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Coaching wasn’t a natural choice for Nick Ferguson

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The former Broncos safety spoke to me about the transition that he once thought he would never make.

Over the summer, the San Francisco 49ers announced their 2017 Bill Walsh Coaching Fellows. There are several notable names that have various connections to the 49ers coaching staff and front office.

General manager John Lynch brought in a familiar face in Nick Ferguson. Lynch and Ferguson have known each other since their playing days back in Denver, of which they shared four seasons 2004-2007. Ferguson was a free safety and Lynch was a strong safety. Ferguson has been working with the 49ers defensive backs during training camp.

Ferguson never thought he’d be a coach. In fact, when he was a player, he swore when he retired that he would walk away from football completely. Then retirement came, and there was a competitive void in his life that he says most retired players fill with golf. Not being a golfer, Ferguson returned to football. He dabbled in commentating before the coaching bug bit him, and now it just seems natural.

Ferguson says coaching is one of the most rewarding things he has ever done. He misses the bond that he had with his teammates in the locker room but when he works with a player and sees the subsequent development and progress it’s nearly as satisfying.

This isn’t the first time that Ferguson has participated in the coaching internship that was started by 49ers legend Bill Walsh many decades ago. Ferguson has also interned with the Texans, Seahawks, and Broncos.

Denver Broncos vs Oakland Raiders - November 13, 2005 Photo by Robert B. Stanton/NFLPhotoLibrary

Another event that made a huge impact in Ferguson’s life was the death of Denver teammate Darrent Williams, who was shot the morning of Ferguson's wedding. As he works with teams, he also shares his experiences, telling the young players about being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the repercussions it can have.

Ferguson also talks to young players about his 11 year marriage because many are surprised that he has been married that long. He explains how much work it takes by both members of the partnership and they should be careful who they allow to become close to them. He stresses the importance of loyalty.

What strikes me the most about Ferguson’s career is the path it took for him to get where he is. If you look below the surface of his ten-year NFL career you find out how difficult it was for him to get there, how many times he was told no. He wrote about it in an open letter to undrafted free agents in The Players Tribune. It’s a fantastic read that’s inspiring even if you’re not looking for a career as an NFL player.

Here’s an excerpt:

One of my strength coaches used to motivate guys during practice by telling us that you pass out before you die. It sounds ridiculous (and scary), but when you’re out there on the field during camp feeling like you just can’t push forward, think about that. Have you exhausted yourself to a point that you’re ready to die? If you haven’t, then you still have more to give. If that is your mentality every day, someone will notice, and you’ll make a career out of this game. You can be good, or you can be the best at your position. The choice is yours. But this is the time to decide.

Ferguson’s letter isn’t just about pushing yourself physically. He tells his own story about needing to go back to school and the reasoning behind it.

Here’s some real advice for guys who are dreaming of making it in this business: Football isn’t everything. If you can’t read the playbook, it doesn’t matter how fast you run. Nobody cares. At some point this game is going to end you, either by injury or by a team simply moving past you. What you do next is the only thing really in your control. So many guys make so much money and then end up broke because they have no other job skills. You need to have those skills, and you can only get them through an education. A 4.41 40-yard-dash doesn’t teach you much in the way of economics.

It still feels strange for Ferguson to walk into stadiums on game day not having to go to the locker room and suit up. When you talk to him you can really sense how much he misses it, but at least it looks like he has found the next best thing.