gotten his start helped by the fact that his father was the president of the Eagles, I think the truth of the matter is that he's earned every single step forward," said Eagles radio voice Merrill Reese, who does a weekly radio show with Harry Gamble. "I know he learned a lot from Bill Polian in Indianapolis," where Gamble was a college scout from 1998-2004, when he left to go to the 49ers. "He was really one of Tom's mentors. [Tom] did a great job in San Francisco - he just advanced, played a bigger and bigger part in their personnel throughout his stay there, and I know that [49ers coach] Jim Harbaugh really liked him a lot, thought a whole lot of him."
In San Francisco, one theory of Gamble's lateral-move departure is that he was stuck behind two strong personnel voices, Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke. Obviously, the 49ers have built a powerhouse, getting to the NFC title game each of the past two seasons, winning the conference this year, and falling 5 yards short of winning the Super Bowl. Just as obviously, it is hard to split off Gamble's influence from that of Baalke, who has been with the team since 2005, and in his current role since 2011. It's at least a little surprising that San Francisco would feel comfortable letting its player personnel director walk a little more than a week before the combine. Usually such moves happen either right after the season or right after the draft.
Roseman said Gamble wasn't ready to leave the 49ers a year ago, at least partly because of family concerns, but with Gamble interviewing for GM posts this year, the family was "raring to go."
Gamble was not available for comment. His father said Wednesday night that Tom "really wanted to come East," but "you don't move just to move." Harry Gamble said Tom thinks the Eagles have a strong organization, the right kind of setup.
"He just wanted to make sure timing was right," Roseman said, after making an allusion to talking to Gamble last year "when coach [Andy] Reid was here." That opens the question of whether Gamble might have found the new Chip Kelly era more appealing than the 14th year of Reid.
"I know that Tom wanted to come back East, to be closer to Harry and Joan," Reese said.
Harry Gamble, now 81, said he knew Tom had been talking with the Birds the past few weeks.
"It's great to see it come to fruition," he said. "Tom has a great rapport with coaches, agents - almost everybody knows him."
Harry said he didn't necessarily know Tom would work in football when he was a youngster - his talents as a player leaned toward baseball, where he pitched for Haddonfield High and High Point College - but he showed some impressive traits at an early age.
Harry remembered that when Tom wanted to play Little League baseball, Harry, a former Penn football coach, cautioned him against "getting belligerent" with umpires or coaches, or blaming others for failure.
"If I ever see you doing that, I'm going to come down on the field and take you home," Harry recalled saying.
So, early on in the season, an opposing pitcher plunked Tom, hard. He trotted to first base, before coaches and other adults huddled around to make sure he was all right. After the game, Harry asked Tom whether he'd felt the pitch that hit him.
"He said, 'I sure did, but I knew you wouldn't want me groveling on the ground,' " Harry said. "First of all, I didn't know he knew the word 'groveling.' Second, I realized he'd learned you have to handle things like this - he just didn't let those kinds of things bother him."
Roseman still will call the shots, but bringing in an experienced hand such as Gamble at the VP level indicates Roseman isn't paranoid about his status.
"The more good people we have around us, the better we'll be as an organization," he said. "He's been a part of successful, winning organizations. He's got incredible experience, and he's a guy that, he's seen it all. He's been around some great people. So to have someone in the building, right next door to me, that I can go to and talk to about a certain situation . . . is invaluable."
On Twitter: @LesBowen