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Meet Kirby Wilson, whose path from Los Angeles reunites him with Hue Jackson

Kirby Wilson and Browns head coach Hue Jackson were both born and raised under the blue skies and bright sun of Los Angeles, California. They both claim Dorsey High School as their alma mater, their childhood homes were roughly 10 minutes apart.

"We could ride a bike to each other's houses we were so close," said Wilson, who joined Cleveland's coaching staff as its running backs coach/run game coordinator in January.

But it wasn't until college when he met Jackson while on a trip back to Dorsey one fall.

"I kept hearing about this quarterback at Dorsey High — my alma mater — that was tearing it up, that he was a really special player. And I couldn't wait to come back. You know, even 37 years later I still follow Dorsey High School and I'm still close to the school," Wilson said.

"So I go back one summer and I'm going to find the coaching staff and I want to see this guy, Jackson, that everyone's talking about. So there's three or four of us together and we're like, 'Oh yeah, there he is.' I was like where? And they're like 'Right there!' And I look and I'm like, 'That guy?!' And he was a youngster back then and he was playing varsity maybe as early as his sophomore year.

"And I remember watching him in practice and the guy was electric, all over the field. He was a special talent. And I remember introducing myself to him and he says, 'I know who you are.' And we talked and had a nice laugh about it."

But the next thing that happened in that conversation still sits with Wilson.  

"He says, ''I'm going to win the city a championship here.'

Forged by steel

In 18 years of coaching, Wilson has virtually done it all. He's won two Super Bowls (with the Steelers in 2008 and Buccaneers in 2002), been to the playoffs with four different franchises and guided four backs to the Pro Bowl.

He's helped mold some of the greatest running backs to ever play the game — from Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Edgerrin James, Adrian Peterson, and Thomas Jones — to younger talents like Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and former Pittsburgh star Rashard Mendenhall. Wilson has helped seven different running backs break the 1,000-yard plateau a total of eight times.

Before coming to Cleveland, Wilson spent the past two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, where he helped Peterson rush for 1,485 yards last year and Matt Asiata notch nine touchdowns (third-most in the NFL) in 2014. But of all the stops along Wilson's journey to the shores of Lake Erie, it was seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers — the longest of his tenures spent anywhere thus far — that seems to stand out.

"I have a lot of respect for that organization, but they're the enemy now. And they wouldn't expect it any other way other than they want me to prepare to whoop their behinds," Wilson said. "That's the greatest compliment you can give somebody you respect — that you want to whoop their behinds."

To be sure, Wilson learned a lot from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and an organization that's captured four AFC North titles since 2007.

"It's the preparation, it's the attention to detail. And it's how you prepare your football team and how physical you want to be in that atmosphere," he said. "Everything we did there was about winning and it was for the players and that's how they were built, that's what they taught me, and I've kind of taken that with me everywhere I've gone now  — the passion for the preparation, the attention to detail, everything that we do is how do we make our players better, how are we going to benefit them.

"It's been fun to bring that with me every stop I've made since then."


A dream deferred**

Long before he and Jackson were reunited in Cleveland earlier this year, the pair had talked about coaching together over the past two decades. They nearly joined forces in 1997, when Wilson received a call from Jackson — then the USC offensive coordinator — about potentially joining the Trojans' coaching staff.

"That was my dream college job, being from LA, I could walk to the campus from where I grew up and so could coach," said Wilson, who was then an assistant at Iowa State and helped running back Troy Davis amass more than 4,100 yards in 1995 and 1996.

But the phone kept ringing. The job opportunities started mounting.

"I got a call from Pete Carroll to go interview with the New England Patriots. I also had an interview set up with Alabama and University of Texas."

In the end, Wilson joined the Patriots and served as their running backs coach for three seasons, a decision he described as a difficult one.

"That was a hard phone call to make to one of my best friends in the world who I see as my brother to tell him everything you've done for me, I can't come," he said. "And he understood totally. He was excited for me. But at the same time, there was our dream."

So when the chance to join Jackson and the Browns presented itself last winter, Wilson jumped at the opportunity.

"It was a dream come true for me, I was working at a place that I really enjoyed, I really enjoyed the coaching staff, the players, the organization. I was very content, very happy," he said.

"But Coach and I had talked about working together for over 20 years."

The foundation and a future

As the Browns prepare to reconvene for training camp in late July, Wilson will find himself once again tutoring a running backs room that includes Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr., who are expected to both play key roles for the Browns next season.

Jackson, who has made it clear Cleveland will be a run-oriented offense, spoke highly of the pair in May, saying they're poised for potentially "sensational" seasons.

"Those two guys are as good as I've seen in a while, their talent is extreme," he said, adding. "Now, they haven't put on the pads yet and they haven't done it but I truly believe we have the potential there to be really good at the position."

Wilson — who's mentored some of the greatest backs to play in the league — echoed a similar sentiment.

"They're a great complement to each other, they're both extremely competitive. They've got such a feel for each other, how to pick the other up when one's not doing as well in one area, this one will pick up the slack for the other," he said.

"They do a great job of motivating each other, pushing one another. And they're young, they're not in their prime yet and they're working toward that. They're learning how to take that extra step and improve even more and bring out every ounce of talent that they have. They're working their butts off to be great."

And so is Wilson, who will be there to guide them every step of the way.

"My kids have asked me several times when they were little, 'What did you do today at work?' And I would simply tell them, 'I played outside.' And it's the truth," he said. "I get to play outside for my job and I love it, I don't take it for granted."

Not now, and not back when he and Jackson's paths first crossed in Los Angeles.

Their dream, he said, has finally come true.

"It's something we've always talked about and dreamt about and now it's here," he said.

"And as we've jokingly said in the past and currently, we're going to make history now."

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