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After a Decade Away From the Game, NFL Legend Mike Zordich Returned to Coach

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

Everyone around Mike Zordich always said that he would be a coach when his NFL career ended.

Zordich played for 12 years at defensive back with the New York Jets, Phoenix Cardinals, and Philadelphia Eagles, and was often called a coach on the field. The Penn State alumnus appeared in 185 NFL games with 127 starts, accumulating 718 tackles and 20 interceptions.

He could have begun coaching once he retired after the 1998 season, but said he wasn't ready for it. "When we started having children, and I saw the lifestyle of a coach, going there, going there, that’s not what I wanted," he said. 

"Plus, that last season was rough; we were 3-13. After 12 years, I just wanted to get away from it."

So for 10 years, Mike and his wife raised their sons Michael, a former running back for Penn State and the Carolina Panthers, and Alex, an ex-quarterback at the University of Buffalo, and their daughter Aiden.

"Thank God I was able to play long enough and my children were old enough that I was able to take some time with them and even coach them in high school," Zordich said. "I wanted to do what my parents did for me and what Cindy’s parents did for her and raise my children.

"But then, all of a sudden the kids were leaving high school. So, now what am I going to do?"

After a decade away from the game, Zordich contacted one of his assistant coaches from the Cardinals, the late Jim Johnson. At the time, Johnson was the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles.

"Jim is the reason I got back into it," Zordich said. "I sent him a letter and he wrote back to me. I still have that letter."

In 2009, Zordich began his coaching career, spending four years with the Eagles as a defensive quality control coach and then as defensive backs coach.

From there, he landed his first college coaching job at Youngstown State, in the town where he had grown up and raised his family. 

"When I was growing up, Youngstown just produced football players," Zordich said. "Per capita, we had the most players in the NFL. We were just a bunch of hard-working people.

"My dad was a fireman and on his days off he would have two other jobs. My mother cut hair in the basement on the weekend to make extra money. Everyone went to work with lunchpails.’’

Zordich, who was a star at Chaney High in Youngstown before going on to Penn State and the NFL, said he tries to instill that work ethic in his players. 

After coaching at Youngstown State, he went to Michigan, then to Central Michigan, where he is currently the defensive backs coach. 

"In college, it’s a lot of recruiting," Zordich said. "Being on the road is the easy part for me. I love going to the different schools, love meeting all the coaches, and getting to know the players."

Most of all, he says he enjoys seeing players he coached make it to the NFL.

"I was watching the 2021 NFC Championship Game, and there's (Michigan alumni) David Long starting at corner for the Rams and Ambry Thomas starting at corner for the 49ers," Zordich said. "That’s great to see that. And then of course I texted both of them after the game. It’s just a nice feeling."

Photo: AP/Brian Garfinkel


  • Coaching
  • NFL Players and Legends