You never know what road life will take you down. No one knows that better than Tim Berbenich. A routine trip to the airport led this aspiring Wall Street professional to a career path in the National Football League with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it's a journey he's embracing every second of the way.
The 2008 season is Berbenich's third with the Buccaneers. He joined Tampa Bay in 2006 as an offensive quality control coach. That's a term most Bucs fans probably are familiar with, but few have an understanding of what quality control coaches' responsibilities are.
Most quality control coaches are younger men attempting to break into the coaching business. They have several responsibilities, including breaking down film of opponents, scouting those opponents, drawing opponent plays and alignments, and serving as an assistant on the practice field.
Many successful coordinators and head coaches initially got their start in the NFL as quality control coaches, including head coach Jon Gruden, who served as an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers in 1990.
"Jon was kind of the first one where the position started," Berbenich said. "It started for him when he was an assistant in San Francisco. That was when computers just started to come into the age of football. The offensive coordinator at the time was Mike Holmgren. Basically Jon drew up plays, and as technology has grown the position has grown a bit."
Quality control coaching responsibilities can be tedious or even deemed grunt work, but they play an integral role in a football team's success. The position has evolved due to the fact that many of the plays that are drawn up and information that is collected is created and stored on computers.
"I can relate very well," Gruden said of Berbenich. "I was one of the first guys in the 49ers organization to put the game plan on a computer and store the information so that it was accessible next week, next year and later on down the road for future games. Over the years, all of my computer files became outdated because the software improved. We had to hire a couple of guys – we called them the ‘sweatshop' – to go in there and really do nothing but re-draw all of the plays and re-type all of the information. That's not a lot of fun, but when you're doing that you learn the offense. You learn what ‘Zoom' is and what ‘Slot' is, and what the difference is. You learn the different protections and blocking schemes and calls that are made. You learn, and that's what Tim has been doing."
Berbenich has already learned Gruden's playbook, which isn't an easy feat to accomplish based on what former and current players have said about its complexity.
"Our number one responsibility is to get the coaches prepared to start studying the game plans," Berbenich said. "At the end of the day, I have to draw the plays, and if I don't know them I can't draw them. If you don't know what they're doing on defense you can't break the film down. You can't just know what one guy does, you have to know what all 11 players are doing. As far as drawing the plays and learning the playbook, I learned it all. I had no choice."
While he can relate to the position, Gruden doesn't necessarily care for the quality control coach title. He doesn't believe it quite explains what the job entails.
"I have no idea [where it came from], but I hate that name," said Gruden. "It's just a fancy name like OTAs (organized team activities). Spring practice is what I used to call it. I would prefer offensive assistant or just assistant coach. Quality control of what? I used to get a lot of [expletive] about that when I was a quality control coach. I'd prefer another name."
Because it's essentially on-the-job training, some mistakes are made by the quality control coaches, which often times comes with light-hearted teasing from the coaches and players.
"Sometimes there's a case where I don't know a play and need to look it up, but that's how you learn," said Berbenich. "If I screw up a picture I get booed in the picture room. They'll say, ‘Oh, Berb must have had a late night because he screwed up the picture,' and the whole team will boo me, so I try to keep those boos to one or two a meeting, or hopefully none at all."
"WE CAN'T FUNCTION WITHOUT THEM"
Players might poke fun at Berbenich and the team's defensive quality control coaches – Ejiro Evero and Johnny Cox – but there still is a mutual respect for what they do in terms of helping get the coaches and players prepared for their next opponent.
"We can't function without them," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said of the team's quality control coaches. "I guess we could, but then coaches would have to do it and that would take away from what they need to do. Every quality control guy that I've ever known is without question a hard worker. They're willing to stay and work all sorts of hours. When [defensive coordinator] Monte [Kiffin] is leaving late sometimes Ejiro is staying later. They do a lot of the grunt work, but I think we all understand that's the reason we're all able to function the way we do."
Berbenich, 28, played wide receiver at Hampton College in New York from 1998-01 and got his foot in the door of the NFL as a training camp operations intern for the New York Jets. He served in that capacity from 2000-02 before being promoted to operations assistant, offensive assistant and quality control coach in consecutive years.
Talk about burning the midnight oil. It's not unusual for quality control coaches to be the first ones at One Buc Place and the last ones to leave – if they leave at all.
"When I first started in New York it was kind of an administrative role. I did a lot of typing and a lot of learning," said Berbenich. "Since I've come here I've learned a lot and my coaching roles have expanded. A lot of the stuff has been very similar, though. I feel the biggest difference has been Jon, being able to learn directly from the head coach has been very beneficial to me.
"In New York, I came back from the game on Sunday and I slept there Monday night, Tuesday night and Wednesday night, and sometimes on Thursday night because I lived a little far away. Sometimes the first time I saw daylight was on Wednesday afternoon for practice. Here in Tampa, I'm a little more fortunate because I only live about 10 minutes away, so I go home here, but I know some of the other guys, some of the defensive guys, do sleep at One Buc every once in a while because of the hours."
Quality control coaching duties don't necessarily translate into quality pay, either, especially if you compare their salaries to what coordinators and position coaches earn.
"The pay would surprise people," said Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who served as a defensive quality control coach for the Bucs in 2002. "People think if you are in the NFL so you are making a lot of money, but you don't as a quality control coach. It all depends on your situation and how long you have been at a place, but it's definitely under six figures. Some people take pay cuts to take these jobs. But at some point, it's worth it."
The goal for many of these aspiring coaches and coordinators is to come in, learn, and hope that their hard work pays off down the road. Plus, Berbenich acknowledges that there is satisfaction that comes from his job that is not delivered in the form of a paycheck.
"The drive is it's football," said Berbenich. "At the end of the day, 70,000 people show up and watch what you do. They might not be watching during the week, but they watch the final product. To me, that's the drive. You're part of a team and you're trying to win a Super Bowl. Not a lot of people can wake up in the morning and say they're a part of this."
Berbenich's hard work has already paid off. After spending two seasons as a quality control coach in Tampa Bay, he was promoted to assistant running backs coach during the 2008 offseason. He also is in charge of getting the right offensive personnel on the field as Gruden calls plays on game days.
Berbenich has also been able to get more involved in coaching the players since Bucs running backs coach Richard Bisaccia also serves as the team's special teams coordinator.
One of the first assignments Berbenich was handed with his promotion was getting running back Warrick Dunn up to speed in terms of learning Gruden's playbook once he had signed a two-year contract with Tampa Bay in March.
"This year was the first year where I really got to do some coaching," said Berbenich. "Warrick Dunn was here and the playbook was new to him, so Warrick and I spent a little extra time together and I tried to get Warrick up to speed in our passing game so that he could get to training camp and feel comfortable. It was a lot of fun getting on the field and screaming a little bit. A couple of guys told me, ‘Berb, I've heard your voice more this week than the two years we've known you.' From that perspective, it was a lot of fun and it's been a great learning experience for me."
Dunn had plenty of questions for Berbenich, and Tim had the answers. In fact, Dunn and Berbenich met each day for lunch during the first week of training camp in an effort to give the 33-year-old running back a better understanding of what the Bucs were doing offensively.
Even though he was already an accomplished player, having rushed for over 10,000 yards in the NFL, Dunn said Berbenich played an important role in helping him get acclimated to Gruden's offense.
"Tim is a young guy who just knows football, football and more football," said Dunn. "He helped me learn the offense just in terms of understanding different things. I tried to take what he was teaching me and comprehend it in a way I know. He's done a good job. It's kind of amazing to watch him sometimes because he gets so excited about the little things that I've learned over and over again through the years. With him, it's like seeing and learning it for the first time. I know he's been around a little bit, but he gets very excited.
"I know that Tim works a lot and he has a very good football mind. He understands a lot of things, and I think that's going to mean a lot for his future because he understands football, players and how to approach his job and the game. He's only going to get better."
Dunn isn't the only player Berbenich has aided in their attempt to digest Gruden's version of the West Coast offense. Berbenich was putting his knowledge of Gruden's offense to good use last year, which is when the Bucs traded for halfback Michael Bennett.
Bennett had no familiarity with Gruden's version of the West Coast offense and did not have the benefit of going through an offseason or camp with the Bucs because he landed in Tampa Bay in October. So Berbenich took it upon himself to help get Bennett up to speed as quickly as possible.
"If you want to talk about a guy that works countless hours, a guy that knows the system – it's Tim," said Bennett. "It's almost as if you could put Tim and Coach Gruden in the same room together because they could go head-to-head in terms of knowledge of the system. That's how well Tim knows the system. Tim hasn't been in the system a long time, but he's a smart guy. He has a great influence on myself and a lot of the other players in the running backs room. With Coach Bisaccia having to teach two positions, Tim is like another coach in there.
"I remember seeing Tim last year in a restaurant and I was learning the system. He came over and just starting throwing things at me from the playbook, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I thought I was supposed to be learning the system, but you already know it.' Most of the quality control guys are usually paperwork guys, but Tim is a coach, a quality control guy – he does it all. That's what is special about him. He's come a long way. One day he'll be an offensive coordinator in this league."
QUALITY CONTROL PRODUCES QUALITY NFLâ€ˆCOACHES
Berbenich wouldn't be the first quality control coach to move up the NFL coaching ladder. Mike Mularkey was a quality control coach under former Bucs head coach Sam Wyche in 1995. He went on to become a head coach in Buffalo and currently serves as an offensive coordinator in Atlanta.
Kyle Shanahan, who is the son of Denver head coach Mike Shanahan, joined Houston as a wide receivers coach after his stint with the Buccaneers as a quality control coach and was recently promoted to offensive coordinator.
Jeremy Bates, the son of long-time college and NFL assistant coach Jim Bates, worked as a quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets after his stint in Tampa Bay as a quality control coach and currently serves in the same capacity for the Denver Broncos.
Nathanial Hackett was Tampa Bay's offensive quality control coach in 2007. His father, former Bucs QBs coach Paul Hackett, is currently an advanced scout with the Oakland Raiders, and Nathanial is working as an offensive quality control coach in Buffalo.
Bates, Shanahan and Hackett are just 31, 28 and 28, respectively.
Plenty of Tampa Bay's defensive quality control coaches have moved up the ladder quickly as well.
Morris, former Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry, current linebackers coach Gus Bradley and defensive line coach Todd Wash each began their NFL careers as defensive quality control coaches, and all but Barry served in that role with the Buccaneers.
Most quality control coaches are younger, but Bradley was unique in that he left his assistant head coach/defensive coordinator post at North Dakota State to become a defensive quality control coach in Tampa Bay in 2006. One of the biggest selling points to Bradley, who graduated from NDSU in 1988, was learning from Kiffin and the track record some of his former quality control coaches had in terms of getting promoted rather quickly in the NFL.
"It is a tough transition," said Bradley. "I think too many times some guys get caught up in egos or, ‘Hey, I've been a coordinator for 10 years so I'm beyond the quality control thing.' It was just the opposite for me. It was an opportunity to come in here and learn from the best."
One of the things that helps Berbenich, Evero and Cox is the fact that Bradley, Morris, Wash and even Gruden have been in their shoes before and can appreciate the work they put in and the job they do on a daily basis.
"The quality control positions are kind of underappreciated," said Morris. "You do breakdowns and cut-ups, and if you take advantage of it and learn while you are doing it, it helps you when you become a coach.
"Putting game plans together is the part of the job they don't like. That's what I didn't like about it. That's the worst part of it – being copy boy. Making copies. You love putting together the scripts because you are formulating ideas for football, but putting together playbooks is nothing but making copies, putting them in folders and killing trees. Then they just do all the running around for coaches. The quality control guys are the grunt workers and they burn the midnight oil for us. I appreciate them and try to do everything I can for them because I was one of them. I have an obligation to bring those guys along like [former Bucs secondary coach and current Pittsburgh Steelers head coach] Mike [Tomlin] brought me along. It's a lot of fun."
Some might view it as grunt work, but Berbenich is in no hurry to escape his current role with the Bucs organization, especially since each day tends to bring a new learning experience, which in turns makes him a better coach.
"It's one step at a time. Anybody who gets in this business, you want to be a head coach or you want to be a coordinator one day, but I'm in no rush because I really like what I'm doing," said Berbenich. "It's a role that I wake up everyday and even I have to pinch myself because I don't believe I'm doing it. I just try to grow each day and each year will be another step. Of course I would like to be a head coach or a coordinator one day, but that's down the road. I'm in no rush to get there."
Gruden has seen his fair share of offensive quality control coaches move on throughout the league and knows it will only be a matter of time before Berbenich gets promoted again, whether it's in Tampa Bay or with another team.
"I've tried over the years to hire coaches' sons," said Gruden. "I did that with the Raiders and even here. I try to get them in the business and try to help them. There have been a lot of guys that have picked up and moved on and have done very well. Everybody seems to move up and onward and do good things, and I'm proud of that. With Berbenich, we've tried to sign him to a 12-year contract. No interview and shut up, Tim, because we don't want anybody to hire you (laughing)."
There have been several assistant coaches from the Tony Dungy regime that went on to become head coaches in the NFL, including Lovie Smith, Herm Edwards, Rod Marinelli and Tomlin.
Berbenich hopes the same scenario will unfold from the Gruden coaching tree as it relates to the quality control coaches that have worked with him over the years.
"I was actually with Jeremy Bates in New York and he told me about the great experiences he had here in working with Jon and how much he had learned from him," said Berbenich. "I still talk to Jeremy all of the time. I don't know Kyle personally, but Nathaniel Hackett was here last year and he's a good friend and he's got a great opportunity in Buffalo. There are a bunch of us young guys getting in the league, and hopefully one day we'll be coaching together or against each other 20 years down the line."
BERBENICH'S BRIGHT FUTURE
Gruden has grown to admire Berbenich's work ethic and drive. It's oftentimes a thankless job outside of the team facility, but quality control coaches play an important role in helping coaches and players prepare to play – and win – on Sundays.
"He's a guy that loves it and works it, and guys like that are hard to find," Gruden said of Berbenich. "He understands football and computers, and he has an unbelievable passion and work ethic. I don't know what else this guy does with his life, but this is what he wants to do, and we're fortunate to have him. He's a good coach. He's going to be a great coach with more and more responsibilities we give him. He's been excellent on the sidelines with our personnel substitutions. He takes over sometimes with the running backs when Coach Bisaccia has to work with the special teams. He knows what he's doing. He's organized and sharp. He's my man. He's my right-hand man, and he's very important to me."
Needless to say, Berbenich has come a long way since his first job in the NFL, which was as an intern with the Jets. That role required Berbenich to serve as a driver for the Jets' coaches, and it was that role specifically that helped lead him to Tampa Bay.
"Paul Hackett is who got me started," said Berbenich. "He really taught me how to do this and get started in this business. He really helped get me started back in New York and get me in here. I'll never forget – I was taking him to the airport and we were talking about where I went to college, what my major was, what I wanted to do and stuff like that. I told him that I wanted to coach football and his eyes lit up. When Paul Hackett came to Tampa he told me how great the experience was here and how much I'd learn from coming here. That's how I got to Tampa."
The recommendation of Berbenich from Hackett, who served as the Jets' offensive coordinator before working as Tampa Bay's quarterbacks coach from 2005-07, caught Gruden's attention, and he certainly hasn't been disappointed.
"It carried a lot of weight," said Gruden. "Whenever anybody I respect recommends someone I am going to interview them. That had a lot to do with it. [Bucs offensive line coach/offensive coordinator] Bill Muir's recommendation had a lot to do with it, too. Meeting the guy with my own two eyes and feeling his passion and seeing him sleep on the floor everyday is unbelievable. He's a loyal Buc, man. You would be proud of him."
Never in Berbenich's wildest dreams did he ever envision working alongside Gruden or in the NFL. It wasn't that long ago that he had aspirations of working on Wall Street, not on a football field.
You never know what road you will travel down in life. Fortunately for Berbenich, life took him down the road that led to the airport.
"I was an economics major and grew up on Long Island," said Berbenich. "All my buddies worked on Wall Street, and I thought that was what I wanted to do. I did have a passion for that. I spent a day interning at the stock exchange when I was 18 years old and loved every minute of it. Luckily enough for me, I was able to take Paul Hackett to the airport that day and everything worked out."
A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF TIM BERBENICH
Bucs Asst. RBs Coach Still Performs The Duties Of A Quality Control Coach
Monday: When we were preparing to play Atlanta, I was helping coach guys up on the Falcons, but I was also studying Chicago for the following week, so I had to get the Bears out of my mind when I was coaching the guys up. I have to stay one week ahead so that when the coaches come in on Monday morning I can help get them what they need to start preparation first thing on Monday.
Tuesday: On Tuesday, we go into a whole new mindset. We've got to draw up some plays and get the playbook ready. Tuesday is a long day. I try to be the last one in on Tuesday morning because I know I'm going to be the last one out on Tuesday night. I try to get here at about 6:30 a.m. We'll get the game plan from Coach Gruden around mid-afternoon. From there, I put some headphones on, music on, and draw. Last year, I drew the runs. This year, I'll draw the passes. I'll start drawing around 3:00 p.m. By the time 9:00 p.m. rolls around or so, Coach Olson will check them, maybe mark them if I messed up, but they're thoroughly checked and then we give them to [offensive assistant] Sean [McVay], who just started this year and is in the role that I was in when I started with the Jets, and then he starts making playbooks. The playbooks start being made on Tuesday night, we hit the copier, and sometimes the copier breaks, sometimes it doesn't. If they break, that's what Kinkos is for. I used to spend $1,000 a week at Kinkos back in New York, but luckily we haven't had to use the Kinkos here. Once that's done, it's time to get ready for practice. There are cards to be drawn, so I start that process Tuesday night.
Wednesday: I'll draw cards late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning and into lunchtime getting that book ready so the looks will be coming. On Wednesday, things start slowing down a little bit.
Thursday: So you spend Wednesday and Thursday getting ready for the next opponent. Right now, we're getting ready to play the Falcons, but I'll be doing Bears stuff for the next two nights.
Friday-Saturday: On Friday and Saturday, those are catch-up days. If I cut out earlier on Wednesday night, I might have to work some more on those days, but if I can really grind in the beginning of the week you can have kind of a normal life on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. You can get out of here on Friday night – my wife (Diane) and I like to go have dinner together on Friday nights. On Saturday afternoon, I'll spend the day on the couch if we're not traveling.
Sunday/Game Day: A lot of the times we're charting plays on game days. You chart so that when a question is asked you have the right answer. How many runs happened on first down? How many passes happened on first down? When are they bringing the blitz? When are they bringing this or that coverage? From the press box, you're charting that stuff, but sometimes you don't get asked a question until the second quarter, but when you start getting asked questions you have to have the answers right away. That's really the role of a quality control coach on game day. On Sunday after game days, sometimes I can be at my pool by 5:15 p.m., hopefully in a good mood. Then once the weekend is over and the game comes and goes, we start all over again.
– As told to Jim Flynn
MEET TAMPA BAY'S QUALITY CONTROL COACHES
EJIRO "E" EVERO
Evero is in his second season with the Buccaneers. He serves as a defensive quality control coach and works closely with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. In his first season with the Bucs, Evero worked with Bucs linebackers coach Gus Bradley.
A graduate of the University of California-Davis, Evero was a four-year letterman and started three seasons at safety. He signed with the Oakland Raiders as a free agent in 2004. He spent the following two seasons as an assistant coach at UC-Davis.
With the departure of assistant defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake during the offseason, Evero has also been working a lot with Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris as well as first-year quality control coach Johnny Cox.
"What he's doing for us right now is invaluable. I did it for Mike for two years – four years, really," Morris said of Evero. It really helped me grow as a coach. It helped me tremendously. It was a big help for Jimmy Lake last year and it's helping ‘E' right now. He gets help from Johnny Cox. Johnny works with all of us. He comes into my room for meetings and he works on the field with Gus. Mainly, he works with Kiff and runs around with him. It's a great deal. I can't put a value on the position because of how it helped me."
Ejiro has made a favorable impression on Tampa Bay's coaches and players.
"I would classify Ejiro as a nerd, but in a good way," said Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber. "He's cerebral more so than any other quality control coach I've ever been around. I don't know why that it is, but everything is not so much about presentation, and Raheem didn't have his presentation skills when he first started, either. He's quiet and always does his job and is always focused in on whatever Monte needs because that's what a quality control guy does. Ejiro doesn't spend as much time coaching as he does quality controlling. I just think of him as a nerd because he always sits by his computer all of the time getting the slides ready and making sure all of the handouts are okay.
"It's similar to how this organization has worked for years, we build from within. When you do that guys eventually get their chance, usually because they've gone through all of the grunt work, they – both players and coaches – wind up being stars. I don't see any reason why ‘E' can't be that. Obviously, he has to work on his presentation skills, and you can quote me on that [smiling], but I don't see any reason why he can't be that guy, too."
Added Morris: "I always tell ‘E' on the field, don't worry about making mistakes. If you tell them something wrong, I'll correct them later. ‘E' and Johnny sit in all the meetings and they are in on the game plans. They sit in the install meetings and they are just another voice for you. If you're coaching on the field, [safety] Will Allen may be on the sidelines and he might have a question for ‘E' and he should be able to help him. He's like a teacher's aid. If ‘E' doesn't know, then the player will come to me. If I don't know, then they will go to Ronde!"
Cox is in his first season with the Buccaneers. He serves as a defensive quality control coach and works closely with Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, while also spending some time working with Bucs linebackers coach Gus Bradley and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris.
"Johnny is just young. He's got his head spinning right now a little bit," said Morris. "It's hard to get used to Kiff's habits, but once you get used to Kiff's habits and you know what he needs, you can really learn a lot. Kiff likes for the walk-throughs to be tight. He likes the cards to be clean so he can correct them. If the cards are really clean when you give them to him, instead of him fixing every card he is kind of teaching you. If you listen, you can really pick up some very valuable info about what he's looking for.
"When I mean cards, I mean the actual cards we hold up at practice. If you do your job well as a quality control guy, Kiff will spend half his time teaching you why he's doing this, what coverages he's using and who he wants to see in this call. When you go out to practice, now you as a quality control guy are going, ‘Oh, I wonder what the Will linebacker is doing in this Viking Iso fit? Oh man, I could correct him right now if I wanted to because I know what's going on.' It just really helps you out when you are coaching. It's all about details, details, details. That's why I call this place the Harvard of football."
Last year, Cox, a graduate of Fort Lewis College, served as a wide receivers coach and special teams coach at the College of Holy Cross. Cox also worked with Bradley at North Dakota State University for three seasons, where he served as a wide receivers coach.
Cox played collegiately at Fort Lewis College, where he was a two-time first team Division II All-American. He earned his master's degree from the University of Texas in 2000.