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Ricky Proehl steps away as Panthers WR coach to watch sons play

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ricky Proehl loves coaching football, but he loves one thing more -- watching his sons play football.

In order to spend more time doing the latter with Austin and Blake, Proehl on Tuesday stepped down as the wide receivers coach for the Carolina Panthers.

Austin is a rising senior wide receiver at North Carolina. Blake, a wide receiver at Providence High in Charlotte, has committed to East Carolina.

"I told Austin if he ever became a starter and was an impact player that I would step away to come watch him play," Proehl told ESPN.com. "When your kids score that first goal or catch that first touchdown pass, the first thing they do is look back at mom and dad. That never changes.

"The last three years when Austin looked back I haven’t been there. I want to be there. He’s got one year left, and I want to go watch him play. I know it’s important to him. It’s important to me."

Austin, who caught a career-best 43 passes for 597 yards and three touchdowns this past season, couldn’t be more proud of his dad’s decision.

"To step away from his guys, something he loves doing to be with us, it just shows what kind of man he is," he said. "For me, I couldn’t be more proud to call him my dad."

When he’s not watching his sons play, Proehl will be at Proehlific Park, a fitness, physical therapy and training center in Greensboro, North Carolina, that he began after 17 years in the NFL as a wide receiver.

"He’ll finally be able to lead it like he’s always wanted to," Austin said. "He never really got that chance because he got into coaching, but he wants to make a difference in the community."

The complex has everything from an after-school program for kids to football training. Proehl, who hasn't ruled out a return to coaching after his sons finish playing football, said his door will be open to Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and his teammates if they want to use the facility to work with him during the offseason.

"The coaching part is not going to go away," Proehl said. "One thing I learned through this opportunity is I love coaching, I love helping kids."

Proehl, who played wide receiver at Wake Forest, joined the Panthers as an offensive consultant in 2011 and has been the wide receivers coach the past four years.

He spent three years (2003-2005) as a wide receiver for the Panthers and was a member of the 2003 team that reached the Super Bowl, one of four he played in during a career that included stops with the Panthers, Rams and Colts.

But during this past season’s bye week, while he watched in-person as Austin caught a 46-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of a win in Virginia, the 48-year-old Proehl began thinking about this move. He's even got a plan if Blake isn't redshirted and both sons are playing on the same day.

"My wife's gone to all of Austin's games," he said. "She can go see Blake and I can go see Austin and then I’ll have three years to go see Blake."

That works for Austin.

"I’ve known this was coming," Austin said. "We‘ve all known. It was just one of those things where he finally was able to do it, felt comfortable with it.

"I know how much he loves his guys, but I’m excited to be able to look up in the stands now and see him. It’s going to be awesome."