Jon Embree’s first memories are of football.
As the son of former Denver Broncos wide receiver John Embree, the Cleveland Browns’ tight ends coach can recall running around old Mile High Stadium when his father was a player.
“I was five years old, six, seven during that time frame,” Embree said. “Just growing up around it, watching it, football was all I ever thought about.”
The younger Embree didn’t stop thinking about it after an injury cut short his playing career. He simply took his passion to a career in coaching.
“To me, it was natural and ended up being a natural transition to go from a player to coaching,” he said.
The elder Embree served as Jon’s first football coach.
“There were times we would go out in the street and play catch, run routes, learn how to run routes properly, how to catch the ball properly, how to get in the correct stance,” Embree recalled of his father’s teachings. “It wasn’t time to play. A lot of it was instinctual. I think if you ask a lot of the guys that were fortunate enough to make it to this level or play high-level college football, a lot of it is just instincts. It’s innate behavior and knowledge that allows you to do some things and have success. When you start having success, it feeds that hunger, that bug in you of wanting to be around this game.”
After learning the game from his father, Embree had the chance to expand on that knowledge by playing for current Browns offensive coordinator, Norv Turner. At the time, Turner was the wide receivers and tight ends coach with the Rams (1987-90).
“That experience helped me in dealing with guys here, relating to them the sense of urgency that you have,” Embree said. “If you’re honest with yourself, you’ve got to go out every day preparing, practicing and playing like it really is your last chance. If I see a guy in cruise control, I’ll pull him aside, and whether it’s sharing my story or sharing other people’s stories that they can relate to, (and tell them), ‘You’ve got to take advantage of the time you have now and just not assume you’re going to get another year, another game, another play.’”
A self-described “competitive, fight-to-the-end” type of guy who was going to force his opponents to beat him rather than losing while not being at his best, Embree enjoyed becoming a college coach, first at the University of Colorado, and later, UCLA.
“The thing about coaching college football is you’re able to change guys’ lives through them getting their degree or transitioning on to the NFL,” Embree said. “I was fortunate enough to coach some very good players at college. I coached two Mackey Award winners and I coached another guy that had 12 years in the league, and another guy with 10 years that were tight ends. I really feel like they’re my own children. You spend four or five years with a kid and you’ve seen them transition from a boy to a man and have success. It’s kind of like a proud father.
“It means a lot when they’re calling to tell you they’re having kids, are getting married and different things like that. It was almost like being a father. I feel like I have a lot of different kids out there besides my three. Watching them play, it’s the same feeling I had when watching my kids play in high school and college. You get knots in your stomach a little bit. You get a little nervous for them because you want to see them have success and win.”