ESPN NFL analyst Antonio Pierce was named football coach at Long Beach Poly High School this week.
Having the opportunity to coach is something the Super Bowl champion New York Giants linebacker always wanted to do. And he couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. Long Beach Poly is a tradition-rich program that’s located near Compton, Calif., where Pierce grew up. The school had four players on NFL rosters to start the 2013 NFL season, according to USA Football, which was tied for fourth-most among all high schools.
In the Q&A below, Pierce talks coaching with Front Row and how he will continue to be an analyst for ESPN.
What led you to this coaching opportunity at Long Beach Poly?
I always wanted to coach at some level. I had a couple of opportunities after my football career ended, but I wasn’t ready to jump into that kind of full-time commitment. An opportunity came up here at Long Beach Poly. I’m excited to have the chance to give back to this community, especially since I grew up nearby. Anytime you have the chance to mentor kids on and off the field, teaching the game of football, talking about the game of life, that’s a great thing. With my background, having played in the NFL, I think you get even more ears listening to you, and that’s very promising.
You will continue to work as an ESPN analyst. How will you balance both jobs?
This won’t affect my job at ESPN at all. With the staff I put together, I’m going to have people in place for the days I have to be in Bristol. At the end of the day, I love talking about football as much as I love coaching. The NFL is a big part of my life and always will be. I’m glad the folks at ESPN have been gracious enough to let me have this opportunity to live one of my dreams of being a coach while continuing my role as an analyst.
You have a son who attends Long Beach Poly and plays football. What will that be like?
He’ll be a junior next year. Some people think I may only be coaching because my son is there. To be honest, I’d probably prefer if my son wasn’t there, but it just happens that he goes to this school. He’s on the football team. He also plays basketball and runs track. It will be unique that I’m his head coach but he’s been coached by me before and there’s going to be no favoritism. He’s going to have to work just as hard as everybody else.
Former NFL players Derrick Ward and TJ Houshmandzadeh will be on your staff. How are you approaching your staff hires?
I reached out to several NFL guys. A lot of these guys want to be around kids. They like giving back. Those are the first guys I contacted. Derrick, I played with – we won a Super Bowl together with the Giants. He jumped on right away. TJ, we played against one another going back to high school, in college and in the pros. I know what kind of student of the game he is and what kind of person. I love that they were both excited about it. They are passionate about it and want to give back. I have a couple of other guys who are on the fence. Hopefully they join in, and if not I’ll go with the local high school talent and some of the alumni in the area to fill out the coaching roster.
Did you seek advice from any of your former coaches?
I didn’t, but I have them all on speed dial and I’m sure I will be calling about practice schedules, to break down things, how to adapt to different situations and scenarios. I have a good relationship with pretty much all my former coaches, so I don’t think I’m too big or know enough about the game to get their advice, especially these coaches who have won championships at the highest level.
Long Beach Poly has a rich tradition, and your predecessor Raul Lara won a school-record five CIF titles before stepping down in December. What are your goals for the program?
I grew up in the area and went to a rival school [Paramount High School], only 15 miles away. I know all about the history and played against a lot of their guys like Willie McGinest, DeSean Jackson and others. I understand what the expectations are. It’s a program that has a lot of talent. I’m just looking to come in and establish a foundation – focus on fundamentals, life aspects on and off the field, community involvement, and help these kids get to the next level. At the end of the day, if these kids can continue their careers academically and athletically with a four-year scholarship, especially coming from the inner city, that’s a great thing. That’s going to be one of my biggest pushes – to get these guys to as many colleges as possible. And obviously it’s about winning. I have big shoes to fill and I plan on filling them the only way I know how – by putting on my hard hat and grabbing my lunch pail and going to work.
What’s the best advice you received from a coach that you will try to pass along to your players?
The biggest thing is learning not to waste an opportunity, which is something I really learned in college and the NFL. Honestly, in high school I let things slip by and probably wasted some opportunities, especially academically. That’s something I really want to preach to these kids – don’t take anything for granted. You can start laying down the bricks and the foundation for the rest of your life in high school, whether it’s the college you go to, how you perform athletically or how you take care of your family.
-By Bill Hofheimer
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