Former NFL players strive to break into coaching on ground floor

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Steve Gregory walks down the hall on the second floor of the Detroit Lions’ practice facility and sees one of his colleagues coming toward him. Hank Fraley is a former NFL offensive lineman. He’s about twice the size of Gregory, a former safety, and probably big enough at age 41 to still play.

Gregory doesn’t care. Five years removed from the NFL, the occasional urge remains. He’ll throw a quick stutter-step and try to blow past Fraley with a pass-rush move. Usually, Fraley does nothing, but every once in a while …

“Hank pinned me up one day. He hit me,” Gregory said. “I was like, ‘God damn, Hank, you’re pretty strong.’ He’s still got it a little bit.”

For the two of them, who have made the transition from NFL veteran to low-level pro assistant coach, it’s reliving their past while creating camaraderie in the present. Players retire. Roles change. Intensity turns into half-speed reenactments. But instincts don’t die.7

Once at the top of their profession, having their needs attended to in order to get them ready to play, they are now those attendants — working their way up from the bottom again to try to reach the top of the coaching profession.

Four of the Lions’ entry-level assistant coaches, ranging in age from their late 30s to early 40s, are former NFL veterans. Billy Yates played offensive line for eight seasons with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns. Leon Washington was a running back/return specialist for nine seasons with the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Patriots and Tennessee Titans. Gregory played eight years for the San Diego Chargers and Patriots, and Fraley put in 11 years as an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Browns and St. Louis nike nfl jerseys wholesale

The in-season hours are long. The schedule is intense. The responsibilities range from running a position room to making photocopies of playbooks on whatever type of stock paper each position coach prefers.

In Detroit, they are tabbed “offensive assistant” or “defensive assistant.” In other places, they are known as “quality control coaches.” Occasionally, as with Fraley, there is a singular position attached: assistant offensive line coach.

No matter the title, the job reality is essentially the same: Help wherever possible while learning how to make the transition from player to coach.

“You go from a player, and I wouldn’t say you’re pampered, but you’re a different status than when you’re a bottom of the totem pole, doing the grunt work,” said Jordan Kovacs, a defensive quality control coach in Cincinnati who spent parts of four seasons in the league. “I would just say it’s very humbling, and as a player, you take those quality control coaches or those graduate assistant coaches for granted.

“There’s a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes that, for no better words, is probably underappreciated.”