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Needing to prove himself as coach, Ed Reed enters unfamiliar territory

Ed Reed had nothing left to prove by the end of his 12-year NFL career. If he hasn't written his speech and picked out his suit for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he should, because someone will be polishing his bust in Canton, Ohio, in a few short years.

But like the sculptor who will one day start from scratch on casting Reed's likeness into bronze, the nine-time Pro Bowl safety must begin to carve his path in a new career -- as an NFL coach.

Reed, who agreed in principle Wednesday to become the Buffalo Bills' assistant defensive backs coach next season, will bring five years of knowledge from playing in Bills coach Rex Ryan's system -- from his time with the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets -- to a secondary that could use the experience to better understand the often-complex nuances of Ryan's scheme.

Yet as with any successful NFL player trying to transition to a career in coaching, translating years of insight into teachable coaching points will be a challenge, as will be returning to a grind that often brings longer hours and more thankless work than what Reed knew as a player.

The reality is that a large number of former NFL players -- even those with accolades as extensive as Reed's -- fail in their attempts to become coaches. Of those who succeed in establishing themselves as full-time position coaches, fewer become coordinators and only a select few are cut out to become head coaches.

Reed will begin his journey as an assistant defensive backs coach, a title last held in Buffalo by Samson Brown in 2014 and, before that, Adrian White in 2012. If those names don't sound familiar, it's because they were near the bottom of the NFL's coaching ladder, trying to earn their next job by toiling through hard and long days. Just one example, former Bills assistant offensive line coach Kurt Anderson -- who was recently hired by the University of Arkansas -- tweeted a photo of himself prior to the Bills' regular-season finale last month in front of an office clock that read 2:06 a.m.

That's the life that awaits Reed as he begins his coaching career in Buffalo. Is he cut out for it? There's definitely a chance. Reed had an unlikely ally throughout his playing career in rival New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who often went out of his way to praise Reed for his intelligence and abilities. In his brief stint with the Houston Texans in 2013, Reed earned the nickname of "Coach Reed" (although it was a sometimes derisive indication of his dwindling physical abilities).

It's not always a smooth transition to coaching. Hall of Fame and former Bills receiver Andre Reed has participated in multiple NFL minority coaching internships, most recently with the Bills in training camp, and his intention was to secure a full-time position-coaching job.

"If I continue to do this and I want to pursue, there's no reason why I can't be a coach somewhere," Andre Reed said last June. "I'm not here just to pass time. This is something I want to do. If I want to do it, I usually go 100 percent at what I want to do and I usually attain it."

Time will tell if Andre Reed can fulfill his wish, but as the NFL's coaching carousel spins this January, he has yet to be hired by any team -- even after racking up more than 13,000 receiving yards and seven Pro Bowls over his 16-year NFL career.

Meanwhile, Ryan feels that he has one of the NFL's best receivers coaches in Sanjay Lal, whose NFL career was limited to a brief stint with the St. Louis Rams in 1998. Lal replaced Rob Moore, a 12-year NFL player and two-time Pro Bowl selection who coached the Bills' receivers in 2014 -- yet second-year Bills receiver Sammy Watkins was effusive in his praise of Lal, and critical of Moore, last summer.

“Now, we’re understanding how to run routes off any press, off any leverage, to where you won’t be covered,” Watkins told The Buffalo News. “We were kind of limited [in 2014] with certain things. It was, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ All [Moore] wanted to do was just tie in what he knew and what he did in his career and just do that."

Therein lies the biggest challenge for Reed: Can he connect with the next generation of players in a way that communicates not only what worked for him as a player, but also what will work for each of the skill sets of his mentees?

That is the story to follow as one of the NFL's best players from the past decade begins a new chapter.