Fuller Back In Familiar Territory


Curtis Fuller played safety and on special teams for the Packers in 2003-04.

The transition from player to coach in the NFL has both its on-the-field and off-the-field adjustments, and 30-year-old Curtis Fuller is going through all that earlier than many.

But the additional challenges that come with youth aren't slowing down Fuller's transition any. In fact, the Packers' new special teams assistant coach couldn't feel more at home within the confines of Lambeau Field.

A former Packers safety and special teamer, Fuller truly appreciates the chance to coach in Green Bay, where he played in 2003-04.

"It's exciting, it really is just for the simple fact that I played here," Fuller said. "I understand how important it is here, the tradition, the history. To be a part of it as a player and turn around and be a part of it as a coach is a unique feeling."

Equally unique is getting into the NFL coaching business when you're still young enough to play, which Fuller is. A 2001 draft choice of the Seattle Seahawks, Fuller played four seasons for three different teams.

He began his coaching career at his college and high school alma maters - Texas Christian University and Fort Worth Christian High - before he broke into the NFL coaching ranks in 2007 as a special teams quality control assistant for Oakland.

The job started slowly, but gaining more hands-on coaching responsibilities as the season progressed, Fuller was able to begin developing the productive types of player-coach relationships that can be difficult in the beginning for any former player, and for current players as well. It's not always natural to be coaching a player older than you, or to be coached by a younger individual, and it simply takes experience to know how to make it work.

"It wasn't always easy," Fuller said. "It's like treading water a little bit. You grow and learn. You're going to have confrontation, but you're going to grow in that confrontation a little bit.

"The most important thing is you have to set the boundaries, the guidelines, that I'm the coach and you're the player. I may be 30 and you may be 33, but I'm the coach and you're the player."

A big help to Fuller came last summer, when he first returned to Green Bay as a coaching intern for the Packers' special teams during training camp. Special teams coordinator Mike Stock and assistant Shawn Slocum encouraged Fuller to be actively involved on a daily basis, and Fuller took advantage.

"Shawn opened the door and so did Mike as far as, 'Hey, you get in there and coach. Be part of this coaching staff. Learn and ask questions,'" Fuller said. "They just really opened the door.

"I was wanting to coach, and I had the itch. There's nothing like being at this level, and we sat and talked a lot of football."

Fuller made a strong enough impression that when Stock retired at season's end and Slocum ascended to the coordinator position, he was quickly under consideration for the open assistant spot.

Ironically, following the season Fuller was a candidate for some college coaching jobs and had been calling Slocum to serve as a reference. Slocum couldn't tell Fuller anything about the discussions going on in Green Bay because the process wasn't far enough along at that time, but the two laugh about it now.

"That's part of the business," Fuller said. "It worked out."

The Packers hope Fuller's experience as an NFL special teams player will help the team's units. As a former kickoff coverage player and gunner/jammer on punt coverage, Fuller understands what it takes to be a solid special teams performer.

Five years removed from his playing days, Fuller also has had the time to establish himself - a lifestyle and identity - without the helmet and shoulder pads, and that has helped him adjust to the demands that come with being a professional coach.

"Coming back into this industry, you want to be part of the NFL," he said. "You like the prestige, you like running out in front of a full stadium, but you don't like staying here until 8 or 10 at night, and coming in at 5:30 or 6 in the morning. What I've found out and what Mike (McCarthy) has told us is manage your time.

"I think a lot of ex-players struggle with understanding how to manage their time. Don't be here just to be here. Be here to get something done. That's one of the biggest hurdles I had coming from a player to being a coach."

{sportsad300}His days lately have involved studying college prospects for the draft, building the special teams playbook with Slocum, and preparing for the start of the offseason program later this month, when he'll start working hands-on with the players here for the first time since the '08 training camp.

For a player who went through the roller-coaster end to the 2003 season - when the Packers made the playoffs on Arizona's dramatic last-play victory over Minnesota, won the NFC Wild Card game on Al Harris' interception for a TD in overtime, and then squandered their shot at a conference title game berth on fourth-and-26 in Philadelphia - it didn't take long for the memories to flood back upon re-entering Lambeau last summer.

But now there's time for new memories to be made, and Fuller can't wait.

"It takes certain people to be here, special people that understand what it's like to live in Green Bay," he said. "You've got three or four thousand people at practice in training camp, scrimmages that are sold out. To be back as a part of that and be part of an organization of this high class is exciting for me."

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