Livingstone Football: Nelson works with Steelers
By Laurie D. Willis
SALISBURY — In 1987, the National Football League started the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship for college football coaches to expose them to summer NFL training camps.
All 32 NFL teams participate in the program. And this summer more than 1,000 coaches applied to work with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have more Super Bowl rings than any other team in NFL history.
The Steelers narrowed their choice down to two men, and Livingstone College assistant football coach Malcolm Nelson got the nod.
“Coach Nelson worked directly with our special teams unit under the supervision of special team coordinator Al Everest,” said Kirby Wilson, Steelers running backs coach. “Under this program Coach Nelson was exposed to the daily preparation and operational tactics of an elite NFL team led by head coach Mike Tomlin. Coach Nelson was involved in daily practice and game-plan meetings, as well as organizational personnel meetings. During his stay he was allowed to conduct drills, participate in practice structure and organization and assist on game day with teaching and instruction.”
Nelson, who is entering his second season as a Blue Bears assistant coach, was allowed to help coach in the Steelers’ pre-season games against the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Pittsburgh lost to Washington 16-7 and defeated Philadelphia 24-14.
Tomlin, who at 36 became the youngest head coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl when the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII, is also a graduate of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship program. He interned with the Cleveland Browns in the summer of 2000 when he was the defensive backs coach at the University of Cincinnati.
“The Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship provided my first exposure to coaching in the NFL,” Tomlin said in a statement. “I learned so much from that experience, but most importantly, it confirmed my commitment to wanting to coach in the NFL. The fellowship is simply special.”
“Working the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp and also learning from one of the best organizations in the National Football League was an honor,” said Nelson, Livingstone’s running backs coach. “Coach Tomlin and the assistant coaches and coordinators took me under their wings. They gave me advice and knowledge not only on coaching schemes and strategies, but they also showed me what it takes to be successful in the NFL.”
Nelson, also the video coordinator for Livingstone, played wide receiver for two years at Clemson University before transferring to Kent State.
Before coming to Livingstone, he coached at Olympic High in Charlotte, for The Carolina Speed, a professional indoor arena football team, and at North Gaston.
Landing the coveted Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship didn’t happen overnight for Nelson. In fact, he’d been trying since 2008.
“The first year I got about 18 responses back saying they appreciated my resume but they’d already made their selections,” Nelson said. “The responses suggested I try again next year. I tried again the next year, sending my resume in a month earlier, and that time about 20 teams responded. In 2010 I sent my resume to all 32 teams with a cover letter, and about 10 teams contacted me telling me I was a finalist. The Oakland Raiders were really high on me, but still nothing happened.”
Turns out the fourth time was a charm for Nelson.
“This year I sent my resume out in January, just before the Super Bowl,” he said. “I didn’t hear much of a response initially, but a few teams began contacting me in March, including the Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys. Pittsburgh didn’t contact me initially.”
Most of the teams thanked Nelson for his interest but said they’d already selected their fellows or weren’t going to participate because of the players’ lockout.
So imagine Nelson’s surprise when he received a call from Wilson saying the Steelers had narrowed it down to him and one other man.
Realizing a reference might help give him the nod, Nelson had interim athletic director Tim Orr call Wilson because head coach Elvin James was away at a coaches clinic.
“I felt that the Steelers would not find a person to work harder or put as much into getting the most out of the fellowship opportunity,” Orr said. “Coach Nelson is a living example of how perseverance and never losing faith in your dreams can pay off. He has a high-caliber work ethic, and I’m so thankful the Steelers organization realized that and gave him a chance to showcase his talents this summer. I’m sure our student-athletes will benefit from his experience with the Steelers. It was a tremendous opportunity for Coach Nelson and an equally tremendous honor for Livingstone College.”
Nelson said he was still in shock 20 minutes after speaking to Wilson.
“I knew I would get it one day. I just didn’t know it would be this year.”
Nelson said he plans to apply what he learned during the Blue Bears’ upcoming football season, which kicks off Thursday at Chowan.
“During his stay coach Nelson was evaluated on a daily basis on his coaching style, professionalism, leadership qualities and his ability to learn an NFL system,” Wilson said. “Coach Nelson did a tremendous job and was given high marks for his attention to detail and overall coaching ability. We hope that his experience will enhance his ability to teach what he has learned to Livingstone football players”