By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
Players have headed off to rest, rejuvenate, and train in preparation for the opening of the NFL’s 2017 training camps. Coaches, however, are still at it. For three days, over the weekend of June 16-18, 53 coaches from around the NFL gathered at the New York Jets training facility for the inaugural NFL Coaching Clinic. The clinic featured a panel of notable speakers and presenters, including Hall-of-Famer, former NFL executive Bill Polian, Executive Vice President of NFL Operations, Troy Vincent, and former NFL coaches Dave Wannstedt, Ted Cottrell, Norv Turner, Kevin Gilbride, among others.
Topics ran the gamut from communication practices with players, to position-specific mechanics, to fundamentals. The program was a resounding success.
Former NFL defensive lineman Leon Lett is now back with the team that drafted him as the assistant defensive line coach. Lett was drafted by the Cowboys as their seventh-round pick in 1991 and played there 10 years before spending his final year in the league with the Denver Broncos. He began his coaching career in 2009 as an intern with UNLV, and has worked his way to his current position. He discussed what drew him to participate in the NFL Coaching Clinic.
“To have this opportunity to be around people like Ted Cottrell, Dave Wannstedt, Norv Turner has had a huge impact on me,” Lett said. “I’ve still got notes that I’ve taken [as a player] twenty years ago. Now I’m taking notes again. It’s one great experience. I’m definitely going to take this back to share with my coaching staff and my players.”
“It’s also another step forward to understand the NFL and the history,” he added. “We talk about coaching today’s players. How they use social media. There are some great tools here, how to use the electronics to keep the players involved, but there are some older philosophies that still have relevance today and you can use these techniques and tactics. A great coach is someone who helps players improve.”
Chase Blackburn knew as far back as high school that he wanted to coach. He thought his chances of playing in the NFL were slim, so he majored in Secondary Math Education at the University of Akron, preparing to teach and coach. Then the New York Giants signed Blackburn, a linebacker, as a rookie free agent in in 2005. He went on to play for the Giants for eight years, winning two Super Bowl championships in the process. He played his last two years in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers and after retiring in 2014, he re-joined the Panthers in 2016 as the assistant special teams coach.
Blackburn explained why he chose to take part in the NFL Coaching Clinic.
“I think as an educator and a coach you have to be willing to learn and to grow,” he said.” So, any time I get an opportunity to hear something from great coaches, great people, great educators, I take that opportunity. Yesterday we did position specific stuff, but today we’re hearing every position speak. It’s giving me a great ability to learn and understand concepts. As a linebacker, I understand what offenses do, but I don’t understand the why. It’s important for players not just to understand the what, but the why they’re doing it.”
Both Lett and Blackburn commented on the Coaching Clinic providing the benefit of being able not only to interact with some of the NFL’s most prominent members of its coaching fraternity, but being able to talk and network with so many current coaches from around the league.
“It’s been an awesome,” Lett said. The camaraderie, the different generations of football, some of the sons of coaches. (Former NFL coach) Al Groh said it the best. This is a great fraternity and it’s a hard one to get into so you keep having to hone in on your craft. Every hour you want to be thinking football.”
Blackburn echoed Lett’s sentiments. “I think it’s been fantastic,” he said. “Even outside of our meetings, we were just down there talking football. You have a lot of young coaches who aspire to climb the ladder, but we have to be patient and do the job at hand.
“Being here, being able to network with these people is fantastic. Guys are going to continue to climb the ladder so it’s important to put names with faces. You never know when one of those guys is going to be hiring. You have to start with the framework, and a reachable attainable goal and standard.”
For Lett and Blackburn, as well as the other 51 participants, the NFL Coaching Clinic has provided another resource for bettering themselves personally, and through that, the game overall.
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.