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Meet the Coaches: Frank Leaonard ..
By Nick Wagoner
Frank Leonard was content with his coaching career. After spending more than 20 years coaching at the collegiate level, Leonard didn’t necessarily have designs on landing in the NFL.
That isn’t to say the thought never crossed his mind, it just wasn’t right in front of him. It wasn’t until he was offered a unique job opportunity that NFL dreams started to shape their way into Leonard’s reality.
“I wouldn’t say early on I aspired to that,” Leonard said. “I aspired to be a full time coach and then as I became a better coach, more schooled in the game, my goals kept getting set higher and higher. This kind of came about when I was a scout with the Patriots. I had a very unique job and I was around the offensive line coach and the guys on offense a bit and thought this was the way to go for a multitude of reasons. It’s football 24-7. I enjoyed recruiting a lot but this is a way of honing your craft and being real good. That’s what I like about the NFL, it’s all football, all the time.”
The Rams hired Leonard to his first NFL coaching job in January, naming him the team’s new tight ends coach after he put in 24 years in the college game.
The road was long and arduous but Leonard’s persistence finally paid off.
A native of Wethersfield, Conn., Leonard played free safety at Central Connecticut State for three seasons. Along the way, he never fostered dreams of playing much beyond college and understood that he probably wasn’t good enough to make his living playing football.
And while he wanted to stay around the game, Leonard never really gave much thought to making coaching his profession. In fact, he wanted to do what a lot of people do and become a coach and a teacher at the high school level.
Upon his graduation, it seemed that would ultimately end up being the route he took. After one year of playing semi-pro football for the New England Crusaders in 1981, Leonard decided it was time to hang up the cleats and begin pursuing an occupation.
“I was going to go back and get my masters degree and teach at my high school and coach the freshman team,” Leonard said.
Out of the blue, Leonard got a call from Paul Pasqualoni, who was then the head coach at Division III Western Connecticut State University. Pasqualoni had put in some calls to Leonard’s alma mater curious if any recent graduates were looking to break into coaching.
Pasqualoni received Leonard’s name and brought him aboard as defensive line coach in the summer of 1982.
After one year, Leonard was hooked and returned to his alma mater to coach there. Over the next 22 years, Leonard would stay at the college level and eventually coach at every level of the college game.
Additional stops at Western Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut and the University of Richmond only increased Leonard’s desire to delve further into the coaching world.
At Connecticut, Leonard worked with a young defensive coordinator named Steve Spagnuolo, who invited Leonard aboard part time as an outside linebackers coach. Leonard initially balked at the idea but then Spagnuolo gave him some advice that would stick with him for the rest of his coaching career.
“I will never forget it for the rest of my life,” Leonard said. “We were walking across the campus and he was going to hire me and he told me ‘Everything you do is an investment.’ I have lived with that concept for 19 years.”
While Spagnuolo would eventually give Leonard his current job and first opportunity to coach in the NFL, it was another connection made along the way that would ultimately give Leonard his first taste of the NFL in any capacity.
In his stint coaching at Central Connecticut State, Leonard coached a young player by the name of Scott Pioli. Pioli didn’t have a future as a NFL player but he quickly rose through the ranks to power as part of the New England Patriots.
After finishing his final season at Richmond, Leonard found himself searching for a job. He planned trips to see some of his friends at various jobs around the country in hopes that networking would land him a gig.
Leonard’s first stop was in New England to see Pioli. When Pioli asked Leonard to stick around for a few days, Leonard again balked because he was hoping to make some tracks around in search of a gig.
That’s when Pioli offered Leonard a job unlike any other in the NFL. The idea was that Leonard would be a scout but not just any scout. Pioli wanted Leonard, who had spent plenty of time in college coaching the offensive line, to work with New England’s offensive line, get a feel for what the Patriots were looking for at the position and then go around the nation and exclusively scout the top offensive linemen in the college game.
Unlike normal scouts, Leonard had no specific area; he simply went to all of the top schools and evaluated the big uglies.
Thomas Dimitroff, then a rising star in the Patriots personnel department, showed Leonard the scouting ropes. While Leonard was doing a job for the Patriots, he was also getting exposure to a lot of decision makers from teams around the league who were fascinated by his job.
“I would meet other guys from other teams,” Leonard said. “They were like ‘You’re doing what?’ It was the only position like it so that intrigued people. I got to know a lot of people, high level personnel people.”
Leonard did the job for three years before deciding that he wanted to get back into coaching on the field rather than talent evaluation.
Kansas State offered him a job as tight ends coach, something that intrigued Leonard because he had never coached the position. Leonard accepted but was offered other jobs, including NFL gigs in the days that followed. But Leonard kept his word and decided to go with the Wildcats.
Leonard spent two seasons in Manhattan coaching the tight ends, a job that would eventually pay big dividends.
Finally, this offseason, Spagnuolo became the Rams head coach and one of the first calls he made was to Leonard. Leonard jumped at the chance to become a position coach in the NFL and was equally excited to be reunited with Spagnuolo.
The transition to the league has been smooth for Leonard, who says he has been taken by just how professional the players are. It’s for that reason that he says he has turned down the volume on his yelling on the field, though he’s still probably the most noticeably vocal on the team’s current staff.
“I have toned it down, a lot,” Leonard said. “This is a different world. It’s a welcome change in dealing with older young men. I found very quickly you can still coach them hard which was a pleasant surprise to me quite frankly. In college, there’s more technical work and more of the mental game you have to work with. Here, I give out some literature and I said to Randy McMichael ‘Did you look at that stuff?’ And he said ‘Yeah, coach that’s our job.’ I had to stop real quick and think about that. There’s a motivation involved in pro football but the professionalism is here. Players still like being coached hard and they seem to be very receptive.”
Re: Meet the Coaches: Frank Leaonard ..
Sounds like a good guy that's spent his whole life getting to know the whole of the game; a good all around coach who could be an assistant head coach with relative ease.
That said, he's only coached TE's for two seasons now, so I dunno how much of a help he'll be to them, but then again, he'll be able to coach them from the defense's point of view rather well, so that could help.
Re: Meet the Coaches: Frank Leaonard ..
HHHhhhhmmmmmm.......Handing out literature. Thats coaching them up to me.
The article does look somewhat into the mind of Bill Belichick.St. Louis, "The Gateway to the West".
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