Canadian Football League

Friday, January 23, 2009

Former Canadian Football League Player Looking To Join Coaching Ranks

MOBILE, Ala. - Like many of this year's top draft prospects, Robert Edwards once attended the Senior Bowl preparing for an NFL career. "I remember seeing all the coaches, scouts and everything in the stands," said Edwards, a 1998 participant. "I assumed everyone there had a job on a team or something."


Edwards discovered that first-hand when returning to Mobile earlier this week in hopes of breaking into the coaching profession. There were seemingly more people seeking jobs than those actually employed.

Just one month ago, Jim Haslett was the St. Louis Rams' interim head coach. He was now sniffing around for work. So were recently deposed defensive coordinators like Bob Sanders (Green Bay), Ron Meeks (Indianapolis) and Brian Stewart (Dallas). Fired assistants were in abundance, as were those in limbo while new head coaches finalize their staffs. Swarms of college coaches came hoping to better their lot, not to mention idle scouts and front-office types trying to maneuver their way back into the NFL.

Edwards admittedly got lost in the crush.

There's no question he has the drive and dedication needed to become a successful coach. Following his 1,100-yard rookie rushing campaign with New England in 1998, Edwards suffered such a severe leg injury during a Pro Bowl-week pickup game that his leg was almost amputated. After three years of rehabilitation, Edwards returned to play one more NFL season and another three in the Canadian Football League.

Edwards might actually have found it easier recovering from three torn knee ligaments and a sliced artery than getting his foot in the door in Mobile. He scored some leads and phone numbers, but Edwards allows that he needs to hire an agent to land an interview with "the big-time guys."

"I didn't expect it to be this crazy," he said.

The meat-market aspect of the Senior Bowl became more pronounced this year because the cattle call of players was so middling. A source told that 11 prospects who had originally accepted invitations withdrew at the urging of their agents because of injury concerns.

A weakened talent roster may have convinced some head coaches not to attend. But many skip the event or keep a low profile to avoid being besieged by hopeful — and often desperate — job applicants. After traveling to Mobile, newly hired Detroit coach Jim Schwartz didn't attend early Senior Bowl practices. He was instead conducting interviews at a nearby hotel.

"It is the sobering effect of the second phase of the Senior Bowl," said Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, who is head coach of the Senior Bowl's South squad. "It's guys bumping around right now asking, 'Can you help me get to this guy? Do you know that guy?'"

Ricky Porter knows plenty of folks. He spent 25 years as an NFL player, coach (college and pro), scout, and, most recently, director of player development in New Orleans until being released in 2007.

As he milled in the Senior Bowl flagship hotel lobby, Porter was greeted by a constant stream of friends and acquaintances like new San Francisco coach Mike Singletary. Yet not even Porter's massive list of contacts or his sterling reputation has helped him get re-hired.

Maybe it's because so few NFL jobs are currently available, especially with some teams laying off employees and shrinking staff sizes amidst the nation's tough economic times. Maybe he doesn't have the right contact in the league's "Good Ol' Boy" network that tends to recycle sycophants. Porter doesn't have a family member who can hire him like new Denver coach Josh McDaniels did with his 28-year-old brother Ben. The Broncos' new offensive assistant has a whopping one year of coaching experience — in high school.

Porter knew beforehand that procuring employment at the Senior Bowl was a long shot but swallowed his pride and came anyway. The reason: "Out of sight, out of mind."

"It's tough because you've got to have résumé in hand even though a résumé doesn't really get you a job," said Porter, who is seeking an NFL front-office position. "If you don't know a coach and another guy does, you ask, 'Can you introduce me or put in a good word?' You then go try and sell yourself. A lot of times, it's a lot more than your ability to coach, negotiate a contract or whatever it may be.

"I don't need someone to give me a job. I need someone to give me an interview."

Even uninvited players with little chance of securing an NFL workout, let alone roster spot, are getting into the act.

After Wednesday afternoon's practice, Brandon Culpepper distributed a résumé chronicling his small-college career as a University of Minnesota-Duluth outside linebacker. Culpepper said he drove three hours from New Orleans after visiting Saints headquarters and being told the staff was at the Senior Bowl.

"I originally came down to Baton Rouge for an interview with a reality show about guys who want to play in the NFL," said Culpepper, who is currently working full-time for Budweiser in Atlanta. "I'm chasing a dream. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."

For those who journey here hat-in-hand, it almost never is.