Posted on Mon. Aug. 10, 2009 - 09:30 am EDT

Could coaching be Woodson's next big play?

Hall of Famer has the skills, knowledge to be a potent force on the sideline

of The News-Sentinel

CANTON, Ohio - Now that he's officially a legend, Rod Woodson has the rest of his life to consider.

It's fairly full already, with a wife, five children and a job analyzing the game for the NFL Network.

But I have a hunch that Woodson, the Fort Wayne native enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, wants another challenge. Standing on the sidelines or in the television studio and talking about what others are doing on the field won't satisfy him forever.

There's a coach inside Woodson aching to come out. There's a teacher who needs to teach.

“I've thought about it,” Woodson said of becoming a coach. “I'm still thinking about it. I've been offered a couple times. The first offer, I was just too closely removed from the game as a player and wanted to spend more time with my family.

“I know God gave me a lot of ability to retain a lot of knowledge about the game, and I had a lot of great teachers throughout my 17 years,” he said. “I've really been thinking about it. I don't know yet.”

He says he's not sure whether his wife, Nickie, is ready for him to be away as much as the grind of an NFL coach would demand.

Yet there's precedent for juggling family and football, and it's one of Woodson's former coaches with the Steelers who set it - Tony Dungy.

Woodson, 44, reminds me of Dungy in a few ways. Both are publicly Christian men, as Woodson emphasized in his enshrinement speech. Both have large families. Both experienced success as NFL players, although Woodson's was much greater than Dungy's. (No slight against Dungy; Woodson's career was better than most.) They both wrestle with how to make the most positive impact on others.

Dungy and Woodson share a keen insight into the mind of NFL players. They understand the locker-room culture and how the best coaches manage it.

When Dungy decided to retire as coach of the Indianapolis Colts - after seven years of success that will send him to the Hall of Fame as a coach - he mentioned more than once the appeal of being part of a team. Woodson will feel that pull, too.

I understand Woodson is part of a team with the NFL Network. But what's the best game-day thrill, a split-screen interview with Eli Manning?

Woodson experienced a taste of the coach/mentor side of the ball when he was with the Baltimore Ravens. Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis issued the recruiting pitch for the free agent Woodson. Baltimore had a young team, full of raw talent, including linebacker Ray Lewis. They need to learn how to win, Lewis told Woodson.

Woodson took the job and loved it.

“I kept talking to them, re-talking to them, talking to them some more,” Woodson said. “My first couple years, they thought I was one of the coaches. In each locker room, you need players who think like a coach and reiterate what the coach is saying in his own words. ... That's when you find chemistry, and we found that three years later in 2000 and that was one of the reasons we won the Super Bowl.”

They talk about some coaches being a “players' coach.” Woodson was a “coach's player,” during his storied career. After an early career lecture from Steelers assistant Rod Rust, he was always listening, always learning, always adjusting. He switched from cornerback to safety late in his career, and remained an All-Pro.

“His intelligence and his mental capacity to process the game extended his career,” former Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

In interviews over the course of his career, Woodson credited his coaches with teaching him the game and the best ways to approach it.

“I've been surrounded throughout my life with a lot of special people,” Woodson said. “From my PAL coach, Dave Rody, to my first professional coach, Chuck Noll, to all my great teammates that came along with that. Everybody helped me in some capacity to be a competitor and learn how to work hard.”

Woodson coaches already as an assistant at Valley Christian High School, where his son plays. But that's low key. The urge he undoubtedly feels is the NFL.

Tracy Foster, Woodson's friend and Hall of Famer presenter, said he doesn't know if Woodson will pursue a coaching career. “He would be great at it,” Foster said.

Maybe it starts as position coach. Who knows how to play defensive back better than Woodson? In the usual arc of NFL coaching, that would lead to a coordinator's position and then to the head coach's job.

Woodson remains young enough to get on the pro-coach track. He certainly has the knowledge. If he gets the blessing of his wife, who knows where it would lead?

He played for a wide variety of coaches. He's seen all the styles. He's absorbed the knowledge. Billick asked rhetorically the other day what could happen on a football field that Woodson hasn't seen.

If he feels the call, Woodson should try NFL coaching. Maybe his phenomenal football career has another riveting chapter yet to come.

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