A rookie head coach for the Jets in 2006, Eric Mangini looked to add a physically and mentally tough veteran to his first-year roster. And he did so by signing unrestricted free agent linebacker Brad Kassell.
The Sunbelt Conference Player of the Year for two consecutive years at the University of North Texas, Kassell spent four seasons with the Tennessee Titans before making his way to New York.
"I talked with Detroit a little, but going in and meeting with the staff, Mangini, I really liked him and (defensive coordinator Bob) Sutton. So it seemed like a good fit," Kassell said. "(Mangini told me) 'You're going to be a special teams mainstay and then work in at linebacker.'
"However you perform, obviously, that's kind of how that regime worked. You perform, you play. But, yeah, pretty much I was going be in similar to the same role of special teams and reserve linebacker (I was with the Titans). We had a good crew in New York. It was a very cool locker room. Awesome guys."
After contributing on special teams and then starting at middle linebacker, Kassell had 182 tackles, 130 solo, four fumble recoveries, and a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown over his last two years in Tennessee. But things would be a little different with the Jets, who were going with an alignment Mangini was used to as the defensive coordinator with New England – the 3-4.
"Well, it was a bit of an adjustment because I'd never played in an odd front. So that took a little while to get used to. We were an even front in Tennessee," Kassell said. "Coverages always kind of end up being the same, just depending on how the intricacies of it work, but it was a bit of a change just moving to an odd front."
Making his mark on special teams, Kassell would lead the unit with 23 tackles in 2007.
"You're just trying to contribute to the team," he said. "When you're on special teams, you get a limited amount of plays, so you try to go out there and do whatever you can to help the team win."
Kassell would have to do that in spirit the following year after getting hurt in the first preseason game and being placed on Injured Reserve.
"I got juked. I tried to leg sweep the guy to get him down and I tore my ACL and LCL (in my right knee)," Kassell said. "I stayed in New York (for rehab). I wasn't in (the team and position meetings) all the time because I was done for the year, but I was around the facility. I just did not participate in most of the day-to-day activities."
Released following the 2008 season, Kassell returned to his home state of Texas, and is now a world geography teacher at Lago Vista High School, as well as the football team's defensive coordinator and girls track coach.
"I definitely would have never gone into high school coaching prior to this. But when I was 32 years old, I became a born again Christian. And I felt like there had to be some place where I could serve people. I had a background in football, so I thought that coaching would be the place to be," Kassell said.
"I like kids because they're pretty genuine. They haven't got their mask up yet, so you kind of get to know them as people. And hopefully, sports are a great way to teach lessons in life. Just the relationships with the kids and understanding that they're all unique, you kind of start to understand how human beings work. What backgrounds they come from and how those things affect them.
"I'm always kind of into things like, what are we doing here? What is our purpose? Why are we on this earth? And how can we help others? It's just really like a study in human nature, dealing with high school students. It's been a great experience. They've probably taught me way more than I've ever taught them."
Coaching boys in football for the past seven years and girls in track for the last three, certainly has its differences. For one, Kassell and his wife Marcy's daughters: Saydie and Madison are on the track team.
"It's very cool. Coaching girls is different. Guys, we're kind of Neanderthals and you can basically tell them whatever and they'll go do it. But the ladies like to have a reason why you're doing that. You definitely have to pitch things a little differently," Kassell said.
"But being with my daughters has been awesome. I mean, that's kind of one of the reasons I got into it. I certainly wanted to be able to be around my kids as they grew up. It's just been awesome coaching girls track. They're super hard workers, and if you show that you care about them, they'll give you everything they got."