Monti Ossenfort was sitting in a bookstore in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 2003, reading a book about how to become an FBI agent.
Ossenfort had taken the 35-minute-or-so drive to Sioux Falls – "Where those of us from Luvern, Minnesota, would go to find some civilization" – because his NFL job prospects had seemingly dried up following an internship with the Texans.
While he read, his cell phone buzzed. It was Scott Pioli of the New England Patriots offering an interview that led back to the NFL, that led to jobs with the Patriots, Texans and Titans, and ultimately to the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center on Tuesday as the Cardinals' new general manager.
"A phone call that changed my life," said Ossenfort, 44.
Ossenfort and owner Michael Bidwill talked about clicking together from their first meeting. There is extensive work to do, starting with hiring a head coach, determining what personnel changes might be made in the front office, and looking at the 33 unrestricted free agents with which the team might deal.
There is a quarterback in Kyler Murray who is rehabbing a torn ACL.
But those are details Ossenfort has yet to dig into. He needed to be hired first, which Bidwill did Monday with a man who the last three seasons was the Titans director of player personnel and before that worked in a Patriots' scouting department when the team went to seven Super Bowls and won four.
"I will take pieces from each of those organizations of things that I've learned, things that I liked," Ossenfort said. "But I will also put my own spin on it. This is not some wash-rinse-repeat of someplace else. What works in one building is not just easily transferable to another building."
Ultimately, Bidwill said he interviewed seven GM candidates total: Ossenfort, Cardinals VP of player personnel Quentin Harris, Cardinals VP of pro personnel Adrian Wilson, Cardinals director of football administration Matt Harriss, former Giants GM Jerry Reese, Bears assistant GM Ian Cunningham, and Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz.
Ossenfort also interviewed for the vacant Titans' GM job this cycle, and last offseason interviewed for the then-open GM jobs with the Giants, Bears and Vikings.
"I think he's been ready to do this for quite some time," said former Patriots and Titans quarterback Matt Cassel, who became friends with Ossenfort not by crossing paths at either team but because their kids and wives became friends.
"He's been doing it for 22 years," added Cassel, who is an analyst for The 33rd Team and NBC Sports Boston. "I love talking about players and personnel with expertise. Listening to his approach was always fun for me. And he's got great leadership skills, great management skills and he's got a great personality. There's no ego involved."
The latter point resonates, after Ossenfort noted that "no ego will be tolerated in this organization." There is a fluidity to that, knowing that few NFL players reach this level without some ego involved.
"There is no putting personal interest in front of the team," Ossenfort said. "I was told once the definition of mental toughness was putting the team in front of something that would be better personally for me."
That's why the coach hire will be crucial. Bidwill said that process is coming quickly – he said an interview with internal candidate Vance Joseph is on the schedule – and the Cardinals have reportedly gotten permission for interviews with Sean Payton, 49ers defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans and Steelers linebackers coach Brian Flores.
Flores and Ossenfort have history having worked at the Patriots together.
"I was struck during his interview," Bidwill said, "(Ossenfort) said everything in the football operation is going to be geared toward and aimed at winning football games, and that's speaking my language and that's speaking the language of our fans."
There are a lot of moving parts in his new job, Cassel said, but it's something Ossenfort is ready to handle.
Sunday, the Ossenforts and the Cassels were at a volleyball tournament watching their daughters play and Monti wondering what might happen with his fifth GM interview. Monday, Cassel heard the news.
"I said 'Hell yeah, this is awesome,' " Cassel said. "Because I know he's been grinding for this for so long."
Images of Arizona Cardinals General Manager Monti Ossenfort during his first day at the Cardinals training facility