At Rochester, Brian Daboll ’97 played defensive safety, intent on foiling the plans of opposing quarterbacks. Nearly a decade later Daboll is making a name for himself on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
In his second year as quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets, the former Yellowjacket finds ways to fool the NFL’s best defensive safeties. It’s a role that took on a higher profile this summer when Brett Favre, the former Green Bay Packers legend, came out of retirement to join the Jets.
And while Daboll may be getting a little more attention this fall with the arrival of Favre, the 2008 season marks his ninth year in the National Football League, where he’s building a solid reputation as a hard-working coach with a keen understanding of the game.
“I love everything about football,” says Daboll, who lives in Chatham, N.J., with his son, Christian, 7, and daughter, Haven, 3. “I love the game planning, the scheming, the devising ways to be successful, the competition, and the camaraderie with the staff and players.”
A native of Buffalo, Daboll became part of the Jets’ 21-man coaching staff in 2007 when head coach Eric Mangini, the former defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, wooed Daboll from the Patriots. For the previous seven seasons, Daboll had been a member of the Patriots coaching staff, where he helped guide the team to three Super Bowl titles.
The Jets job is the latest move in a coaching career that began at Rochester. Sidelined by injury at the end of his junior year, Daboll returned to Fauver Stadium his senior year as a student assistant, coming to practice each day to work with the team’s wide receivers under then coach Rich Parrinello ’72.
“He was enthusiastic and eager to learn,” says Parrinello. “You could see the passion. You knew it wasn’t just a lark. He was serious about pursuing football as a profession. And now he has taken it to a very high level.”
After graduation, Daboll joined the coaching staff at the College of William & Mary, then landed a position in 1998 at Michigan State University as an assistant under coach Nick Saban, one of the nation’s top football minds who now is head coach at the University of Alabama. By 1999, Daboll was assisting the defensive coaches, working primarily with the defensive backs.
Saban recommended Daboll to Bill Belichick, who in late January 2000 had been hired to lead the Patriots. Daboll signed on as one of Belichick’s coaching assistants, helping guide teams that won the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003, and 2004.
In 2002, he became the team’s wide-receivers coach, working with players such as Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and David Givens.
While Daboll never played wide receiver, he knew enough about football to excel at a time when the Patriots were the NFL’s top team.
“As a coach, you tell a player what has to be done, how they are supposed to do it, and then you make sure they do it right,” says Daboll. “You find a way to help the players. And they are always looking for what they can do to get better.”
That’s a game plan he follows with the Jets and with Favre.
“Brett is a regular guy,” says Daboll. “He’s a real professional and a pleasure to work with. He likes to have fun, but he’s all business when he needs to be business.”
Part of the business of football is a grueling schedule. Daboll typically arrives at the Jets’ practice facility between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. He usually heads for home after 11 p.m. or even midnight.
“It can be quite a long day,” Daboll says.
In his first season with the Jets in 2007, Daboll spent most games in the coaching booth, analyzing the game with Jets coaches who called the plays and relayed them to the sidelines. This fall, Daboll coaches from the sidelines with his crew of quarterbacks—Favre, Brett Ratliff, Eric Ainge, and Kelly Clemens.
There, he reviews snapshots of defensive formations and through his headset talks with the team’s offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, who phones the play to Daboll from the coaching booth. Daboll relays the call wirelessly to the quarterback, who has a headset in his helmet.
Ratliff, the third-string quarterback, says Daboll excels at reading defenses, clueing quarterbacks in on what to look for as they walk up to the center before the ball is snapped. It’s a crucial moment when the quarterback must determine if the play that’s been called by the coaches will work against the defensive formation on the field.
“The little keys he gives us to read the defense cut down on the things you have to do as you are walking up to the line, so you don’t have to worry about as much,” says Ratliff. “He can explain defenses—tell you how they play and why they play like they play.”
Arriving at Rochester with his teenage friend and college roommate, Brian Flynn, ’97, ’98W (MS), Daboll didn’t play football for the Yellowjackets until his sophomore year.
His most memorable moment came in the first game of the 1995 season as the Yellowjackets faced Case Western Reserve. By the fourth quarter, Rochester was losing 5–2. But with 50 seconds left in the game, and facing a fourth down and seven, quarterback Steve Kenny heaved a 9-yard pass to Flynn in the end zone for a touchdown.
After the ensuing kickoff, Case Western moved quickly down the field. But with 15 seconds left, Daboll intercepted a pass in the end zone to seal the victory. It was his third interception of the game.
“That was so neat how that game turned out—Brian catching the winning pass, and I had three interceptions,” he recalls.
Daboll’s playing days ended after a helmet-to-helmet collision during the last game of the 1995 season at Union College. Doctors advised Daboll to take off his pads for good to prevent possible damage to nerves in his shoulders and spine.
But the injury didn’t dim his interest in the game or his outlook on how the game fits into his life.
As he prepares for each Sunday on the field, he doesn’t look too many weeks ahead nor does he look back to the previous week or season.
“It has been a good start to a career,” he says. “You just move on to the next day, and you move on to the next week. I don’t get lost in too many memories.”
David Wilson McKay is a New York–based freelance writer.