It’s a special relationship between a coach and player when it lasts beyond their time working on the same team. That’s how I would describe the bond between San Francisco 49ers newly acquired free agent wide receiver Pierre Garçon and Clyde Christensen, his first NFL wide receivers coach. Each of them is equally complimentary about the other when they describe one another.
Garçon’s early days in the league were shaped by the hard work that he and Christensen did together before the CBA limited what a player and coach could do in the offseason. What developed was not only a very productive receiver, but a relationship between a teacher and student that is as strong today as it was when the two grew together back in Indianapolis.
Another thing that still remains from Garçon’s early years is the old cadillac that he drove back as a rookie. Christensen still teases him to this day about the car that has over two hundred thousand miles on it, even after two very lucrative contracts. “That just shows you what kind of guy he is.”
When Garçon was offered a contract to play for Washington, it was Christensen who convinced the reluctant receiver to leave the nest. Things weren’t always easy for Garçon as he transitioned away from the Colts. After a break out season in 2013 where he recorded 113 receptions on 184 targets for 1,346 yards, the team decided to bring in WRs DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. In 2014, Jackson was the 1,000 yard receiver for the team and Garçon’s bread and butter, the “grindy work, the tough work in the middle” seemed to be what he was being limited to. Christensen again was his sounding board.
Garçon was having thoughts that he was being transitioned primarily into a blocker and going up the middle while the deep balls were headed into other hands. Christensen reminded him that doing “the grindy work in the middle is a compliment. That's who you are and that's what you do.” Garçon went on to have what Christensen called one of his best years as a pro.
One of Christensen's favorite and yet most worrisome memories about Garçon going across the middle was when the young wide out laid out Ray Lewis on a crack back and subsequently yelled to him “You better get in the weight room, I'm coming after you!” When I asked Garçon about this encounter he denied recalling that it happened but Christensen knows that his young pupil remembers.
That’s a lie, he remembers. [laughing] I’ll say this, he might not have known who Ray Lewis was at the time, and he certainly didn't know how accomplished he was. I remember pulling him over and saying, ‘You shut your mouth, this guy will kill you. That guy has been the MVP of the league three or four times. You keep your mouth shut.’ That’s how raw he was and he’s still like that to this day. He never backs down from anyone.
Both Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch agree that a comparable receiver to Garçon is Anquan Boldin and how Christensen describes Garçon could be a validation of that statement.
He is a physical presence. He is a strong man. There’s not many corners that want a piece of him and they don’t want to tackle him. He runs violently and he backs down from nobody. That will carry a long way in this league because there are a lot of guys who will cover you but they’d rather not tackle you and they’d surely not want to mix it up with you. There are not that many receivers who are like that, frankly.
Juxtapose that with Christensen’s description of Garçon off of the field and it reminds me of the person who is in the cover photo of this article, Patrick Willis.
He is a sweetheart, he is one of my all time favorite guys ever. He’s come a long ways as a man and a player. He’s terrific. He’s always had a humbleness, he’s always had a work ethic, he’s always had a trillion dollar smile. He loves football and appreciates where he came from and I’ll forever love that about him.
When Pierre Garçon caught his 500th reception in the NFL he received the game ball. That ball now resides in Christensen’s office in Miami.
This is part two of a two part series (part one here) from an exclusive interview with Clyde Christensen, offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, and Garçon’s wide receivers coach in Indianapolis.