EAGAN, Minn. -- At the end of a news conference centered on cornerback Terence Newman’s decision to retire and move to a role on the Minnesota Vikings’ coaching staff, those in attendance were momentarily caught off guard.
“Last one for coach Newman,” Jon Ekstrom, the Vikings director of public relations, called out.
A rumble of laughter from the media filled the room. Newman shook his head and smiled.
It’s going to take a while to get used to.
At this time last week, Newman was finishing his final preseason practice in preparation for his 16th NFL season. He decided to end his playing career eight days before the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Minnesota announced Newman’s retirement on Saturday during the middle of roster cuts, three days shy of the former first-rounder's 40th birthday.
Newman joining the coaching staff was a no-brainer. Mike Zimmer, who coached Newman for nine years at Dallas, Cincinnati and Minnesota, said he started milling over the idea "two or three years ago." Zimmer presented Newman with the option to become an assistant defensive backs coach on Saturday. Had he wanted to keep playing, Newman said he could have kept his spot on the 53-man roster, which would have likely led to the release of a younger player elsewhere.
“At some point, you have to be true to yourself and say, ‘Hey, do I want to keep going forward, have a chance to maybe tear up your back or neck or whatever.’” Newman said. “Some of the younger talent, obviously, you have to either say, ‘I’ll be selfish,’ and maybe take the roster spot or get somebody else an opportunity to live their dream. So, it was pretty easy. Everybody’s asking me if I’m OK and all this. I’m good. I’m still in football. I still have an opportunity to chase a Super Bowl ring.”
Physically speaking, Newman had no qualms about playing. When he made the decision to return in May, he was coming off a season during which he played 555 defensive snaps (third most among Vikings cornerbacks) as the starting nickelback. His 42 career interceptions were the most among active players in the league, following DeAngelo Hall’s retirement.
“Body still feels good. Have some aches and pains here and there,” Newman said. “But at the end of the day, my body’s not what it used to be; so somebody that’s younger, whatever position, can definitely use that roster spot.”
Newman’s official title is nickel/defensive backs coach. Under defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, Newman will work with the players he routinely mentored throughout his three seasons in Minnesota, including his heir apparent at slot corner.
“From Day 1, he always told me you’re going to be one of the best to do it if you fix your mindset,” Mackensie Alexander said during training camp. “I look at him like family now. He’s really took me under his wing, he really nurtured me, stayed on me, and I’m thankful for that.”
In many ways, Newman has always been a coach. Now, it's just in an official capacity with a title and responsibilities.
Generously offering up his time -- from technique clinics after practice to hosting film sessions on his day off -- established a precedent among veteran players, one in which guiding the team’s youth movement became rooted in the culture of the locker room.
“That’s how you win,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. “What is it? You’re as strong as your weakest link. I feel like the faster you get them groomed up and trained and prepared to play on game day, like a Mike Hughes or a Holton [Hill], those guys playing on special teams and getting them going and running to the ball. Good things can happen. The faster you get them coached up and knowing the playbook, great things happen. That’s what we strive for.”
Newman was already hard at work in his office Monday morning, going over plays and offering up his take. It’s hard to tell what feels weirder -- not going to the locker room with his teammates or being called "coach" by those he shared a field with days ago.
Newman said he "wouldn’t have a choice" but to return to life as a player should injuries in the secondary call for it this season, but NFL rules don’t allow participation by club employees, unless that person is either signed to an NFL player contract for the current season or counted within the active list at the time of the roster reduction to 53 players. If such person is terminated via waivers or terminated unilaterally, or placed on the reserve list, after the roster reduction to 53 players, he cannot return to any club as a player in the same season.
Newman considers his venture in coaching to be a "trial period." He views it as a low-pressure situation, one in which he gets to see if it’s a fit for his future. If it works out, he knows he’ll have even less free time than he did as a player.
“If the hours are anything like yesterday, it’s going to change drastically,” he said. “I’m not going to have many friends outside of this building, that’s for sure.”