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Clyde Christensen has seen this before.
He watched a legend’s first return to his old town, to play in his old stadium against his old team when Peyton Manning played against the Indianapolis Colts in 2013. Christensen, Manning’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator during the Hall of Famer’s time in Indianapolis, was still with the Colts then.
So now, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback coach, he understands everyone’s interest in Tom Brady’s return to Boston to play against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night. Except now it’s his guy making the nostalgic return to yesteryear.
“Yeah, we’re certainly treating it that it’s another huge game we’re playing,” Christensen said from his office at the Buccaneers’ facility this week. “There’s no way you could say it’s the same as other games. I know it can’t be the same. I watched Peyton come back to Lucas Oil, and it wasn’t just another game.”
But what about this game, in which the Bucs are -7 according to FanDuel?
“To me, I sell it [to Brady] that it’s exciting,” Christensen said. “It’s a great, big game where you go up there and you have some great memories and you have some great relationships. It’s a stadium where you won a bunch of big games. So let’s go do the same thing. Let’s go win a big football game. Let’s win a big one on the road. And it happens to be a road game, but it’s also a stadium you know how to play great football in. I hope it will turn into excitement and a fun deal. That’s how we talk about it.
“I don’t think [Brady’s] not going to have emotions and all those things. That would unrealistic to think that wouldn’t happen for anybody. There’s too many great years, too many great relationships. So we know it’ll be emotional.”
Emotional is fine, but not emotionally unavailable or locked up.
“Nooo,” Christensen said. “We’ll do everything we can to not have that happen.”
Christensen became the Bucs QB coach in 2019 after a couple of years with the Dolphins as their offensive coordinator. He briefly considered retiring after his Miami days, but the Tampa Bay opportunity was too appealing — even if it didn’t include coaching Brady at first.
But lightning struck in 2020 when Brady signed.
And suddenly the guy who wanted to beat Brady for all those years while he was coaching Manning became inexorably connected to Brady.
“It’s just been awesome,” Christensen said. “It’s been just a neat experience to coach another high performer. It’s been a chance to meet a guy who I’ve never met before, who I had all these impressions and thoughts about but I’d never met.
“And then when you meet him, I knew he was a great quarterback, I knew he was a leader, I knew he was a great competitor. But he’s a terrific human being, he’s a terrific husband, a terrific dad. He’s just a nice man. And he has been delightful to coach.”
“He loves to practice, he loves to drill, loves to learn, loves to talk,” Christensen said. “It’s been unbelievable. So it’s been one of the greatest years, and by the way, we won the Super Bowl.
“If we hadn’t, those other things would still be true. They’d still be true. It really has been a great year doing exactly what I love.”
That’s great, but I wonder, what does Tom Brady’s quarterback coach have to work on? Brady is the NFL’s all-time TD pass king. He is 68 yards from passing Drew Brees as the all-time leader in passing yards.
Isn’t it daunting to be that guy’s coach?
“There’s the two sides of that,” Christensen said. “It’s a little daunting when you don’t know a guy to say, ‘Hey, does he really want to learn? We have to be careful because he’s 44. Is he really going to want to do individual and drill work? Or is he just set in his ways?’
“But this guy came in and I thought he was a rookie. He wants to work. He just wants to work. So the daunting part, I didn’t need to worry about. I think the challenge with this guy is you thinking you have to get him playing good football. He’s played good football for a couple of decades, so now the challenge is how do we keep him extremely sharp and how do we get him a couple of percent better?
“How do we identify a couple of areas and try to get a percent or two better in those? So that part is challenging and fun, not daunting. That’s kind of what I’ve always loved doing, finding ways to drill and finding ways to find one or two percent better in certain areas. That part’s been fun.”
Christensen, in his 25th NFL season, understands that being a quarterback coach is about building a relationship with the players who play the most important position.
So he’s managing emotions and psyche with Brady as well as showing younger guys when to throw the flag or post routes.
“This guy has done it for so well for so long, this is not a developmental guy,” Christensen said of Brady. “I have a rookie from Florida and that would be more of that. But I think this is more about being a support and a cheerleader and being a refuge. If you do that well, when he comes into the quarterback room it’s a safe place and you can be yourself and let down and not have to be on all the time.
“That’s what I think the quarterback room is for these guys — it’s a place they don’t have to be on all the time. The demand on these guys are so great that the one place they love to be is the football field and the quarterback meeting room. That’s their happy place. That’s what they love doing and love being. And I’m the manager of that, keeping sure it’s that.”
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