For some players, assistant coaching is not a natural stop on one's football career path. Said a former player was working as a summer coaching intern with the Bill Parcells Jets in the late Nineties, "Nah, I don't want to coach full-time. Too much work."
NFL assistant coaching is a lot of work, to be sure. But some players just have it in their blood.
"I'm trying to get into coaching," one-time Jets Pro Bowler Leon Washington told me at Jets House in New York City in early 2019. "I would love to come and do an internship with the Jets."
The Jets of new head coach Robert Saleh have done Washington better than that. After Leon coached with Jacksonville, interned with Green Bay, and the past two seasons held a minority coaching assistantship with Detroit, he was offered a position on Saleh's first Jets staff. And now his title is assistant, special teams, on Brant Boyer's ST staff.
Besides knowing he'd love the chance to coach, Washington also knew he would enjoy the opportunity to return to the site of his biggest NFL triumphs from 2006-09, the Meadowlands (except the old Meadowlands stadium, pre-MetLife). He enjoyed the attention he received from followers of the Green & White and enjoyed giving it back to them.
"My best years were with the Jets," he said back in '19, "and being here means so many fans tell me the old stories about making plays on Christmas night, to help them get to the playoffs, stuff like that. It kind of makes me feel good as well."
Washington also had a great respect for franchise history, which made him appreciate his 2008 season, when he surpassed Bruce Harper for most all-purpose yards in a season, all the more. Leon's 2,332 yards that season (with 1,534 of those yards on kick and punt returns) is the Jets season record, with Harper's 2,157 in 1978 second-best.
Back then, Washington thought Harper might be like "the undefeated Dolphins" watching the next team trying to take away their distinction as the only undefeated team, including playoffs, in NFL history. But Harper said that wasn't the case.
"Will I celebrate if he doesn't make it? No way. No way," Harper said as the '08 season unfolded. "I'm rooting for Leon."
Washington recalled that a lot of what motivated him as a player in high school and at Florida State was trying not only to be a jack of all trades but a master of all trades as well.
"Just playing a bunch of positions, doing a bunch of things, using all those skill sets I learned as a young kid on offense, defense and special teams, now it's panning out for me in the NFL," he said then. "Initially, people have to develop their roles, and for me to be doing well in all of them, it's satisfying."
Washington's appreciation of Jets history also extends to the coaches' roles. He played under a legend in Mike Westhoff, after all, and now will be coaching under Brant Boyer, considered one of the best ST coordinators in the business.
"You think about the history of the Jets. They were always known for special teams going back to Mike," Leon said. "And Brant does a great job. He's in that Mike Westhoff mold. He can really get guys to play hard for him."
Besides his all-purpose dimension, Washington's specialty was kickoff returns — he still holds the franchise mark for most KO-return touchdowns in a season (3 in 2007) and in a Jets career (4) — and his career 9.9-yard average on punt returns isn't bad, either. His do-it-all mentality made him a fan of Jets nation, and Boyer's specialists made him a fan again of the Green & White. And he's got knowledge to pass on to the Jets' specialists.
"I'm a Jets fan all the way," Washington said not long ago. Now he's a Jets assistant coach all the way. And the next chapter of his pro football career path has begun in earnest.