MOBILE, Ala. — Coaches and general managers hang on the fence line or grab a seat up in the stands. It's a relaxed atmosphere. Blue jeans, sneakers and ball caps amid cool, but comfortable gulf coast winds.
With a notebook and a roster sheet in hand, some of the NFL's biggest names scribble down notes — footwork, technique and pad level — on the top senior prospects in the country at the Senior Bowl.
But the players, the rookie hopefuls, are almost the backdrop to the real action within the stadium gates or around town.
The Senior Bowl is also the NFL's largest job fair.
Good coaches — some I played for — come to Mobile for the week looking to shake hands with a general manager or a head coach or a coordinator. Maybe it is some small talk in the end zone stands or at the entrance to the west side of the stadium while the players are warming up on the field.
If you threw in some overpriced cocktails, a practice at the Senior Bowl would resemble happy hour in Chicago's River North area.
And it doesn't stop after the morning or afternoon practice sessions end. Out-of-work coaches will hang out in hotel lobbies where the teams are staying or you will find them at Wintzell's downtown dining on grilled Gulf Coast oysters at night.
Some current head coaches don't even make the trip to Mobile or they spend the week holed up in a hotel suite to avoid the constant requests for five minutes of their time from a position coach who needs to land a job.
It's late in the game for them. Everyone knows it down in Mobile. Staffs are filling up as teams prepare for the scouting combine next month in Indianapolis and the start of free agency in March.
And that's why it is crucial to get some time in front of a team's decision-maker before you are left out in the cold.
College jobs? Yeah, that's an option. But from the coaches I talked to this week in Mobile, the NFL jobs are the ones they want. Work at the highest level, avoid the recruiting trail and the NCAA time restrictions with the college players to coach up the elite talent in the NFL.
Work with the best and give the 24-7 effort it requires to stick in the NFL.
As a former player, I know the NFL isn't easy. There are only so many roster spots available when you are looking to extend a playing career and the phone doesn't always ring in the offseason.
Maybe you catch on as a backup or special teams guy. Or maybe not. That's stressful when you are out of work as a veteran player.
Is it any different on the coaching side? Not really. And the opportunities are even more limited when you break down the jobs available each offseason on NFL coaching staffs.
Yeah, I saw some good football players in Mobile. The offensive tackle position is loaded with first-round draft talent and the defensive backs competed all week. The quarterbacks? That's another story. Better luck next year if you are desperate for a young franchise quarterback to save your team.
But for many coaches who need jobs, the Senior Bowl is all about networking and rubbing shoulders. And too many good, quality coaches leave town disappointed when the jobs dry up.
It's a tough business they work in.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.