After nine seasons as a player with the Jaguars, Paul Spicer wasn't ready to give up football. He wanted more, and the Jaguars gave him an opportunity get a crash course in coaching during the 2011 season.
After helping out last year in a variety of roles with the Jaguars, Spicer was retained by new head coach Mike Mularkey as the assistant defensive line coach. It's a culmination of years of planning for Spicer as he mapped out his post-playing career while still playing in the NFL.
Spicer played in 115 games with 63 starts over his nine seasons with the Jaguars. He is one of only nine players to play nine seasons for the team, and finished his tenure with 28.5 sacks which is tied for fourth in team history. His career totals included 349 tackles, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and one interception.
It didn't take Spicer long to realize the hours as a coach aren't quite the same as when he was a player, and Tuesday is no longer a day off. But Spicer wouldn't want it any other way and he has the blessing of his wife, Shariffa, to make coaching a career. He enjoys the daily grind and the reward of watching players succeed. He's learning the many traits off the field that make a coach successful – like game planning, scouting reports, computer software and patience. Most importantly, he is starting his second career in the place he calls home.
I caught up with Spicer this week following his return from the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg where he served as an assistant coach. Here's part one of our conversation.
First of all, how nice is it to be back with the Jaguars?
Unbelievable. It's great. It's a great opportunity to continue what we started and be a part of this organization.
Take me back to the 2011 training camp. You were just supposed to be with the team during training camp but you ended up staying all season. Did you tell them you wouldn't leave?
I spoke with Coach Del Rio after training camp and we had a conversation. He liked the way I was working and liked the things I was doing. He asked me if it would be okay if I stayed, and that was something I was wanting to do. When he asked me it wasn't even a question.
At what point in your playing career did you realize coaching was an avenue you wanted to pursue?
It was probably around the 2007 season. I was becoming one of the old guys in the locker room and guys were looking up to me. I always tried to lead by example. We had a good year and I found myself reaching out to guys even a little more than I normally would. I am finding out as I start my coaching career that you do things a little differently, which is fine with me. When we came into the 2008 season we had the two young draft picks in Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves. I tried to help them as much as possible. It became a deal where I would give my left arm to be able to continue to do this after my playing days. I wanted to pass down what was given to me, but also in the same breath continue to learn. There is a lot more to learn in this game outside of playing than a lot of people really understand. I didn't understand it. Each day that I came in during this past season, watching guys like Mel Tucker, Joe Cullen, Mark Duffner and Andy Heck, watching how they work and prepare, I thought, 'what can I do to apply that to myself and my career to advance my knowledge of football?' I'm grateful I had the opportunity to do it. I'm going to continue to build on what I learned last year and continue to learn some of the technical stuff that goes into football that as a player you don't really think about.
What are you referring to when you say technical stuff?
As a player you get a game plan and learn what they put in the book. You go forward and play on Sundays. That's all you do. You don't think about what went into putting that game plan together. I'm glad I had an opportunity to do that this past year. I'm learning about the software that we use and becoming more familiar with it. I'm working on PowerPoint (presentations) because coaches love PowerPoint. I'm working on (Microsoft) Excel because a lot of the things we do to put together the game plan, getting the call sheet ready, is done on that software. I'm learning things I had no reason to learn as a player. Now as a coach these are the tools I need to learn and understand how to use to prepare myself to be the best coach I can be from an organizational standpoint.
And you don't have Tuesdays off like you did as a player.
No. But you know when I played I wasn't a guy that took time off anyway, even in the offseason. I tried to keep myself in shape, continued to work and was never a guy that had to worry about his weight. I always tried to do things to keep myself active even when I wasn't on the football field. I went out and did martial arts, everything that I could do to make myself a better player.
How has that approach changed as a coach?
I have to apply myself in a different way. Now I do need to get into the weight room and work out a little bit to shed some pounds (laughing).
So this career is something your wife (Shariffa) is okay with and you are full steam ahead.
Definitely. It's easy if you're single; you're calling the shots. I think Coach Cullen gets up and gets in at five in the morning and leaves at two in the morning. He can do that. Last year around this time as I was visiting the Senior Bowl, combine, coaching clinics and all the stuff I was doing, my wife knew what was ahead. She saw the work I was putting in as I was venturing out to network and meet coaches. One thing about coaches, they are not looking for just a phone call. They are looking for someone in their face so they can speak to you and they can get to know you as well as you get to know them. I was doing that and my wife knew this is what I wanted to do. I was preparing her for the time I had to put in as a coach. Once she knew this was something I was taking on just like a player, she supported me a hundred percent and that made it a lot easier. It's hard to go home when your wife is pulling one way and you're pulling the other way and think you're going to be a success. That doesn't work. She understands it and she is going to encourage me every day as I step out here to be a coach.
I know you came in the building several times over the past couple of years to talk with Gene Smith. How big of a role did he play into you getting into coaching?
Gene has always helped me throughout my career with the Jaguars. He was always able to share with me certain things, just helping me with things I wasn't seeing or I wasn't doing. I didn't take it as criticism, I took it as Gene cared for me as a player and a person and now as a coach. When I came to speak with him two years ago, he gave me the ins and outs as far as being a scout or a coach. He told me about scouting and the time away from the family. With the young marriage I have with my wife, I just couldn't see myself out on the road 200 days a year away from home. I wanted to be more up close and personal with the players. I didn't want to be the guy that got the height, weight and measurement and leave it at that. I love putting together the plan of how we are going to attack a team. How are we going to stop their four-wide or their single-back set? What blitz is going to be the right one? What coverage is going to be the right one to help us win? When you do that going in then you work it all week and then you go out on Sunday and watch your players execute it then it's a great feeling.