As Josh Cribbs' career neared its end, his role -- whether it was in Oakland, New York or Indianapolis -- went a shade beyond returning punts and kicks. From time to time, Cribbs, as an "old head" who'd seen it all during a career that spanned more than a decade -- would take the lead in special teams meetings.
For Cribbs, who stampeded into the NFL in 2005 as an undrafted free agent with the Browns, it felt right. It felt like a future.
"They respected me enough to allow me to have the floor," Cribbs said. "I pride myself as a special teams guru."
Shortly after Amos Jones was named Cleveland's new special teams coordinator, Cribbs reached out to Browns coach Hue Jackson to inquire about the team's opening for an assistant. Jackson didn't hesitate. Cribbs, who owns 11 Browns return records and sits in a tie for first with the most kickoff return touchdowns in NFL history, went through an interview process with a number of other candidates for a job that was ultimately given to Sam Shade, a former NFL player who's already logged 13 years of coaching experience.
There was still, however, a place for Cribbs, who officially retired from the NFL last season. Jackson offered him a spot as a special teams intern, and the three-time Pro Bowler gladly accepted.
"We had great dialogue and conversations and felt like it was best to do everything I could to provide him an opportunity to understand what coaching was, from the bottom up," Jackson said. "I wanted to do everything I could to put him in position where he could be successful. He was very open to it and we made a decision of, 'let's start on the ground floor and work our way up.'
"His reputation precedes itself. He was one of the best return guys in pro football. Plus he's a Cleveland Brown. He's one of our own. He told me over a phone call that he had a tremendous passion to get the organization back to winning and that means something to me. We've had several other (former players) reach out, but this ended up being the right fit at the right time for us."
Former Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs announces his retirement. He holds 11 Browns return records and is tied for first in NFL history with 8 kickoff return touchdowns.
Cribbs has been on the job for a little more than a month, and his responsibilities have been wide-ranging. He's dug into the "gopher work" that flies under the radar outside the facility but is vital in the everyday operation of an NFL franchise. He's learning from a veteran coach like Jones how to not just digest an entire playbook, but also how to explain it to the numerous players who will fill the various roles on Cleveland's special teams units.
When the Browns return to the field for OTAs and training camp, Cribbs anticipates he'll help in the areas he knows best -- punt returner, kick returner and gunner.
"It's a lot of time involved, a lot of hours and not everyone is cut out for it. Not that they can't coach, but everybody is not cut out for the hours and the time it takes to put into coaching," Cribbs said. "That was one of the main important things in my discussion with Hue. He said, 'hey, look down in three months and you figure it's not for you, no hard feelings, we still love you. Coaching's not for everybody.'
"That's the process I'm in now. I know I want this. I'm proving myself again. This is something I want to do and will exceed, just like I did as a player. I'm going to use that same mentality as a coach."
Cribbs knows it will take time, years, for him to reach his ultimate goal in his new line of work. It's a fresh start in a familiar place -- "the perfect storm," he said -- on a team he believes is headed the right direction under Jackson.
"I've earned their respect already as a player. Now I get to earn their respect as a coach," Cribbs said. "I pour into them all the knowledge I have to make them successful and make them do the things I did.
"I have this burning desire to be around football, to get back in the game. This is the closest way I can be around football, to still make an impact in the NFL. What better team for me to make an impact than the Cleveland Browns?"