Chad Hall and his wife, Rose, were out to dinner recently to celebrate the 33rd birthday of the Buffalo Bills’ first-year receivers coach.
It was supposed to have been just the two of them, but when word of their special night found its way onto a text thread of the players in his position group, the dinner lost its intimacy.
“One of them got on it and was like, ‘Coach, we’re going to dinner, we’re going to find you,’” Hall said with a smile. “Six of them showed up.”
It really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Earlier in the day, as the coach was walking off the field after a practice during organized team activities, he found himself under an impromptu shower as a couple of his receivers acknowledged his birthday by dumping a Gatorade bucket of water on him.
“It made me feel good,” the Atlanta native said. “It made me feel like they appreciate me and I’m doing a good job so far for them.”
The Bills need that to be the case, especially with the considerable attention they’ve given the receiver position during the offseason. Three of their top free-agent acquisitions are receivers John Brown, Cole Beasley and Andre Roberts.
“Luckily, I was blessed that all the guys who came in are great, great, great role models and leaders for the younger guys, so they lead by example and verbally,” Hall said. “They’ll keep the room accountable for me, which is great. It takes a lot of stress off my life because they do it for me, because that’s the type of pros they are. But I think I’m in a unique position where our oldest receiver, Andre Roberts, is a year younger than me. Cole Beasley and John Brown are two years younger than me.”
They, along with the younger receivers, also know that Hall once was one of them. Although he had modest production in four seasons as an NFL receiver (16 receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns) and saw most of his playing time on special teams, Hall’s playing career has proved to be a solid connection point.
“They respect me, and I respect them,” he said. “But they know who has the final say, so everyone else follows suit, all the younger guys. Going to dinner and stuff, I think that just builds our whole room and the whole chemistry of it. And it lets them know that I care about them, I love them and I’m going to do whatever it takes for them to succeed.”
In the latest edition of “One-on-One Coverage,” Hall sat down with The Buffalo News to discuss the role to which he ascended after two seasons as a Bills offensive assistant; his path from the Air Force Academy to the NFL as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles (2010-12), San Francisco 49ers (2012-13) and Kansas City Chiefs (2013); and what he has learned in the early stages of being a coach.
Buffalo News: How do you incorporate your playing days into coaching the Bills’ receivers?
Chad Hall: After the final day of mandatory minicamp, I told them, “These next five weeks were my favorite five weeks, because I knew, in my mind, that I was going to outwork every other person in the NFL in these next five weeks. They were going to take a break, or they were going to go on trips, and I knew I was going to take a jump ahead.”
That’s how I made it in this league. That was my mental advantage. So, I can kind of give them those little hints or at least try to get them to let that sink in. And maybe that’ll work.
BN: Are you prone to doing a lot of your own demonstration of techniques or how certain patterns should be run?
CH: Yeah. I didn’t have any of the drills that I really liked on tape, so during the offseason, I trained for like three-four weeks, just to kind of get my legs back under me. And then I filmed myself doing the drills, so I could show more exactly what I wanted. Sometimes in the classroom, they’re asking, “Well, what would you do?” And I get up there and I go, “This is exactly what I would do.” And I show them.
Like, against our defense in practice, if they’re playing man-to-man, depending on their leverage and what the route was, however they did it, I can tell them, “This was OK, but this will work better, and this is the reason why.”
BN: After the 2017 season, you interviewed for the Bills’ receivers coach job, but it went instead to a more experienced candidate in Terry Robiskie. How disappointing was that?
CH: Bless Terry. I learned so much from him. He’s coached for almost 40 years. I still talk to him. I mean, I love that guy.
BN: What did you learn from Terry?
CH: Everything. His ability to be an authoritative figure, how he handled it when anything got out of control. He got them back like this (snapping his fingers). Wide receivers are a tough group. The wide receivers and D-linemen are probably the two hardest groups. Probably the thing he taught me the most was scheme-wise and knowing defenses, because he was an offensive coordinator (for the Tennessee Titans) before he came here. As far as techniques and making receivers better on the field, and being able to separate and get open, that value I can add right away because I’ve been there.
BN: How did it come to pass that you ended up at the Air Force Academy from Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners, Ga.?
CH: I wanted to play Division I football. That was my love. Baseball was my best sport, but I was going to play football no matter what. In high school, I played safety and quarterback. I was going to Vanderbilt on a scholarship as a corner, and then they pulled it. I have no clue why. They gave it to someone right across town who went to Roswell High School. I forget his name.
I had a bunch of D-IAAs and I had the academies. And when Vanderbilt pulled the scholarship, the academies were the only ones left and they were recruiting me as a quarterback. I didn’t know anything about the military. But at 17, I was like, West Point, they’re the Army, they’re the front line. Navy, they told me when they recruited me, "You’re going to be on a sub for six months right when you graduate." The Air Force was the most lenient, so that was a selling point, and they were the best academy by far at football at that time.
I was starting at running back until my senior year, when (Troy) Calhoun came from the Texans (with whom he had been the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach) to be our head coach. Then, he saw me and basically without telling me, I found out that he thought I was too small to be a running back. I was probably 5-7, 175. So he was just using me on reverses and screens and stuff. And then finally, the fifth game of the year when we lost two games, he decided to start me at running back and I think I averaged about 190 yards every game for the last five games.
BN: You have an amazing photo with then-President George W. Bush, with both of you doing the Heisman pose at your graduation from the Air Force Academy. How did that come about?
CH: The sitting president rotates as the commencement speaker for all of the military academies each year, and it just timed up that I was lucky enough that my graduating class had the president that year. The president is only really required to shake hands with the top 10 percent of the class, then he can leave. George Bush said, “Nope, I’m staying here the whole time.” Luckily for me, he did. Otherwise, that picture wouldn’t have happened. So, I went up there shook his hand and said, “Hey, can we do the Heisman pose?” He said, “Yeah.”
About a month later, I get a package in the mail, open it up and it’s that picture, signed, “With Compliments from the President.”
BN: What did you do during those two years of military service following graduation?
CH: I was a maintenance officer on F-16s. My last year, I led about 300 troops and we maintained about 31 F-16s at Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City, Utah. The F-16s were deployed to Afghanistan every six months. If there was something wrong, we’d fix them. And if not, we’d just keep them lubed up and ready to roll. We were part of the 421st Fighter Squadron, known as the “Black Widows.”
BN: Were you mechanically inclined?
CH: I didn’t work on the F-16s. My troops did. I knew a very little about a lot. They knew a lot about a small piece. I did learn how to fly. I soloed. Not jets, but little Cessnas. With jets, I was up there with somebody else.
“Am I firing there?”
“You’re good to go.”
BN: How did you get the NFL to notice you as a player?
CH: When I was in the military, I went to pro day at the University of Utah. Boom. Philly called me the next day and said, “Hey, we want to work you out.” I said, “OK, great.” I told my commander, and he was like, “Oh, yeah, sure, Chad. Go work out for the Eagles.” So, I was like, “Yeah, I’ll be gone tomorrow. I’ve got to fly to Philly and they’re flying me back.” They’re like, “OK, great. Good luck.” I don’t know how much they actually believed it … until I came back with a contract.
From March 1, when the Eagles’ offseason program began, until June 1, when they let me out (of his military commitment), this was my schedule. I’d fly from Salt Lake City to Philadelphia on Sunday night. We had practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. On Thursday, I took the 1:30 flight from Philly to Salt Lake. I worked Thursday night, all day Friday, all day Saturday, all day Sunday. Then I flew back to Philly Sunday night. I did that for three months. And I paid for my own flights.
BN: What did you do in that pro day that stood out?
CH: I remember one of the coaches came up to me afterward and said, after I did the (three-cone drill), a bunch of them asked, “Who’s got the highest time?” One guy said he had me at 6.37 (seconds). I never heard anything close to that at the combine or anywhere else. My shuttle was 3.8 flat. And my 40 was a 4.54. I’m a quick guy. I didn’t really have the long speed.
BN: After your playing career, you decided to take a little break from football. Why?
CH: I wanted to step away from the game, because I had been playing since I was 6 and that was my life, and see if there was something else I needed to do with my life. I started my own company, kind of a small investment firm. We raised money, (mostly from) private equity groups. I did that for about six months and that sprung me into the largest angel investment firm in the country called Seraph Group, out of Atlanta and San Francisco. They invest in startups. Think of the show Shark Tank.
We had over 250 investors around the country and some all over the world who are high-level CEOs who have been there, done that. We get pitched all of these start-up ideas, and if it’s in a certain area where we have a CEO, we’ll get him involved. People would come to us with an idea, but they don’t have any money and they have zero connections, and they’re usually young. So we kind of use our investors to help grow the companies. I was mostly with the investors and looking for more investors.
BN: What percentage of those pitches become actual investments?
CH: Oh, probably less than 1 percent. And they get filtered out, too. I mean, to get to get to our company, they’ve got be introduced to us by someone. And then it’s usually four to seven years before they get bought, if they make it at all.
I loved everything about it, loved the hustle of it, but it was so shallow and transactional. There weren’t the relationships that you build as a football player, at least not in the business world.
BN: When did you come to the realization that you wanted to get into coaching?
CH: After about a year, I realized there was nowhere else I want to be but around this game and, at that point, as a coach. In September-October of '16, I probably contacted every single coach that would have ever been associated with me, offense or defense. And Sean McDermott got back to me and said, “Chad, I can’t do anything for you now, but if I ever could, I would. And just stay on me.” Well, then he gets the job here and I called him every day until he finally called me and offered me a job as an offensive assistant.
BN: What, besides your background as a player and love of football, convinced you to give up what would seem to be a very lucrative job to go into the very insecure and low-paying – at least at the start – world of coaching?
CH: I’m a big people person, I’m a relationship guy, and I want to help these players out. Not only help them on the field, but help them grow into men. I knew I was taking a huge pay cut. I don’t know if you could put it into pay-per-hour, but it would be way below minimum wage.
My girlfriend at the time had just moved to Atlanta for me and now we’re going to Buffalo. But she was on board. Now, she’s my wife and we’re about to have a kid (a daughter, due in September). But I knew what I was getting into. It wasn’t anything I had done before. I went from high school to a military school. Then, I went to a military school to playing in the NFL. Now I had a new dream, to coach in the NFL and keep going up the ladder.
BN: Was there a coach you had whose influence did the most to steer you toward becoming a coach yourself?
CH: Jemal Singleton, who was my running back coach at the Air Force Academy. He was with the Colts and the Raiders, and now he’s with the Bengals. I just always had a great relationship with him. I always kept in touch with him. And then, when coaching was on my heart, I always reached out to him and he told me every story – every good, bad, ugly (about the profession). And he’s been a big part of the process even after I’ve become a coach. If I get frustrated or things are happening, I can always count on him to pick up the phone and coach me through it.
The good part of the business that he told me about was the same good that I wanted. One was being around the best game in the world. Two was, “Look, Chad, I coached you when you were 20 years old, and we still talk when you’re 30. That’s what you get out of this: the relationships that you create.” And that’s what I want. I think that’s what life’s about, being able to help other people and create relationships. I think that’s why we’re on this earth, among other things.
The bad was the hours, lack of family time. I loved the military and I loved serving my country every day. But I knew I didn’t want to stay in it because I loved growing up in Atlanta and I wanted to live there after I got out. But Jemal goes, “Unfortunately, kind of just like the Air Force, where they tell you where to go every three, four years, it’s the same thing in coaching. You have no control over it and you can move at any moment.” So that was the one thing that almost held me back from it, because I’m a guy who’s family first no matter what.
BN: What did your being an offensive assistant the past two years entail?
CH: Anything and everything. I was the assistant wide receiver coach, basically the assistant of the OC. Do whatever he needed, like drawing all the pass (play) pictures, so the players had them and knew what routes to run. And getting everything organized on game day. I mean, there’s just so many things.
Then I was also the returner coach for special teams. I did that in the league, too. It’s just never-ending. That is a great job and I was so lucky to have it, but it is a tough job. I thought being in the military, working at least 12-hour days and every other weekend was tough until I got here. It’s a lot more than that.
BN: What’s it like to coach in the system of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll?
CH: I tell every guy who comes here, “This is the hardest offense that I’ve ever had to learn.” We have one word, like, “Tim Hortons.” That could be a whole play call, that could be the formation, the protection, the route.
We installed almost everything we have this whole offseason. That way, at least they’ve heard it or they’ve done it. And then it’s easier to make specific game plans. But it’s just a lot. And there’s no real rhyme or reason for some of the concepts or terms or what we call them. It’s just, “You’ve got to remember it.”