"I did that long enough to know that I wanted to be back in the game somehow," Fontenot, the Green Bay Packers' new running backs coach, told Packer Report on Tuesday morning.
Fontenot, a third-round draft pick by Chicago in 1989, played with New Orleans from 2000 through 2003, when Packers coach Mike McCarthy was the Saints' offensive coordinator. After concluding his playing career in Cincinnati in 2004 and ditching the helmet for a microphone in 2005. Fontenot and McCarthy were reunited in 2006 in Green Bay, with McCarthy — the first-time head coach — adding Fontenot as a coaching intern for training camp and eventually keeping him for the entire season.
"When Mike got the job up here, I called him up and congratulated him and we talked about the possibility of my coming up and exploring an internship and seeing where that goes," Fontenot said. "When he coached me in New Orleans, there was kind of a plan in place that whenever I was done playing that I was going to slide into the coaching side of it. I think that kind of stuck in the back of his mind; I know it stuck in the back of mind. So, when he got the job up here, I called with the hopes that something would work, and fortunately, it did. This is one of the best franchises on earth."
He couldn't have possibly have imagined what has transpired over the last few months. Following the Packers' unlikely Super Bowl championship, former receivers coach Jimmy Robinson's decision to take a promotion with Dallas opened a new door for Fontenot. In a surprising coaching shakeup, McCarthy moved Edgar Bennett, the former NFL running back and superb running backs coach, to wide receivers and shifted Fontenot, the former NFL center and young assistant offensive line coach, into Bennett's old role.
"Because of the environment to grow and improve your career and move along, Mike called me and made the position available if I was interested," Fontenot recalled. "So, I thought about it for about 5 seconds and said, ‘I would love to.' It's a great opportunity for me. For myself, career-wise, I love coaching offensive line and I love the group of guys that are in that room, but to have the opportunity to learn the pass game more in-depth and be a part of that is huge. I talked to a couple offensive line coaches that I've had throughout the years and that was their No. 1 comment. They said, ‘If you want to advance your career and go down the path of being a coordinator or head coach, take the running back position. You can always go back to being an offensive line coach because you've played that position for 16 years and you've coached it for five so if you ever wanted to go back, you'd always get that opportunity. But this opportunity may never come around again.'"
The position change has made for an exciting time, both in the short term and long term — a transition we'll write more about in a future story.
"In my case, I always wanted to be a head coach," Fontenot said. "Being around a guy like Mike McCarthy and Joe Philbin and Dom Capers — obviously Dom wasn't here when I got here — but having an exposure to guys like that, who conduct themselves as head coaches would, it's been a great benefit for me. I really wanted to work with Mike again because I had run his offense on the field and I felt like I could get a better understanding of the passing game and get outside of the box with the offensive line. The big picture for me was, yeah, I wanted to coach offensive line when I got here, but as I moved forward, I really have thought about expanding on that because my ultimate goal when I got into this was to be a head coach. It still is."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.