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Irish star returns to learn

– Bryant Young spent a year in retirement, traveling and resting. All the while, he tried to figure out what was next.

There were opportunities in business. There was an opportunity to work with the San Francisco 49ers, with whom Young spent his entire 14-year career as a defensive lineman.

Or he could return to college and be a graduate coaching assistant at his alma mater, Notre Dame.

Guess what he chose.

“On the college level, you get guys who are doing it because they really love the game,” Young said. “Not saying they don’t love it on the pro level, but they are not influenced by money. They are young; … they’re teachable.

“It’s, when you look at the NFL, on the pro level, you may run into guys who have been in the league for so many years who are set in their ways and may not be as teachable.”

He’ll get plenty of chances to teach and learn at Notre Dame.

While many former pro athletes go into coaching, few start with grunt work equaling long hours and little pay. Even fewer do so after a Pro Bowl NFL career. Most former pros stay on the professional level or take a high-profile college position.

In moving back to college and into coaching, Young sought advice from “a lot” of people. One was a former teammate who followed a similar path – USC assistant head coach Ken Norton Jr.

“He said the hours, which I knew already, are pretty long and that you’ve got to put your work in,” Young said. “The recruiting part is a big process.”

Current Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh started his coaching career while he was still playing, as an unpaid assistant at Western Kentucky, where his father was the head coach. In basketball, former NBA All-Star Reggie Theus spent time as an assistant coach under Rick Pitino at Louisville before becoming the head coach at New Mexico State and then the Sacramento Kings. He was fired by the Kings on Dec. 15.

The transition might be tougher than Young may imagine.

Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would know. A former defensive back on the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team, Frazier had his career cut short by a knee injury. He ended up starting a football program at Trinity College – now Trinity International – before coaching in the NFL.

“It takes a very confident individual, a very self-assured individual to start from the bottom and work your way up, especially when you’ve achieved all the success in football that Bryant has. From high school to college to the NFL, he’s always been one of the best,” Frazier said. “Now, when you’re starting as a graduate assistant, you’re basically doing grunt work, and that’s not easy for most guys to accept.”

Young took the apprenticeship to see whether he’d enjoy coaching. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said he sees Young becoming the Irish’s defensive line coach.

Young sees himself as a future head coach.

“This was the best fit,” Young said. “After talking to so many people about the pros and cons of the pro level, this is the place where I can make the most impact.”

mrothstein@jg.net

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