Often times there is an influential person who has helped shape who you have become in life. For San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon, that person was his first NFL position coach, Clyde Christensen. Garçon spoke to me at length about his time in Indianapolis with distinguished receivers Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, and Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison. What really stood out to me was his relationship with his former position coach and how it has given him staying power in the NFL.
When I spoke to Christiansen, he was equally effusive about his former wide receiver. It’s very clear that the two have a very unique respect for one another, one that goes beyond coach and player, as two men that have a deep admiration and bond with one another. It’s a bond that goes beyond their work on the field.
While Garçon credits Christensen for his development as a route runner, Christensen says it’s all because of Garçon’s work ethic. Coming out of Division III school University of Mount Union in Ohio, Christensen described Garçon as a raw talent that needed to work on his stance and his breaks, so much so that Christensen said they probably “wore holes in the sod” getting them right. He went as far as affectionately describing Garçon like a “labrador retriever, just run forever and just throw him the ball. Just keep throwing him the ball, he’s going to bring it back and run some more. He just worked.”
Drafting Garçon was somewhat of a risk. He was never a sure thing. “He was a hard guy to evaluate because he was at Mount Union and they didn’t throw the ball. You just couldn’t see that on film. He was so much bigger and stronger than everyone he played against that he was a hard guy to evaluate. I just wasn’t sure because he didn't have a ton of football background. He wasn't one of those, you knew immediately.”
Garçon was less vocal back then, but always listening, soaking up anything he could to become a better football player. Although he admits not liking the work during his early seasons in the NFL, his former coach says Garçon never wanted to take a break. When he asked him if he needed less reps or a break, Garçon “wouldn’t say two words” to his coach, he would just stare at his coach and keep working, fatigue or not. Those were the days before the current CBA placed a significant limit on coach-player time in the offseason. The coach and his young receiver spent hours in the indoor facility developing his skills. Christensen believes the Pierre Garçons of today are getting cheated by those rules. Without that extra time, Garçon may not be the player he is today.
It may have been fear of getting cut or fear of losing reps on the field, being behind an impressive group of receivers, but whatever motivated Garçon, it paid off in dividends. That commitment to improve hasn’t diminished for the wide receiver. Both Christensen and Kyle Shanahan describe Garçon as being at the top of his game after finishing his ninth season in the league. Neither ever mentioned the word decline for the wide receiver, even at the age of 30, which in a league filled with youth seems like an impossibility.
What is also impressive about Garçon is his style of play. Shanahan spoke at the NFL annual meeting talking about loving how “angry” Garçon plays. Christensen described it as, “violent, he never backs down from anyone. He’s not afraid of going across the middle, cracking safeties.”
This is all in stark contrast to the man you see in press conferences with the huge smile that Christensen describes as one of the best in the league. “It’s a trillion-dollar smile. There’s nothing like when he gives you that big smile. He is the success story of all success stories in my career.”
This is part one of a two part series from an exclusive interview with Clyde Christensen, offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, and Garçon’s wide receivers coach in Indianapolis.