Author: Keisha J Kelley
July 21, 2020
The NFL Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching fellowship has been around for over thirty years and has helped coaches gain exposure to the National Football League training camps as well as offseason workout programs. The programs objective is to observe, participate, gain experience, and ultimately gain a full time NFL Coaching position. The Fellowship is also used as a tool to increase the number of full time NFL minority coaches, and all 32 teams participate each year. Specific aspects of the program — including hiring, compensation and coaching duties — are administered on a club-by-club basis. The NFL does not mandate any elements of the fellowship to the clubs, but it recommends several best practices, including:
Hiring participants for the duration of training camp, including all pre-season games.
Encouraging clubs to hire at least two fellows with an offensive coaching background.
Mentoring participants in the form of continuing and constructive feedback regarding their work while with the club.
In order to qualify, applicants must meet one of the following prerequisites: former NFL player or coaching experience at either the high school, college, and/or other football leagues level (CFL, XFL, etc.) When applicants apply, they must select the top 5 NFL club they have an interest in completing a fellowship with. The club is then alerted of the application and will reach out to the applicant individually if they choose. Even in the midst of COVID-19, that has not stopped pressure from being applied when it comes to Defensive Assistant Coach, Christopher Clark of Southern University & A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA. Clark has been with Southern University since 2018, where he started out working with former safety's coach, Trei Oliver. In 2019, he moved to the defensive line, where he currently assists Skyler Jones. Clarks resume is pretty unique in that he has also had his hand in recruiting since 2019. Some of the recruits that landed at Southern because of Clark include: Bertrand Carroll from Madison Prep, Anthony Shaffer, Davin Cotton, 4 star recruit transfer from LSU, and recently former Auburn receiver, Marquis Mcclain, who transfered to Southern for his final college season. As his resume grows and his hard work shows, Chris tells Black College Experience it is because of his relationship with Coach Frank Okam, former defensive line coach at Baylor University, that he landed the fellowship. Okam is now serving as the assistant defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers. Clark says he went to two Sugar Bowl practices, where he was introduced by Sherman Wilson to then Baylor head coach Matt Rhule and his coaching staff. Rhule is the current Carolina Panthers head coach. Frank Okam however,recommended Clark for the fellowship as well as sent in his resume. Jeff Nixon, who spent his last three seasons as Baylor's co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach, now serves as the Carolina Panthers senior offensive assistant/running backs coach. Clark states that Nixon was also a major part of him being able to get this opportunity. Nixon brings 10 years of NFL experience with him, he has also worked with the Eagles, Dolphins, and 49ers. Clark states it came down to three people; 12 year NFL veteran, Colin Cole, former Texas A&M /TCU quarterback, Kenny Hill, and Southern University graduate assistant, Christopher Clark. The rest is history. Clark says he is very excited about this opportunity. "I think this is a great opportunity for young black coaches." says Clark. He says he will possibly oversee linebackers as well as special teams. Clark also showed a great deal of appreciation to Southern University head football coach Dawson Odums. "I want to thank Coach Odums for allowing me to come to Southern." He adds "Odums wants to see his coaches succeed and giving me the opportunity to do this. He wants me to become great and successful." Clark proudly says. He used Coach Odums phrase "chop wood, carry water" as well as "if you follow the process, great things will happen". Clark believes more people should be on alert of how great a coach Odums is and how good of a progam Southern Football is because him. "I love Coach Odums" he eagerly says. Clark starts the fellowship with the Carolina Panthers on July 21st. When pressure is applied diamonds are formed!