- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Joe Jacoby is 49, but he probably could still line up and lay somebody flat, just like he did during his 13 years as an offensive tackle for the Washington Redskins. At 6-foot-7 and his playing weight of 320 pounds, he still looks intimidating. But to get his point across in his new job as a volunteer assistant coach at Shenandoah University, Jacoby applies a subtle motivational touch - a roll of tape.

“He’s threatened us with the tape a couple of times,” sophomore tackle Jonathan Doering said.

Added junior guard Sean McKenzie: “He tells us that in pass protection or run blocking, if we don’t keep our hands up, we’re gonna lose our base. It’s gonna mess everything up. We’re gonna fall down. Coach Jacoby had this great idea of bringing out some tape. If we don’t want to use [our hands], we can tape ‘em to our sides.”

Jacoby, who earned four Pro Bowl selections with the Redskins from 1981 to 1993, is a technician, a stickler for details. It’s how he made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Louisville. It’s how he became a charter member of the Hogs, the moniker for the Redskins’ offensive line during the team’s glory days (1983 NFC Championship, wins in Super Bowls XVII, XXII, XXVI).

He used his size and strength to bulldoze opponents, but he can’t coach that at Shenandoah, where everything football-related is scaled down - including the players. Jacoby dwarfs them all. In big-time college programs, there are large, expensive buildings with opulent players’ lounges and cavernous weight rooms, jock dorms and high-tech study halls and enough video equipment to start a cable network.

This isn’t the big time.

Shenandoah, a private school of about 3,000 students located about 55 miles west of the District, competes at the NCAA Division III level. It has fielded a football team as a four-year institution only since 2000. Nestled in the scenic Shenandoah Valley, it’s where players gather in the coach’s tiny office to watch tape on a single laptop and where everyone, coaches included, lugs equipment to a practice field that’s wedged between a parking lot and Interstate 81. The goal posts are on wheels.

For Joe Jacoby, a rookie coach in full, midlife career-change mode, the setting is perfect.

“Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing,” he said. “And running my business, I had fun doing that. But I’m getting so much enjoyment out of what I’m doing here, working with these young guys.”

Jacoby sold his Northern Virginia car dealerships (which still bear his name) and gave up his longtime Redskins postgame radio show to coach. Every day, except when he attends his weekly Bible study class, he leaves his Vienna home at 6:45 a.m. for the drive that takes a little more than an hour. He usually gets home at about 8 p.m.

Despite his appearance, Jacoby was a soft-spoken, cerebral player who studied film meticulously and mentored younger linemen like two-time Pro Bowl guard Mark Schlereth.

“He has so much knowledge to impart,” said Schlereth, who played for the Redskins from 1989 to 1994. “Just because he’s built like a big, giant caveman doesn’t mean he’s not intelligent. He was a very astute football player who knew defenses.”

Jacoby always itched to apply his knowledge to coaching. He did it once about 15 years ago at a high school but never actively pursued it. Now, with one daughter at the University of Miami on a swimming scholarship, and another daughter in high school and also a swimmer, the time seemed right.

He also realized there was more to life than selling cars.

“My wife’s been pushing me,” he said. “She wanted me to sell [the car dealerships] and move on. She could sense, what, restlessness? She noticed it more than me. I decided life’s too short.”

Jacoby typed up a resume and networked. He attended the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last February and talked to people. The responses were encouraging but unproductive. He contacted the Redskins, but they said they had no openings for him.

With no coaching experience at his age, he faced long odds of landing a job.

“Everybody knows who you are,” he said. “You have to go at it, and I went at it, but I’ve been out for awhile. Yeah, I’ve been involved in football. I played for 13 years and I did the radio show, but there’s that apprehension. ‘He’s been out for 15 years.’ ‘He hasn’t really been associated [with the game].’ ‘He has some experience, but that’s from playing.’ ‘He has never coached and he has never worked with individuals.’ So there was a concern. It was basically just getting back out into the circuit.”

Finally, through a mutual friend, Jacoby hooked up with Shenandoah coach Paul Barnes, a former offensive lineman. Barnes also coached the offensive line this year before turning the job over to Nick Oakley.

Barnes and Jacoby bonded immediately. Aside from football, they are both devout Christians with strong family ties. It also helped that Barnes, 48, now had someone close to his age with whom to hang out. Most of his assistants are in their 20s.

“We talk about life,” Barnes said. “He has two daughters, I have three children, and we talk about being parents. We help one another that way. I get more enjoyment out of that than talking about football. We’re both concerned about kids in today’s society. How to make our kids better people. It’s more than about football.”

Likewise, Jacoby and the players chat about nonfootball matters.

“Other things, what’s going on in their lives,” he said. “They’ve gotten used to me to a certain degree. They’re more frank in how they talk to me and all that.”

Jacoby brings attention to Shenandoah, but “the story shouldn’t be about me,” he said. “It should be about the kids. It’s about changing young people’s lives and giving them guidance. Not just football. Life’s lessons.”

Football, however, is why Jacoby is here. The name recognition doesn’t hurt, either, but Barnes said Jacoby’s knowledge and how he planned to get it across to the players impressed him.

“He’s a very technical coach and he understands personnel,” Barnes said.

He also can still demonstrate certain drills and show the kids how it’s done.

“He has great feet,” Barnes said. “And he can strike a bag. One of the players said, ‘Hey, Coach, that guy can hit.’”

Having Jacoby on board “is a chance of a lifetime,” said Oakley, 23, who last year played guard and tackle for the Hornets. “It’s such a unique thing, a wonderful experience. He knows so much about the game, things it takes years upon years to develop.”

Oakley, who grew up in Virginia Beach, was 8 when Jacoby retired. But he still knew of Jacoby’s exploits. He said when Barnes told him the news, his immediate response was, “No way.”

“I absolutely thought he was a liar,” Oakley said. “You shake his hand and it’s like grabbing a handful of bananas. But he relates with the kids so well.”

Oakley said Jacoby often provides a “Eureka moment” during meetings. The coaches will watch tape, study a formation, and someone will wonder how to block against it.

“And then Joe will suggest ‘well, what if we do this’ or ‘what if we do that?’” Oakley said. “And I’ll think, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?”

Jacoby refuses to flaunt his fame and relates his Redskins experiences only when asked. He won’t wear any of his Super Bowl rings.

“I’m not that type,” he said. “I’m not a flashy individual.”

Like Oakley, the players are all too young to recall when Jacoby played. They know about him from sources like NFL Network or their parents.

“The parents of these kids are more in awe of him than the kids,” Barnes said.

Said McKenzie, a Redskins fan from Germantown: “My dad knew who he was right off the bat. Every time I talk to my parents, they ask how Coach Jacoby is doing. The first thing that came to mind was, ‘How did Coach Barnes pull this one off?’”

But, he added, “we’re not here to gawk over him. He is a coach, and we’re gonna do what he tells him us to do and how to do it. We just respect him very much. He’s very calm and collected. He doesn’t really rip into us. He tells us what we’re doing wrong and asks us to do it again until we get it right. He’s not one to yell at you and make you feel bad.”

McKenzie said Jacoby stresses the fundamentals - footwork, staying low and proper use of the hands. And, as always, “come off the ball aggressively,” he said.

“I try to instill in them that this is a game of hands,” Jacoby said. “Feet and hands. Most of them are still trying to use their shoulders. Pass protection involves more the hands. The punch. Deliver the blow. I tell them, don’t be a catcher like a baseball catcher. We’re gonna be the pitcher.”

Picked to finish near the bottom of the USA South Conference, the Hornets fell to 1-2 after Saturday’s loss to Albright. Jacoby said though his linemen have improved a lot since the preseason, there is still a long way to go. But that’s OK. He has the time.

“This is the best decision I ever made,” he said.

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