Sedrick Irvin has spent the past decade trying to help young players do what he once did -- get to the NFL. The former Michigan State running back was drafted in the fourth round in 1999 by the Detroit Lions, and though he never flourished in the NFL, he did get a base for his future.
Since leaving the league, he’s been a high school and college coach, including as an intern at Alabama under Nick Saban (his college coach at Michigan State) and his current job as the coordinator of football administration at East Carolina. He was also the head coach at Westminster Christian School in Miami for five years before starting at ECU this offseason.
Irvin played in 20 games for the Lions, rushing 45 times for 182 yards and four touchdowns along with catching 33 passes for 323 yards.
We caught up with Irvin about his post-playing life, including coaching under Saban.
Editor's Note: This has been edited for length and clarity
Did you always want to go into coaching?
Irvin: Oh yeah, that’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t ever want to be [President Barack] Obama. Never wanted to be a businessman. All I wanted to do is coach football and guide youth through the game that I love, and they helped me to fulfill my dream. I know football like the back of my hand. It’s all I want to do.
When did you realize you wanted to become a coach?
Irvin: I would say in high school. I always had that, even in high school when we had to write papers of where do you see yourself in five years, what do you want to be when you grow up, you go and say 'I want to play in the NFL.' You always get these teachers that say, 'Hey, that’s not a given and there’s only one or two percent that make it.' So then I’d say I want to go and be a football coach. 'Why do you want to be a football coach?' For one, I grew up without a dad and every football coach, head coach, that I had was a dad to me. That’s where I learned discipline and structure and how to face adversity, how to get knocked down and how to deal with ups and downs and stuff through the game of football. That’s something that I just always wanted to be.
What’s your favorite moment?
Irvin: I don’t know. I think with the Internet stuff, you can always go back and listen to Mark Ingram's speech and he can sit there and say I was there. I was his eyes on the field and I was there for him off the field. I think that kind of like summed things up for me as a coach right now, being a head coach in high school. Pushing kids and kind of let them see a vision that right now they can’t see, but if they put the hard work in and if they walk by faith and not by sight, then they have an opportunity to go beyond the measures of what they even thought of. I would say the Heisman and him speaking about me. But also the things I did in high school, man. Being at the school I was at, a private school, these kids played against guys who need football, and my kids didn’t need football but we dominated and we showed these guys that they can play with anybody. That was a big highlight as well. Molding kids to be young men.
What made you decide to go back to college from high school coaching?
Irvin: The challenge. After being at the high school for five years, the opportunity opened up and it was a good opportunity with Scottie Montgomery. You have an opportunity that has been at Duke, has been in the NFL and now he’s a head coach. He’s been through the ranks and he knows what he’s doing. You want to learn from a guy like that. I had the opportunity to be under Nick Saban as well. This time it was just the opportunity and just to say, 'OK, let me give it one more shot before I just say you know what, I’m going to be a high school football coach.'
Going back to Saban, what’s the one thing you took?
Irvin: He had a work ethic that, what you put in is what you get out of it. How you carry yourself. He just, everything about him is greatness. He runs a program first-class. He holds everybody accountable. He demands hard work and he demands, I want to say greatness again, because that’s what he is giving out. He is one of those where he’s saying 'outwork me, outprepare me.' There was one time, I think we beat LSU and we’re on the plane and he’s already looking at film for the next game on the way back. His work ethic, man, and his vision and his preparation is just on another level.
When you were with the Lions, what’s your best memory?
Irvin: I guess the best memory for me was just seeing my name come across the screen, to be honest, because now my dream was fulfilled. Where I’m from, everybody don’t fulfill their dream. So my best memory would be being drafted, because as soon as that happened, I knew I fulfilled my dream. My dream was always to play in the NFL. If you have those dreams and you have those walking around, talking to that imaginary friend about going to the NFL, you have these stories and now they become a reality. For me, that was the best memory, that day when my name came across that screen. You feel like you reach your goals, you reach your dream. You’ve been blessed. Your prayers have been answered.