On a cold night this past February, Chris Tabor and his wife, Nikki, were out to dinner when a woman approached the Browns' longtime special teams coordinator. She was wearing a Cleveland Browns coat and wanted to see what Tabor thought of it.
"She came up and tapped me on the shoulder and says, 'How do you like my coat, Coach?'" he told reporters earlier this year.
Tabor smiled. "I said, 'I think it looks great on you.'"
The moment came and went, but it left an impression on Tabor. It reminded him of the home he's found in Northeast Ohio, a place where he and his family have their put down roots over the past five years.
"When I first came here, I always heard about the passion of Cleveland Browns fans and I was coming from the Chicago Bears, who are also very passionate about their football team up there," said Tabor, who enters his sixth season with the Browns and first under head coach Hue Jackson, in an interview with ClevelandBrowns.com.
"But as I've been here and have watched things transpire, I mean, you can really see the love and the passion that the fans have — not only during the season, but the offseason — I think that's the thing that strikes me the most."
Indeed, Browns fans are as passionate as they come and Tabor has gotten to see it first hand, whether it's on Sunday afternoons at FirstEnergy Stadium or out in the Cleveland community.
"I mean, they're very concerned about what their team is doing, how their team is going to be," Tabor said, "and when you get a sense of that and a feel for that, you respect it so much."
A teacher and coach
For more than two decades, Tabor has coached football at every possible level of competition, mentoring professional athletes, college players and high schoolers since 1993. He's been everything from a graduate assistant to a head coach. And football is in his blood.
The son of Don Tabor, who coached high school football for 40 years in Missouri and is enshrined in the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Tabor joined the family business and set out on his own path first at Benton High School in his hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri, which sits about an hour north of Kansas City.
But Tabor — who graduated from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, (where he also played quarterback for the Ravens) and earned a master's degree in education from Columbia College in Missouri — considers himself a teacher first and foremost.
"That's what I always wanted to be. I wanted to be a school teacher and a football coach," he said.
"And I just had the opportunity to kind of keep growing through the profession and had different opportunities come along that I decided to do, but every time I go in the classroom and teach something on film or I go out onto the field, that is my classroom.
"If I can help a player get better on the field and off the field, then I feel like I'm doing my job. So I still consider myself — I don't consider myself a coach — I consider myself an educator."
The Browns took to the field to finish the three-day veterans' minicamp.
That approach has served Tabor well over the last 23 years.
In between then and now, Tabor has coached at Missouri (offensive graduate assistant, running backs and special teams coach), Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri, (head coach), Utah State (assistant head coach/wide receivers, running backs and special teams coach) and Western Michigan (running backs and special teams coach).
At some point in time, Tabor found his niche working with special teams.
"When I first started coaching, I tried to avoid coaching special teams like the plague. I really did. I was an offensive guy, and I tried to stay out of the special teams world. And then I had an opportunity," Tabor said in April on Cleveland Browns Daily.
"I was in college and the head coach that hired me said, 'We are going to split up the special teams and you are going to coach the punt team.' I said, 'I've never coached the punt team.' I started really getting into it and studying it, and it helped me grow as a coach. I really go into it, and that is kind of the avenue that I have gone to."
With that kind of experience, Tabor's notched his NFL gig with the Chicago Bears in 2008, where he was their assistant special teams coach for three seasons. While he was there, Chicago ranked among the league's best units as Tabor helped tutor some of the NFL's top return specialists in Danieal Manning, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester.
So when Tabor joined the Browns in 2011, then-Bears coach Lovie Smith spoke glowingly of his former assistant.
"Chris Tabor did a super job. Our special teams as a whole each year, we've been one of the best around," Smith told reporters at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, a moment chronicled by the Akron Beacon Journal.
"He has the system down. He can coach the specialists — I'm talking about the punters and, of course, the kicker. (He has) a great personality. He'll be able to fit in with their staff. Yes, I hated to see him go, but excited about this opportunity for him."
Since then, Tabor has helped shape Cleveland's special teams into one of the league's better units in recent years.
The Browns hold the NFL's highest punt return average from 2011-15 (11.3 yards) while second-year kicker Travis Coons knocked down 18 field goals to set a league record for the most consecutive field goals to begin a career. Two seasons ago, the Browns finished second in the NFL in opposing field position on kickoffs and eighth in the league punt coverage.
So when Jackson was tapped to lead Cleveland in January, the first-year coach made the decision to retain Tabor.
"He's so respected through the National Football League," Jackson said. "To me, it was a coup in keeping him here."
At home in Cleveland
In a profession that can be exceptionally personally and professionally demanding, Tabor has become something of a fixture in the Cleveland sports scene. He'll also be the first to tell you that such longevity is often unusual in the grind of coaching.
"I always say there's two types of coaches — ones that have been fired and ones that are going to be fired," Tabor said, laughing. "And when you sign up for this job, that's what you know and that what's going to happen."
Tabor continued: "I'm lucky in my case that I've been able to stay. I have a great nucleus, my wife does a great job, I have two daughters that are unbelievable."
Indeed, Tabor said his time away from the field revolved around his family — his wife Nikki and their two daughters Paityn and Lainey.
"I'm very active with my two daughters. They're heavily active in soccer and basketball so every night, they have practices and essentially I'm the bus driver, I take them wherever they can go. If they're playing, I want to watch them play. Because that's important to me," he said.
"I get a big kick out of watching my daughters play and being a fan. So if I can just spend time with my family, that's what I want to do. I like to golf and those types of things but really I take it pretty easy when I can."
Tabor's also an assistant on his daughter's fourth-grade girls basketball team, which is coached by Nikki. "I'm the assistant there — truly the assistant — because in my house, it's myself and three girls so I'm at the bottom of the depth chart on that whole deal there," he said, adding, "(Nikki is) an excellent teacher. I enjoy watching her coach my daughters and I throw in my two tidbits every once in awhile but I know my place and that's right where I stay."
Spend some time with Tabor and it's clear he and and his family have firmly planted themselves in the Cleveland area. Their roots continue to grow. So when Jackson chose to make Tabor part of his staff, he also granted him the chance to stay in a place that's becoming home to this native Missourian.
"My mom still lives in the same house that I grew up in, so I didn't move around as a kid. My dad was a longtime high school coach in the state of Missouri. God rest his soul in the high school Hall of Fame, but we lived in the same house," he said.
"I feel so lucky that I'm able to establish some roots here so that my daughters can kind of get a sense of, this is home. You talk to so many other coaches around the league and you say, 'Where do your kids live, where are they going to get married?' Well, they're really not sure because they're not sure what their home is."
Tabor shook his head and smiled.
"I can say and my girls can say that home is Cleveland," he said.
'Second to none'
Cleveland's offseason workouts were one of new beginnings and an energy that players, coaches and local media members alike have described as genuine and full of life over the past few months.
And as the Browns prepare to reconvene in Berea for training in three weeks this, Tabor and his crew are trying to make their unit "second to none," something Jackson challenged the coaching staff to do in preparation for the upcoming season.
"When you talk about coach Jackson I think the thing that you see is passion, you see energy. He knows exactly what he wants and how we're going to get there," Tabor said.
"And I think when you're working for somebody like that, we're just trying to do our part. I understand what his vision is and if we can follow through in the special teams area for his vision then I think we're doing our job."
Of course realizing that vision will take work, something the coaching staff has made clear when asked about what they'd like to accomplish in Cleveland.
Tabor has been through the ups and downs, the good and bad. But like Jackson, he's confident in the direction of the organization. And he's ready to put in the work to make it all happen.
"You want to do your best so that you can provide the team to be a winner for the city of Cleveland," Tabor said.
This is, after all, his home too.