As a player, former Steelers' running back Willie Parker didn't think much about a career in coaching. At that point, it was all about playing the game.
His outlook changed this past year after Parker completed a coaching internship at West Virginia Wesleyan, working with the team's tight ends.
"I enjoyed it," said Parker, who signed with the Steelers' as an undrafted free agent in 2004 and played for six seasons. "It's the next best thing to playing football. I remember when I was playing, my coach getting through to me and how he did it, it's a good feeling teaching someone and watching them go out and do it to the best of their ability. It's a great feeling."
Parker took a step to continue his coaching career by attending the third annual NFL-NCAA Coaches Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Academy, created by NFL Player Engagement and the NCAA, offers training sessions on how to break into the coaching ranks for current and former NFL players, as well as how to move up in the ranks for small college or high school coaches, or college coaches with limited experience.
"I think any time you can be educated it's going to be a positive experience for you," said former Steelers' linebacker Levon Kirkland, the head coach at Shannon Forest Christian School in Greenville, South Carolina, who also attended. "Being a professional athlete for 11 years there is another side of it. The coaching side of it is much different than being a player. Being able to open your mind to be a coach and also getting some advice to how to be a coach, a professional coach, it's tremendous for a guy like me.
"You always want to see new people, make new contacts in the business. You also want to keep yourself abreast of what is going on. You want to learn what is new out there and educate yourself as much as possible. I am glad I was able to do this."
The Academy featured guest speakers, including Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera, Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, former Texans general manager Charlie Casserly and University of Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst.
"I am glad to be a part of the NFL-NCAA Coaches Academy," said Chryst. "This is a tremendous program that is a great benefit to everyone who participates. Hopefully I shared some insight that can help young coaches and future coaches. It is also a great educational opportunity for me as I get to meet some really talented people in our profession."
Parker isn't sure what direction coaching will take him as he is just getting his feet wet, but the Academy has definitely helped put him on a path to success.
"I think this is something really beneficial for the coaches that are just starting out," said Parker. "You can learn from the best about different coaching styles, what made them become a successful coach. Coaching is real competitive. It's like being on the playing field. It's a competitive business, but there are people out there willing to help young coaches and guide them, lead them and show them the way."
Kirkland has his sights set high for his coaching future. He has been a linebackers coach and coordinator on the high school level before becoming a head coach, but doesn't want to stop until he reaches the top.
"I want to take it to the highest level," said Kirkland. "I want to help younger athletes, but I also want to coach at the highest level. I am going to keep working on it and one day I will be there, whether it's a head coach in college or the NFL, at one of those levels I am looking forward to that. I understand there is a process and I have to gain as much knowledge as I can.
"I am really enjoying coaching. I took some time away from football for a little while after playing, but the love came back and I wanted to get back into it. It's a marvelous thing and I really enjoy it."