CINCINNATI – Rod Woodson is one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history. He’s an 11-time Pro Bowler – at three different positions, mind you – and he was All-Pro as a CB and a FS. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year on the strength of 71 career interceptions – including eight for Oakland when he was 37 years old.
But as great as he was, he found himself this week starting on the bottom rung of the coaching ladder. He was fitted with unfamiliar clothes, and though he received instant respect from anybody that walked within 15 feet of him, he’s a coaching intern and he knows he’s the lowest of the low.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he told CBSSports.com this week. “You have to start somewhere. I came in the league as a rookie, and you were frowned upon as a rookie. I had to work my way up. Hard work for me isn’t a problem. I know a lot of football, but it’s a process of learning how to coach. The players are going to take what they want to take from you. They won’t take everything. As a coach, you have to realize that.”
Woodson spoke with Bengals coach Marvin Lewis in January, and despite working as an analyst for the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network, he said he was ready to give coaching a try. The internship, which began this week for mini-camp and will continue through training camp in July and August, was a way for him to test the waters.
“I’ve got five kids, and I know the commitment coaches have to make,” said Woodson, whose oldest is a sophomore in college and whose youngest is 10. “That’s a deterrent at times. But for me to impact the young players’ lives outside of football is huge. You don’t have to be an ex-player to be a good coach, but I like to see a lot of ex-players come back that can give something to the players outside of football.”
Already, the former Pittsburgh Steelers great is making an impact on the players he’s now coaching.
“You immediately give that guy respect no matter what, just because of his production,” said SS Chinedum Ndukwe. “You can tell in the meeting rooms – he’ll break stuff down for us. He understands the game, and he still knows it. I think he still has the itch. I think if he could still play, he would do it.”
Secondary coach Kevin Coyle introduced his players to Woodson by showing them his stats during a DBs meeting. Immediately, Woodson, though he admitted it was strange to wear Bengals gear, immersed himself into the team.
“Can he be a coach of guys who don’t take it as seriously as he did? Because he took it very seriously,” Lewis said. “That’s the fun part of it. It didn’t take long for him to start coaching out there. He has so much to offer. His notes were like an encyclopedia. He’ll teach people how to learn.”
Woodson’s philosophy is to be a conduit between the players and the coaches.
“Trying to slow the game down and put it in layman’s terms when the coaches are speaking,” Woodson said. “When the coaches say one thing, players think another. Sometimes you have to try to find an even keel. Hopefully, I can try to bridge that gap. I think I’ve been out of the game long enough to know what the coaches really want. I’m trying to tell them what it took for me to get to the next level. That doesn’t really change over the years.”
First, though, Woodson will have to decide if coaching is a vocation he really wants to pursue.
“The only way to do it is to do it,” Lewis said. “He’s going to commit himself to do it. Only thing he can experience is training camp and this. He’ll know. He’ll have a great idea of it.”
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