'Be authentic': How 29-year-old Denver Broncos DBs coach Christian Parker reaches players

Christian Parker is in his first year as the Denver Broncos' defensive backs coach and, at 29, is one of the youngest full-time position coaches in the NFL. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Christian Parker was a redshirt freshman wide receiver at the University of Richmond in 2010 when he announced to then-Spiders head coach Latrell Scott that he wanted to be a coach.

"And he kind of looked at me, and smiled a little bit and he asked me, I think, the sort of question I've now seen coaches ask those who want to be coaches to see if they understand what they might be getting into," Parker said with a laugh. "He said to me, 'So, you came to the University of Richmond to study political science and you want to be a coach?' And I was like, 'Yes, of course.'"

Former Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith has called it "the hours speech, the one coaches give you when you're done playing and you ask about coaching and then they tell you what it's really going to be like."

Parker is in his first year as the Denver Broncos defensive backs coach, and at 29 years old -- he'll be 30 in December -- he is one of the youngest full-time position coaches in the league (Philadelphia Eagles linebackers coach Nick Rallis, 28, is the youngest).

He is within a few months of being the same age as two players he coaches, cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller, and more than three years younger than safety Kareem Jackson.

"You understand quickly, be authentic; players can sense, at the end of the day, if you're trying to be something you're not or trying to get past a lack of preparation," Parker said. "You can't keep that act up for long."

Mike Shanahan was 31 when he became the Broncos wide receivers coach on Dan Reeves' staff in 1984, just six years after he had been a 25-year-old offensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. And Shanahan recently recounted walking into his first position meeting roughly the same age as two of the players in the room -- Dave Logan and Butch Johnson.

"You know how old you are, you have no doubt there," Shanahan said. "And you know you want to be in coaching, you have no doubt there. I was fortunate in that one of the first lessons I learned in coaching was it didn't matter how much I had played or how old I was or where I came from when I was coaching players. It mattered if they believe I could help them get better and if they believe I was going to work as hard as I could to help them get better. If they don't see that or believe that, you're done and I don't care what your résumé says."

Parker said he quickly came to the realization Vic Fangio hired him, and expected him, to perform the job without much regard to how many birthday candles were on his cake. Jackson said a player's perspective is "you just want to be coached, you want the coaches to be straight with you, and you want to be coached and get better."

Fangio said he didn't "know Christian at all" when he first spoke to him about the job but he wanted to find the right candidate. Fangio said it was clear in an intentionally challenging Zoom interview with Parker and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell just after the 2020 season that Parker was ready for the job.

Parker believes players judge him on his preparation. He had spent the previous two seasons as a defensive analyst for the Green Bay Packers -- Packers passing game coordinator Jerry Gray is one of Parker's chief mentors. In Green Bay, as well as at all of his previous college coaching stops, Parker filled a pile of spiral notebooks -- he prefers the ones with graph paper. Now he uses a stylus on his iPad to scribble notes from meetings, conversations and situations.

Parker said he tries to consume books and videos on leadership and schematic items, "every chance I get in the offseason, especially."

"You work with people who have done the job well for a long time, longer than you," Parker said. "It goes back to the first year I was coaching [at Richmond] and I was working with Latrell Scott at the time and Matt Dawson was the defensive coordinator and I had a suggestion, but it was something, we really couldn't make it work. And they were like, 'CP, just put it in your file.' And I was like, 'What is the file?' And they explained to me, as you get along there's going to be a lot of things that you like or dislike; you've got to keep track of all that stuff so when you get opportunities, you have some reference."

So far this season, heading into Sunday's game against the Eagles (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), Parker is part of a staff that has wrestled with a pile of injuries as well as the Von Miller trade, even as the Broncos enter Week 10 eighth in the league in pass defense.

"I've been lucky enough to see people every day who are really good at what they do and how they continue to stay really good at what they do," Parker said. "They've all been helpful to me, and I always trying to figure out which parts fit me and my approach. But in the end, if you can help a player, have some confidence, help them on the field, help them mature, help them perform at their best level, it doesn't matter if you're 95 or 25. That information is valuable, and it's how you handle the situations."