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Keenan a natural coach

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He wasn't completely certain it was the right choice. Not at first.

Not that Keenan McCardell didn't have an interest in coaching. Through a 17-year NFL career, which included six seasons with the Jaguars, the wide receiver thought it was something he could possibly do after retiring as a player.

But as of early 2009, hadn't taken the steps to get involved, and although he loved the game, he wasn't sure it was the profession for him.

Then, Tom Coughlin called.

"He said, 'I think it would be a good thing for you – you've done it the last five years of your career,''' McCardell -- now preparing for his second season as a wide receivers coach with the Washington Redskins – told jaguars.com recently.

"He said, 'Why not make it your job full-time?'''

McCardell said he told Coughlin, his head coach in Jacksonville for six seasons, he would think about it. Coughlin called him not long afterward.

"Have you thought about it?" Coughlin asked.

"Yes," McCardell replied.

"Then get your butt up here and do this internship with me, then let's see what happens after that," Coughlin said.

McCardell did so, completing a Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship  internship under Coughlin with the New York Giants in training camp before the 2009 season. He coached wide receivers in the East-West Shrine Game the following January, then joined the Redskins' staff under Head Coach Mike Shanahan last off-season.

McCardell, 41, said it was fitting that Coughlin helped get him involved with coaching. It was Coughlin who signed McCardell to a free agent contract in 1996, and under Coughlin, McCardell had some of his best NFL seasons.

"Once I got in it (coaching), I loved it," McCardell said. "I was looking for a way to get in. I just needed someone who believed in me. It was a good thing. We (he and Coughlin) had had that type of relationship. I respect him a lot. I would ask him a lot of questions and he'd ask me things. It comes in time as you play for a guy for so long. We would lean on each other."

McCardell, who finished his career as the NFL's 13th all-time leader in receptions, played for Jacksonville from 1996-2001, catching 499 passes for 6,393 yards and 30 touchdowns. He teamed with Jimmy Smith to form the Thunder and Lightning duo that was one of the league's elite receiving tandems, and while in Jacksonville, McCardell played for four playoff teams.

He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2002, and while he won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay that season and played six seasons after leaving Jacksonville, he said his time with the Jaguars remains special.

"I really enjoyed my experiences up there, and it led me to this job in Washington," McCardell said. "Being there jump-started me – not just because of football, but the fans in Jacksonville and the community in Jacksonville. I still enjoy that community. It's a community my wife and kids enjoy. I have a lot of friends in Jacksonville.

"I enjoyed everything about the situation. We had great fans there, and great teams there. We didn't reach our final goal, which was to win a Super Bowl, but we brought a lot of excitement to area football. There was a lot of interest in colleges, but we wanted to make it pro-rich, too, and bring an understanding of the pro game there.

"What I always tell people is, 'Don't sleep on Jacksonville. There are some great fans there – and people who know football in and out.' You have to respect the people who live in that area."

McCardell said he still has an idea that Jacksonville fans have an appreciation for him, and the teams for which he played. He said he got a deeper sense of that this past season when the Redskins played the Jaguars at EverBank Field late in the season.

"It was like coming back home and playing," McCardell said. "A lot of the fans who were at the game were fans when we were playing. That's great for the organization. We made a strong connection to Jacksonville. They really enjoyed us being out all the time, and we appreciated them supporting us."

McCardell said he likes his current situation, and likes working with Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan as well as his son, Redskins Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Coaching, he said, was a natural fit, and he said his diverse experience as a player has given him more than enough lessons from which to draw and teach.

While McCardell eventually developed into one of the NFL's best receivers, he was hardly guaranteed NFL success. A 12th-round selection by Washington in the 1991 NFL Draft, he spent the '91 season on injured reserve, then played mostly as a reserve in Cleveland from 1992-1995, starting 11 games in four seasons before signing with the Jaguars as a free agent.

He emerged in Jacksonville immediately as not only a critical player on an improving team, but as one of the NFL's best players at his position. He made the Pro Bowl in 1996, and had least 891 yards receiving in each of his six Jaguars seasons.

He had four 1,000-yard seasons in Jacksonville, missed just one game because of injury and started all but three games in six seasons. He then caught two touchdown passes in Super Bowl XXXVII for Tampa Bay following the 2002 season, playing one more season for the Buccaneers and three in San Diego before his final season in Washington.

"That helps me as a coach," McCardell said. "I can relate to the free-agent guy who came in in the last round and I can relate to the guy who's on top. I can relate to everybody. I can tell them, 'I've been there. What you're saying to me is nothing new. I've walked your steps. I can help you through those steps, and how to handle some of those things. I've had those thoughts.'

"It's a little easier, but sometimes you have guys who you have to show you've been there, but that's how it is. I try to help guys as much as possible, to make things easier for them."

McCardell throughout his career appreciated his place in the game, and studied other players past and present. The game mattered to him, and he said coaching provides an opportunity to do more than just stay around the game.

 "It was so good to me," McCardell said. "I needed to give back. A lot of older guys gave me a lot of knowledge. I learned about the game from them. I wanted to give back to the game, and what better way than to be a coach and mentoring some of the guys coming into the league?

"We stood on the shoulders of great players who played this game in the past. As coaches and players, we owe it to the people who came before us to make our game the best out there. That's what it's about. The only way to do that is to really, truly care about the game of football. If they don't care about it, it won't be good.

"It's fun to get a chance to know the younger generation, to know how they think. It's fun to get the chance to help make them a better person, as well as a better football player."

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