Former NFL linebacker Levon Kirkland talks to the media Tuesday after being selected as a Bill Bidwill Fellowship coaching intern.
Bruce Arians loves to give coaching opportunities to former players, but often finds their passion decreases when the long hours become reality.
For Levon Kirkland, the inaugural recipient of the Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship, that won't be a problem. The former Steelers star will help coach the Cardinals' outside linebackers for the next two seasons in a program designed to help recently retired NFL players get experience at the highest level.
He knows how much he wants to be on the football field, because for four years after his playing days, Kirkland worked at Clemson
University, coordinating minority recruitment in the admissions office. For a player who made his name working on Sundays, the 9-to-5 weekday desk job was not for him.
"I remember them giving a (years-of-service) certificate to one of the ladies," said Kirkland at his introductory press conference on Tuesday. "I looked at a counselor and said, 'If I'm here for that long, please shoot me.'"
Soon after that moment of realization, Kirkland began working with young players at football camps, and by 2009 he was coaching high school football in South Carolina. His fellowship is named after Bill Bidwill, the Cardinals owner, because of Bidwill's willingness to give opportunities to individuals regardless of race or gender.
"The idea behind that was (highlighting) some of the innovative things he did," said team president Michael Bidwill, Bill's son.
Arians proposed naming the fellowship after Bidwill, and wants it to catch on around the league.
"Hopefully 31 other clubs will copy this and start fellowships to get former players involved in coaching and give them an opportunity to figure out if this is what they really want to do," Arians said.
Kirkland has no doubt this is the career for him. He suffered a tragedy in his personal life in 2013 when his wife, Keisha, died of lung cancer. Kirkland said the subsequent years have been difficult at times, but he's still determined to coach.
"I've been a single father for the last couple years, but I never gave up," Kirkland said. "I knew I was doing this for a reason. I contacted the Cardinals and I came out here. It was a wonderful experience. I'm ready to get to work. I'm ready to show guys how to be an NFL player and take full advantage of their opportunity."
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