A CONVERSATION WITH MARWAN MAALOUF - PART TWO

Marwan Maalouf is in his first season as special teams coordinator with the Colts. Maalouf spent the previous four seasons working with special teams in Baltimore. He served with Cleveland prior to working with the Ravens. Maalouf held collegiate roles with Rutgers, Eastern Michigan, Fordham and Baldwin-Wallace, his alma mater, before working in the NFL. This is the second of a two-part visit with Maalouf.

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How much of coaching is coaching the sport and how much of it is teaching young men?

"A lot of it has to do with how you present things.  I am very detailed and straight-forward, almost to a fault.  I think players appreciate that.  If a guy asks me how he's doing, I'm going to tell him exactly how he's doing.  I don't beat around the bush.  Sometimes, they don't necessarily want to hear that at the beginning but in hindsight, I think they appreciate me being honest with them.  When you do it that way, I think they respect it.  Hopefully, it carries on to how they learn and treat people.  A lot of coaching is teaching and influencing them to a degree.  Parents should be those influencing them the most, but we can fine tune some things."

Could you have a larger mentoring and teaching aspect than a position coach since you talk to a wide range of the squad?

"That could be the case.  Special teams coaches these days are the only coaches outside the head coach who talks to the whole team almost every day.  Coordinators only speak to their side of the ball, but we (special teams coaches) get to know the players in a different way, maybe less guarded because we're using them on one or two phases on special teams, and we try to put them in a position where they're successful.  I may not know if they are struggling with their offensive or defensive position, or maybe it's not coming to them mentally quickly enough.  Maybe we'll put them in a position where it's easier to learn on special teams.  That kind of influences how we interact with them, too.  It's always been fun.  I've always had good relationships with guys.  Addressing the entire team almost on a daily basis is a great experience for me.  Maybe that's one of the reasons why special teams coaches are starting to become head coaches now."

Some teams pay lip service to special teams.  Good teams seem to put a big emphasis on them, and you have always seemed to be on those types of teams that stress the importance.

"Absolutely.  That's been the only kind of teams I've ever been around, whether it's been in Cleveland and especially in Baltimore.  I know with Chuck (Pagano) in Baltimore and him being a special teams coordinator in college it's going to be an important thing here.  It has to be something that helps us win.  If it helps other teams win, why can't it help the Colts win?"

What is the geographic area where you have lived or worked that you liked the most?

"I've been on the East Coast at lot.  I coached at Rutgers, in the tri-state area.  I was at Fordham, then at Baltimore.  We've gotten to be familiar with some of the East Coast.  It's a little busier than I like, especially with traffic.  People are passionate about football there, too.  I can respect that.  Those are the areas outside Ohio where I have been the most."

Being a history buff and at Fordham, you must have loved it.  Was it cool being at Fordham?

"Yes, I loved it.  Walking in the football offices, you pass by the pictures of the 'Seven Blocks of Granite' with Vince Lombardi, and they are life-sized and they cover up the walls.  You just stopped and looked, almost every day.  It was history right in front of you.  It's really neat.  They've kept a lot of the same building structure around, which makes it a little bit more special.  It's a memorable place."

Who is the person most responsible for you to make it to professional football and/or the NFL?

"You would think it would be a coach but when I think about it, it's family.  It's not an easy trip to get into the NFL.  People ask, 'How do you get in the NFL?'  I answer a question with a question, 'How much are you willing to sacrifice?  How much are you willing to give up?'  My parents, Joe and Sally, my sister, Mirna, and my brother, Ghassan, they always have been very supportive of wherever I've been and what the next step was going to be.  When you're jumping from college-to-college and trying to establish yourself as a coach, and you're blessed to get the opportunity to go from a job to a better job and then jump to the NFL, they were my moving companies.  I'd call my sister and brother and they'd come with a U-Haul and we'd move to the next place.  My family has been very supportive with the process, financially, too.  Sometimes you're living from paycheck-to-paycheck.  You're wondering how you're going to pay a couple of bills here and there.  That support is what you remember."

What is your greatest football moment prior to the NFL and in the NFL?

"When I was I was at Rutgers with Greg Schiano, it was a rebuilding project.  It wasn't the Rutgers he left last year.  It was rough.  We were trying to install new things and get a tradition started.  It was a process, but a great experience.  There were some great coaches I worked with.  There wasn't that 'one game' for me, but just meeting a number of good people.  In the NFL, two plays are in my mind.  In 2008 when Matt Stover kicked the field goal in Tennessee to win the (Divisional Playoff) game and put us in the AFC Championship game was great.  A Joe Flacco-to-Todd Heap pass put us in position for Matt to kick it.  That was a great feeling in a hostile environment.  Tennessee at night was a great atmosphere.  Those are some great fans who were behind their team and going nuts.  The other was this past season in the AFC Championship game in New England.  The possibilities – one catch or one field goal – was the difference between going to the Super Bowl or being here (with the Colts as a coach).  It goes from being one of your greatest moments to being your greatest moment.  It defines you in one way or the other.  That last inch to the mountaintop is amazing."

You have to like the opportunity to work with Matt Stover and Adam Vinatieri, don't you?

"Are you kidding me?  They're two great people who play this game really well.  Vinny is a football player.  That's the thing I really, really like about him – he's a competitor.  He's somebody who you can call a 'football player.'  That's special.  I'm going to learn a lot from him and, hopefully, he can pick up one or two things from me.  It was great to work with Matt, and I learned a lot from him.  I have been fortunate to coach two of the most successful kickers in league history."

What is it about football that drives you the most?

"Not many sports have 11 guys on the field and you have to have them on the exact same page in communication and going to one goal.  Getting everyone on the same page and watching them execute in their own way what you taught them is awesome.  There's nothing like letting them have their own personality shine with what you've taught them.  You let them put their mark on it and see what happens on the field.  That is the neatest thing about football."

Do you like the relationships or the accomplishments better in football?

"To me, the relationships last longer.  The accomplishments might be sitting in your den where you go once or twice every week before you hang out with your family.  The relationships, to me, stay with you forever.  There are guys I still keep in touch with that I coached in college and across the NFL.  Those are the things you never lose.  Catching up with them on occasions is a neat thing.  It's always nice to have a little trophy somewhere, don't get me wrong, but trophies don't talk back to you.  It's especially nice when you see your players do well.  I coached Josh Cribbs in Cleveland and he was never a Pro Bowler when we were there.  When I worked him out and signed him from Kent State, I knew right away he had a chance to do something.  When he made the Pro Bowl two-to-three years later, I was happy for him.  Those are the things I like to see."

Do you have any rituals or superstitions?

"I try not to have any rituals or superstitions.  I don't know if that counts as having them or not.  The outcome of a game is not going to come down to a ritual or superstition.  It's going to come down to how prepared we are, and it's in God's hands whether He wants us to win that game or not.  I don't know that a ritual or superstition can supercede those two things."

If you weren't coaching, what would you do?

"I'd probably be teaching social studies and coaching football somewhere in northeast Ohio, probably having my summers off, golfing, spending time with the family and grinding the rest of the year.  It would be rewarding."

Who is the most memorable player you have coached?

"There are guys like Sam Cook, Billy Cundiff, Josh Cribbs, Phil Dawson were great people, and Brendon Ayanbadejo and Jameel McClain, Lardarius Webb.  Guys who pop up in your mind are those you helped develop as rookies on special teams.  Now, they're starters on offense or defense.  You develop guys as a 'gunner' and then as a corner on punt returns, then as a returner on punts and kickoffs.  The skills of guys develop and move onto offense or defense.  That is what I take pride in.  That's what I get the most joy in, young players who develop into key performers.  Sometimes you get a guy back on special teams because of injuries or other situations and they perform like you taught them two-or-three years ago.  You get a lot of satisfaction and pride when you see that."

Your career likely has kept you from traditional holiday celebrations.  Do you have one that stands out in particular?

"One of the good things about playing in the AFC North was sometimes you had a game with Cleveland at Christmas.  In that case, I would get to see my entire family for an hour or two on the Saturday before the game on Sunday.  It's usually been my wife, Dana, and I, and we try to get family to come in.  She tries to coordinate things to keep things as normal and nice as possible.  That's a tribute to Dana.  She does everything she can to make holidays special."

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