Boss Bailey had no doubts that when his NFL career ended in 2008, he was done with football.
In the six years that have passed, he’s never pined to be back on the playing field on Sunday afternoons.
“No,” Bailey said with a laugh. “Once it was over, I was fine with that. So it wasn’t anything I didn’t have time to think about. So once it happened, I was fine with that and I was ready to move on.”
Of course, that statement applies only to his playing career. He always figured he’d wind up on the sidelines again in some capacity. And he has — underneath the Friday night lights.
Bailey, 34, who starred at Georgia at linebacker before playing in the NFL for six seasons, enters his second year as Jackson County’s linebackers coach, a position that allows him to delve into his long-time interest in the tactical size of football.
“I always thought I would go in that direction,” Bailey said of coaching. “I was always kind of like a coach on the field. I’d like to soak in as much information as possible. I was the one that always wanted to know where everybody was on the field, what everybody’s responsibilities were.”
Third-year coach Benji Harrison tried to recruit Bailey — who lives in Jackson County — to his staff when Harrison arrived at Jackson County in 2012. Bailey’s son played baseball with assistant coach David Darling’s son, so Harrison approached the 2003 NFL All-Rookie linebacker about a coaching position.
Bailey, who logged 305 career tackles in 64 professional games, wasn’t able to join the Panthers then, but Harrison asked again last year and the former UGA star came aboard to help out the defense.
From the way Harrison describes it, one wouldn’t know the Panthers have a former second-round draft pick in their midst.
“He never really talks about himself and what he did and how he did it,” Harrison said. “He’s a really humble guy who our kids respect. Obviously, who he is carries a lot of weight with our kids.”
Of course, being a former professional player, and the name recognition that comes with that, only goes so far in the coaching profession.
“Either you can coach or you can’t coach, and he does a great job coaching,” Harrison said.
In fact, of all of the former NFL players-turned-high school coaches Harrison has been associated with, Bailey sets himself apart. Despite his complex knowledge of the game, Bailey can communicate those concepts very effectively to young players.
“He’s the best I’ve ever worked with about keeping it very simple and fundamental for those kids,” Harrison said. “That’s his thing.”
Bailey made an immediate impression with the Panthers last season. He initially assisted defensive coordinator Tivris Dixon with the linebacker coaching duties. But Dixon soon realized that his days doubling as the linebackers coach were numbered with Bailey on staff. So one day Dixon announced to Harrison that he was firing himself as linebackers coach and passing that job title on to Bailey.
“We joke about that a good bit,” Harrison said.
With Bailey on staff, Jackson County returned to the state playoffs for a second-straight year last season. Bailey said returning to the field — and being part of the game again — was a rewarding experience.
“It was fun,” said Bailey, who owns a trucking company as his day job. “I mean, I’m a football guy, so just to be back involved in any capacity is fun for me, and I tell you working with Benji, it’s been awesome and the rest of the coaches.”
With a new season fast approaching, Bailey is eager to see what his linebacking corps can do this year. Though that group returns only one starter from last year, Bailey believes the guys in the middle of the defense will be one of the team’s strengths.
“The great thing about my unit this year is that we’re very deep,” Bailey said. “We have a lot of depth. We’re probably the deepest position on the team.”
But more than anything, Bailey enjoys working with the players in his charge and watching them get better.
“I’ve got some fun guys, some guys that really go out there and try to show improvement and get better everyday and great kids that love football,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about if any of them are going to show up. They’re always here on time. And it makes it a lot easier for me to do what I’m doing.”
Harrison believes Bailey is definitely enjoying his second career in football.
“I definitely know that he has a good time with it,” he said. “He likes being around the kids. Because we’re all the same once we quit playing — we still wish we could. So this is the second-best thing.”
Linebacker boss: Former NFL player Boss Bailey shares his knowledge with Panthers as linebacker coach
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