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NFL Legend Hank Poteat Rises Through the College Coaching Ranks

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.

Hank Poteat began thinking about his post-NFL career before his final season with the Cleveland Browns.

“I knew it was coming to an end," Poteat, who had a ten-year career as a cornerback and won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in 2004. “My wife and I talked and said it was time to think about what I was going to do after football was over.’’

Initially, Poteat wanted to be like his dad, a high school principal and later a superintendent. Poteat's father was his first coach, and the man who introduced him to football as a nine-year old in Harrisburg, PA.

"When I was studying in college, I did some student teaching," Poteat said. "And I saw it wasn’t the route I was going to go."

He then met with Garry Cobb, a former NFL linebacker turned TV and radio personality, and thought he might follow Cobb into the media world.

"I actually went to an Andy Reid press conference with Garry," Poteat said. "And went into the Eagles locker room. But I found out that wasn’t my route either."

Poteat also tried public speaking, and while he enjoyed it, that wasn’t his career choice either.

Then, as his final year began, he realized he had basically become a coach in uniform for the Browns. He was very familiar with head coach Eric Mangini's defense — after all, he had played under Mangini when he was a coordinator in New England, and again when he held the top job for the New York Jets.

"I was the leader in the secondary (in Cleveland)," Poteat said. "I was holding meetings. Guys would come to me for help. That was my role at the end of my career."

So why not become a coach?

During his post-playing days, Poteat ran some football camps in the Delaware and Philadelphia areas.

His break finally came when Mike Furrey, an old friend and teammate, got the head coaching job at Kentucky Christian, a NAIA school. Poteat landed on the Knights' staff.

After two years on the NAIA level, he then headed back at his old college, Pitt, as a grad assistant where he coached the cornerbacks. Then it was two years at Kent State, and four at Toledo. After the 2020 season, Poteat took the cornerbacks coach job at the University of Wisconsin. 

During his rise through the coaching ranks, Poteat's message is similar the one he received when he first started playing football.

"I’m always working on building the mindset," Poteat said. "I talk about dog mentality, and how that’s a mindset that doesn’t change no matter what the circumstances. It doesn’t matter if you’re up by 20 or down by 20, it doesn’t change your approach to the game.

"I made a commitment to my wife, and I love everything about her. It’s the same with football. I loved the experience of playing in the NFL. Guys always say they love football, but they don’t want to do X, Y, and Z. You have to show me every day why you love this game."

Photo: AP/Kathy Willens


  • NFL Players and Legends
  • Coaching