ALLEN PARK, Mich. – They know, in some ways, they are the lucky ones. The list of coaches who want to reach the NFL is long. The list of humans who want to coach might eclipse that.
While it may seem like the path they were always going to be on, most of the Detroit Lions coordinators and assistant coaches had some idea or plan if coaching didn’t work out.
Coaching can be demanding. It can be fickle. Your job can disappear with a bad season or two. With that in mind, we sought out what the Plan B – and in some cases, the Plan A – was for Lions staffers, who if life had taken a different twist or turn could have ended up in medicine, law or running a produce farm.
Paul Pasqualoni, defensive coordinator
Pasqualoni’s father had an edict for his children in Cheshire, Connecticut: Play a sport or work on the farm. He wanted his children to get a degree and after college Pasqualoni taught elementary school and coached football in his hometown. It had long been his passion.
Had that not happened, he probably would have run a farm. For decades, his family ran Pasqualoni Brothers farm in Connecticut before selling in 2014. Half the farm was a greenhouse for annual flowers and bedding plants. The other half, Pasqualoni Brothers grew tomatoes, eggplant, squash, peppers, cabbage, broccoli and then turnips in the fall to Stop-and-Shops around the region.
His father’s specialty, though, was sweet corn.
“He had a tremendous following of roadside fruit and vegetable stands that would have their pickup trucks parked out there at 5 o’clock in the morning, so we’d start at 5 o’clock in the morning picking corn,” Pasqualoni said. “The first thing we did every morning, once it was corn season, usually by the Fourth of July toward the end of July, we’d be in there every morning picking corn and then getting it right to these guys who were waiting for it.
“My father’s theory was you pick the corn while the sugar content was the highest early in the morning before the sun came up. So that’s what we did.”
Sean Ryan, quarterbacks coach
After graduating from Hamilton College, Ryan started a training program to be a bond salesman in Chicago. Not in love with that gig, he moved back to upstate New York, where he started working in industrial sales in the Adirondack Mountains.
He sold garnet for Barton Mines in North Creek, New York.
“Like some of the hardest garnet in the world,” Ryan said. “Now they sell this garnet not as jewels or any of that, it’s actually used in high pressure water jet machines. So they cut all kinds of things.”
He ended up being pretty good at it in 1996, which is how he ended up leaving it to go into coaching. In charge of the southern part of the United States, he made a huge sale – three tractor-trailer loads -- to Mexico, which was also part of his region. His bosses and colleagues were celebrating.
He wasn’t moved.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, this just doesn’t do it for me,’ “ Ryan said. “So that was kind of the moment when I realized I need to get back to the football life.”
He had done some high school coaching when he suffered a torn ACL at Hamilton. He went to his high school coach and told him what he wanted to do. Ryan said his high school coach thought he was insane to give up a stable job for coaching. He told him to go home, sleep on it for a night, and if he was interested the next day to come back.
Ryan did and soon after landed at Siena College.
Al Golden, linebackers coach
Golden had a simple goal his final year at Penn State while wrapping up a master’s degree in political science: Go to law school. Find a job in politics or government. At least that’s how it started.
He never applied for law school, though. The NFL came calling first as a player. As he took a five-hour plane ride home from San Diego after being cut by the Chargers, he decided he wanted to coach instead of practice law. So he applied to graduate schools and got accepted at Virginia, where he studied sports psychology under the legendary Bob Rotella – a decision he says now has “been very beneficial for me.”
He laughs now when he’s asked if things had gone differently he’d be a city councilman.
“I don’t know about that,” Golden said. “But we’ll see. I was definitely considering it at the time, some kind of path to leadership.”
Bo Davis, defensive line coach
Davis loves cars. Likes driving them and fixing them. Even now, as an NFL coach, he’ll go home in the offseason and dig into automobiles.
“If football wasn’t there, I was always good at being a mechanic,” Davis said. “I love drag racing. You know, just working hard and hanging on, trying to make a good living, that’s my thing. I would have probably been a mechanic somewhere working on cars and drag racing on Friday and Saturday nights and enjoying life.
“That’s pretty much what I would have done.”
Kind of. As he contemplated a non-coaching life, he thought about following his mother’s footsteps as a teacher. The Marines and Secret Service also seemed like plausible options. He considered it enough that he said he took the initial test to join the Secret Service.
“I filled out and did the application and all that stuff,” Davis said. “And that’s what I was set to do. I kind of let it go after that, didn’t keep pursuing it. I decided to go this route.
“I was like, I could go work for the government, that would be something good for me and I could have some stability.”
Robert Prince, wide receivers coach
Prince always figured he’d coach. He just assumed it would be in high school as a math teacher/football coach.
He took the CBEST California Educator Credentialing Exam and was getting ready to seek out student teaching gigs. Then his coaches at Humboldt reached out.
“A graduate assistant position opened at my college and my coach asked, ‘Hey, would you be interested in being a graduate assistant?’" Prince said. “That kind of changed my path.”
It took him across the west as a coach and even, for two seasons, to the Japanese X League as an offensive coordinator. It’s a long way from working with high school students.
Jeff Davidson, offensive line coach
Jeff Davidson never thought about coaching at all. As his NFL career ended with the New Orleans Saints in 1994, he started researching jobs in the automotive industry, where he could use his mechanical engineering studies from Ohio State.
He had even done some work in the space, working with plastics for body panels and internal combustion engines. It had interested him from the time he was a kid, when he would tear apart engines for fun.
“I had plenty of contact with people in the automotive industry and had done some work within that so it felt it was going to be a natural flow to move into that,” Davidson said. “It’s kind of funny how the whole thing played out, because I had zero interest in coaching. Never even entered my mind until it was brought to my attention that, ‘Hey, listen, all you’ve been doing is coaching. When you were a player, you would help the young guys, teach them how to play the game, sharing your experiences and teaching techniques to guys who are competing with you while you were doing it.'"
The Saints asked him to stay on and coach instead in 1995. He says now he was days away from sending out applications to automotive companies.
When coaches approached him, he wasn’t quite ready to give up football yet. So he stuck with it.
Kyle Caskey, running backs coach
Caskey wanted to move to New York. When he graduated from Texas A&M, that’s what he did – taking a job in sales with Marcus Evans. For a year, he sold meeting space and time to technology companies trying to work with public schools and government organizations.
“It was basically phone sales but every once in a while I would go out and do a face-to-face sale in town,” Caskey said. “That was my 8:30-to-5:30 job and it just kind of wasn’t fulfilling to me.”
He loved New York, living on 96th and Lexington. He wanted, in some ways, to stay. But a year in he was broke, unfulfilled in his job and reached out to his father, a coach in Texas.
Had he been able to stretch the money out, he said he would have stayed longer – but not much longer.
“I didn’t feel like I was going to get to the point in my life where I was really happy going to work doing that,” Caskey said. “I probably would have lasted a little longer, but there would have been some change somewhere.”
Instead he returned to Texas and coached in high school before landing a graduate assistant gig at Louisiana-Monroe, which started his NFL path. He always has kept an eye on the non-football side of life, though.
He has considered helping with non-profits when he can and getting involved in government. He always had an interest in politics and sought out internships in Washington, D.C. post-college as well. He got one eventually -- when he was the Bengals’ running backs coach in 2014. He did a one week fellowship in then-speaker John Boehner’s office.
“It was an interesting deal,” Caskey said. “I actually got to sit in some meetings. It wasn’t any high-level confidential meetings, but some staff meetings with the speaker and his staff. Got to go through some meetings at the Capitol. It was cool.”
Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator
Darrell Bevell’s plan was operate. He just figured he might be surgically trying to solve human problems instead of football ones. He wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon, and he majored in zoology while playing quarterback at Wisconsin to get all of his prerequisites done.
He had no interest in working with animals, though.
“I had a human physiology and anatomy course in high school, the bones, the muscles, all that,” Bevell said. “It was right up my alley. I could memorize and know all that stuff. That was something that hit me that I really enjoyed.”
He never got the chance. He got a job at Westmar University in 1996 and put any medical dreams on hold. Permanently. By the time he started working on his master’s degree, he focused on education administration.
He clearly had an eye on a high-stress job no matter what. So which would he think might be more stressful: Orthopedic surgeon or offensive coordinator?
“This one,” Bevell said, referencing his current gig. “Without a doubt. Without a doubt, this one.”
Chris White, tight ends coach
White tried a bunch of different things at Colby College. He majored in government. Thought he wanted to be a lawyer – but didn’t want to take the LSAT. He interned on the Boston Stock Exchange thanks to an assist from his brother, who worked for Lehman Brothers at the time.
“Kind of figured out that I wasn’t good in math, either,” White joked.
So teaching and coaching became his main focus. He went to Syracuse right after undergrad and got a master’s in education to try and become a high school athletic director. Which is where he figured he might end up when he taught U.S. History to 10th graders at Bishop Manogue High School in Reno, Nevada, where he was the head football coach. Then he got a job at UNLV and went from there.
John Bonamego, special teams coordinator
Bonamego always wanted to coach once he realized playing in the NFL was never going to happen his sophomore year of college. He majored in health and fitness and minored in biology – all with this plan.
It’s one started because of something he learned as a kid. When he was 6, he wanted to be an astronaut. He was obsessed with space when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. By the time he started thinking about that as a career, the program wasn’t doing as much. Then he considered becoming a pilot.
“My freshman year in high school, I learned that I was colorblind and that devastated me,” Bonamego said. “Because I knew that was going to, I wasn’t going to be a pilot. I had thoughts of the Air Force Academy at one point and started the process of an application there.
“But for me, it’s always been about football, from the first time I stepped on the field.”
Brian Stewart, defensive backs coach
Stewart went to Northern Arizona with a love of law enforcement. He grew up on the cop movies of the 1970s that glamorized the profession. He always thought it was cool.
It was also a way to help his community in Southern California.
“I applied for the LAPD. I applied for the sheriff’s department, all that stuff,” Stewart said. “The whole time I was coaching high school. I just loved the sport more than I loved having an opportunity to wear a suit and carry a gun.”
He never found out if he was accepted. By the time the interview came up, he landed a full-time coaching gig. He has wondered what would have happened if the initial coaching call hadn’t come or had the LAPD reached out first. He probably would have more than the four suits he rotates now as a football coach.
But he figures eventually he would have found his way back to the sport.
“If that would have happened, I might have been like coach Mike London,” Stewart said. “Been a police officer for a few years and then gotten into coaching.”