FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Patriots assistant coaches generally keep a low profile, which is by design in the team’s “Do Your Job” culture. Forwarding personal agendas by increasing their public profile isn’t part of the assistants’ game-plan.
Linebackers coach Patrick Graham, who comes across more as an understated professor than a fiery football coach, fits right in.
The 36-year-old who played college football at Yale and never initially envisioned a career in coaching is now in his seventh season with the Patriots. In the final preseason game this year, he called the defense as an understudy to coordinator Matt Patricia, which reflects his growth on the job (Bill Belichick was complimentary of his work).
Graham shares his “football journey” as part of our weekly feature:
When he first was introduced to football: “My earliest memory of football was when my older brother was playing tackle football outside our housing complex when we were living in Illinois. Then he let me get in there as the running back; I never could run, even when I was a little kid, and I still can’t. But they let me score and I can still see it in my head vividly; we were at some elementary school and I’m on the field running and all the guys were grabbing behind me and they let me score. The love of the game grew from there; I was a Bears fan, my dad loved football, and my younger brother and I both played football in college."
Top memories playing at Yale, where he was a defensive lineman: “In ’99 when we won the championship behind Joe Walland having a great game as the quarterback. That ’99 championship team was pretty special. And then there was Eric Johnson playing out of his mind against Harvard, with one of the best catches I’ve ever seen. I solidified my spot on the bench and did a good job supplying water and keeping a seat warm for anybody who needed it. Really, it’s the memories of the guys I met there, like our captain, Pete Mazza. I had voted for him as captain since I was a freshman because he was such a strong leader. Some of the guys I played with there were just great guys, great leaders, like Pete Maloney, and I always told them, ‘I learned how hard work can pay off by watching you guys.’ I didn’t work that hard in college at football. I think I let them down in that element."
What led him into coaching after college: “I was out in Cincinnati working as a public relations consultant. For personal reasons, I was looking for a change of scenery from Cincinnati. My coach at Yale, Duane Brooks, who is at Dartmouth now, said, ‘Do you want to get your MBA for free?’ I told him I did and he said, ‘Well, you have to coach football to do it.’ So I went to Wagner College to be a graduate assistant (2002-03). I thought I was going there just to get my MBA and then maybe try to go on Wall Street or something. And I fell in love with coaching in the first month and it went from there.”
A brief stop at Fordham before three years at Richmond: “I was there for one week. I was recruiting at Wagner and had just read an article about Coach [Dave] Clawson, who is the head coach at Wake Forest now, and the power pass play they were running at Fordham. We were in the same place recruiting – he’s walking out of the school, I’m walking out of the school somewhere in New York – and I recognized him because I had just read the article. So I started talking to him, saying, ‘I really like what you guys are doing.’ He said, ‘Give me your card, I’m going to be in contact with you.’ A season went by at Wagner and he calls me at the end of their season to come in for an interview and I get the job at Fordham. I get there and the second day I’m there, he brings us all into a meeting after drills and says, ‘I got the job at University of Richmond.’ So I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I just turned down a few other jobs, I wonder if he’s going to bring me because that’s a different level of football – scholarship football.’ He decided to bring me with him and I was with him for three years (2004-2006) and he promoted me from limited earnings to full-time.”
Top memories at Richmond: “When we won the A-10 Championship, that was pretty special. We had a very good player in Stacy Tutt at quarterback. I coached assistant D-line my first year and then tight ends my last two years. I had some really good guys; they came to my wedding, and some really good players – Joe Stewart, Joe Monteverde, among them.”
Moving on to Notre Dame in 2007-2008: “When you’re at one of the I-AA schools, you try to go to a I-A school summer camp for recruiting. Especially academically, at Richmond, you need a student [who can meet those high standards]. So I would go to Notre Dame’s camp and Shane Waldron, who used to be here [with the Patriots] and Chad Klunder, who used to coach at Harvard, got me in there. I kept going there every year and I would just ask questions about football or talk to the coaches. When they had a job opening come up, Chad and Shane recommended me for an interview.”
Grateful for mentoring at Notre Dame: “I got the job and learning from Coach [Charlie] Weis, he was a great guy. I was on defense, but he’d take time out. I think it was more my second year, every morning I would have watched the tape with him and I always appreciated this about him; he was teaching me and saying, ‘Explain this to me, explain that to me’ by trying to get me better as a coach and understanding that presentation is a big part of it. He was real good to me. Jon Tenuta, the DC at Virginia, he was there my second year and he helped me learn football. He was tough on me. The first month, I said, ‘Me and this guy aren’t going to get along.’ But I love him to this day and learned so much football from him. Corwin Brown, when he was there, he taught me a lot and was real good to me."
Top memory at Notre Dame: “Probably when we beat UCLA my first year, when we were 0-5 and won at the Rose Bowl, which I think is the prettiest football stadium in the country. That was a special moment."
Hired by the Patriots in 2009 as he’s served as a coaching assistant before being promoted to position coach: “I actually got the job at Toledo as the D-line coach, and was there for a month when Shane [Waldron] and Coach Weis called me about talking to the Patriots. I came here and it’s been a great experience. Coach [Belichick] has been fair to me; he told me ‘just come in and work hard.’ It’s similar to what we ask the players to do. Now I’m here coaching linebackers, so it’s been a good experience.”
Respect for history and minority coaches who have opened doors: “I’m definitely aware of the history of that and it’s something that is important to me. I understand that the people before me, and the people that were in power in terms of providing opportunities, I am very appreciative of that. In college I was a Jackie Robinson Scholar, which helped me pay [for school] through scholarships. I’m real appreciative of that, especially in the sports world.”
What he loves about coaching: “The No. 1 thing is the interaction with the players and seeing them grow. I tell them, ‘You guys don’t understand it yet, but when your kids get older or when you start coaching, and you’re able to go over a certain point and it can all of a sudden be executed, that’s one of the best moments as a coach.’”