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It all started at HC for Saints’ Malone
Terry Malone only spent a handful of years in Worcester, first attending Holy Cross and later coaching football at his alma mater. But boy, were they formative years.
“I have so many great memories; I can’t believe it’s been so long,” Malone, 50, fondly said Tuesday as he found himself back in New England on a business trip of sorts. “It really was a time in my life when I learned to grow up and make some good decisions. It really gave me a foundation for what I’ve done.”
That would be to carve out a lengthy career as a steadily employed and highly respected football coach. He’s helped the University of Michigan win the national championship in 1997 and the Saints win the Super Bowl in February.
Malone has been a Saints assistant since 2006, when coach Sean Payton asked him to come help resurrect a floundering franchise and provide hope to the region ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The Saints held joint practices with the Patriots for the two days prior to their preseason game Thursday at Gillette Stadium. That gave Malone, who attended Holy Cross from 1978 to ’82, the chance to catch up with some former classmates and teammates and an opportunity to reflect on how being a Crusader student-athlete left an impact on him.
Like so many others, Malone entered the coaching profession because of the positive impact his coaches made on him.
“I think the fact Coach (Rick) Carter’s staff came in (in 1981) — they changed my life, I know that,” said Malone, who was a terrific tight end and a team captain. “And it had a lot to do with the guys he hired. The Mark Duffners and the Kevin Coyles and the Dan Allens and the Frank Novaks on that staff changed the way I was looking at things.
“They really made me take a look and say, ‘You know what? This might be something I want to do.’ And, sure enough, it was.”
So Malone, who initially thought he would coach at the high school level, headed west after graduating and spent two years apprenticing at Arizona as a graduate assistant. He returned to Holy Cross as an assistant on Carter’s staff in 1985. Then came a long stretch at Bowling Green in Ohio before he again returned to Massachusetts for a year, this time at Boston College in 1996.
Malone’s collegiate tour, which has been tame compared to the nomadic journey typically taken by so many of his colleagues, soon brought him home to his native Michigan. He landed in Ann Arbor, joining one of the most storied programs in college football in the Michigan Wolverines.
Malone started out there coaching the offensive line and ultimately was elevated to offensive coordinator.
He was a finalist in 2003 for the Broyles Award, which is given to the nation’s best assistant coach.
The Wolverines never lacked for talent during Malone’s time there. One player, in particular, stood out to him: Tom Brady. You might have heard of him.
“I think the thing that separated Tom Brady from all the other guys was his toughness,” Malone said. Brady attended Michigan from 1996 to 2000 and went 20-5 as a starter over his final two seasons.
“You know, if you look at him, he doesn’t look like a tough guy. He looks like (every) quarterback that you see. But inside he is one of the toughest guys mentally and physically that I have ever seen compete. You never know what makes an NFL quarterback special, but I knew he was special because he was so smart and so tough.”
Brady, as any football fan in New England knows, was drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round with the 199th overall pick.
The Patriots obviously had no idea what they were getting. Not everyone was as in the dark when it came to Brady’s pro potential.
“I had no doubts he was going to be an NFL quarterback,” Malone said. “He was a great drop-back quarterback for us and really was a tremendous leader on our team and fought through hard times, and those are all the things you need to be a great player.”
Malone had himself a good thing going at Michigan. Then he received a call from Payton four years ago and soon after found himself coaching tight ends for the Saints.
It’s a decision Malone has never regretted.
“I knew Sean Payton before the Saints, so I had tremendous confidence that he would be a terrific head coach in the NFL,” he said. “So when the opportunity came around to be on his staff it was something that I could not turn down. It’s been a great move for me and my family. We’ve grown to love New Orleans, and I have two (kids) at LSU, which I would never have imagined.” Malone has four children in all.
The Saints are equally pleased with the way things have worked out.
“He’s a guy that is clearly a team player,” Payton said. “He has experience coaching a bunch of different positions. He has the tight ends for us and does a very good job with it. He’s a guy that is a good staff guy, very loyal and hard working.”
And one who hasn’t forgotten his roots.
Before leaving the practice field, Malone asked a new acquaintance to pass along a message to John Gearan, a former longtime T&G sportswriter and columnist. “Tell him I said hello. He covered our team when I was playing.”
It was only a handful of years spent in Worcester, but it’s obvious they still mean a lot to Malone today.
The joint practices conducted by the Patriots and Saints were deemed a rousing success by both teams. And that was just what they anticipated going in.
Coach Bill Belichick got to know Payton, his Saints counterpart, during the 2006 Pro Bowl and came to the conclusion that their pigskin philosophies had a lot in common. So this wasn’t so much an experiment as a simple exercise in execution.
“The individual one-on-one drills, the team drills, the down-and-distance stuff, how we call things, it’s been very easy to work with them from a structural standpoint, which I expected it would be,” Belichick said. “I really did, just from our relationship and when we talked about it in the spring and then a couple times over the summer and then when we both came to training camp.
“It’s been very easy. The degree of difficulty on this from a coaching standpoint and working together has been very low. No time and a lot of benefit, so those are the kind I like.”
NFL: It all started at HC for Saints’ Malone
By Rich Garven, The Worcester Telegram-Gazette