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Working From The Bottom

Posted Mar 23, 2011

Quality control is the job but hopefully just the first step

Cardinals defensive quality control coach Ryan Slowik, here before a game last season, would eventually like to be an NFL head coach -- someday.


Tucked away in a permanent cubicle well down the hallway from the office of head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the computer screen of Ryan Slowik shows a diagrammed play.

Slowik, the Cards’ defensive quality control coach, is constructing the picture of red dots and lines at every angle as an example from defensive coordinator Ray Horton. A new DC means a new playbook, and such construction is the responsibility of Slowik this offseason.

Slowik is only 30 but he’s a veteran at this point, having coached in the NFL since 2005. Despite the time put in, he is low man on the totem pole, along with offensive quality control coach Chad Grimm.

He doesn’t plan to be there forever.

“You can’t necessarily put a timeline on (promotions) because no matter what seat you are sitting in in this league, nothing is going to play out as you think in your fantasy world,” Slowik says.

“At the same time, I never view myself, even in this role, as this,” he adds, pointing to the computer monitor.

The job of quality control coach isn’t as vague as the name suggests. Slowik’s duties are very specific, breaking down game video – both the Cardinals’ games and other teams – building playbooks, analyzing stats. Slowik also serves as, essentially, an assistant linebackers coach and an assistant special teams coach.

The goal is to move up the ladder, of course. Position coach. Coordinator. Head coach. Six seasons into his career, it’s about working and waiting.

“Sometimes you are thinking, ‘What am I doing, working all these numbers, all these hours’ and it’s ‘Yes sir, no sir’ to everybody,” said linebackers coach Matt Raich, who spent five years with the Steelers and Cardinals in the same role before being promoted in 2009. “In the pecking order, you are at the bottom. The next day, you’re thinking, ‘I’m in the bottom of the barrel, but at least I am in the barrel.’ ”

In season, Slowik arrives at work sometime between 4:30 and 5 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays. The film breakdown and playbooks is a long and get-done-ASAP process. His target time to go home is 11 p.m. The rest of the week morphs into more of a coaching role – at practice, he and Raich usually break up with one taking the inside linebackers and the other dealing with the outside linebackers – and is ultimately what Slowik would like to do more often.

Coaching is in the family blood. His father, Bob, is the secondary coach for the Redskins, having spent 18 years in the NFL and 32 coaching football. When the Broncos underwent a staff purge in 2005, Bob Slowik was brought in as a defensive backs coach, and soon after, Ryan was hired to assist in special teams and defensive backs.

The younger Slowik understood perception, but believes the players didn’t think about nepotism once he started talking football. Nor did his age – he was 24 at the time – seem to impact his job.

“You are almost star-struck a little bit,” Slowik said. “Once you realize (guys like) Champ Bailey, John Lynch, Quentin Harris, all they really want the instruction, to be told what to do to succeed.

“I remember thinking I was really comfortable in the 9-on-7 drill of either an OTA or minicamp. John came up to me and asked, ‘How do you think I played that?’ and I answered (and) the preconceived notions were out the door.”

Doing his job well – whatever job that may be right now – is the only thing Slowik can do. There is no reason to dwell on goals daily, because it takes away from the work that ultimately will prove his worth.

Raich said in quality control, there is so much to do there usually isn’t time to think about much else than the task at hand. Slowik acknowledges his dreams of being a head coach, but added “it’s not like I have a card that says, ‘By 2014 I want to be a position coach.’ ”

“I was lucky because I didn’t have to do some of the things other coaches have because I had gained a lot of experience by playing,” said Whisenhunt, who began his NFL coaching career with tight ends. “That helped me jump a couple of steps. It comes down to two things: Number one, making an impression on somebody at some point who is willing to give you a shot, and number two, being able to take advantage of that shot.”

So Slowik grinds out his work. He is getting to know Horton, who not only is a new boss but holds the knowledge Slowik needs to be good at his job. Coaching years are like dog years, Slowik says with a smile, feeling like he’s been at this a lot longer than what is about to be his seventh season.

He doesn’t regret the job choice, however. Today isn’t about waiting for the future as much as diagramming the particular base defense that stares out from the screen.

“There is not one day that goes by that I can remember thinking, ‘Why in the world am I doing this?’ ” Slowik said. “I truly do love everything that goes into this job.”
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