Benny Boyd is hoping a trip deep into the heart of Texas will help put him on a path to coaching football on a grander stage.
Boyd, a Dixon native who is currently an assistant coach at Central Washington University, will be doing an internship with the Houston Texans when they head to training camp on Tuesday, July 24. The camp will be held at The Greenbrier Sports Performance Center in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
It is part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, which is entering its 30th season of providing coaching opportunities to minorities. This will be the fourth internship for Boyd, as he worked with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, the Oakland Raiders in 2016 and the Seattle Seahawks in 2017.
With the Raiders, Boyd worked closely with special teams coordinator Brad Seely and his assistant, Tracy Smith. When the Raiders fired head coach Jack Del Rio after a 6-10 record in 2017, Seely and Smith were also out of a job as new head coach Jon Gruden was going to hire his own coaching staff.
“That’s just the way of the world in the NFL,” Boyd said. “The head coach gets let go, everybody gets their walking papers.”
Seely was not out of work for long. On Jan. 17, he was hired as special teams coordinator for the Texans. Two days later, Smith was hired as Seely’s assistant.
Boyd’s main contact with the Texans was Smith. During the 2016 and 2017 seasons, they spoke about once a week. Out of season, they spoke about once a month.
When Boyd, 39, expressed interest in an internship with the Texans this summer, Smith made it happen.
“A lot of organizations don’t do repeats,” Boyd said, “so the fact that I can get in with a group that I’ve already worked with, it laid the foundation. I can jump in and coach right now.”
Boyd’s time with the Texans actually began a little more than a month ago, when he participated in the organization’s rookie minicamp in Houston. He was there from June 4-8.
Boyd was able to sit in on offensive, defensive and special teams meetings led by head coach Bill O’Brien. If coaches expressed concern about a player, whether it be technique or grasping schemes, Boyd eagerly volunteered to spend time with the player and help with whatever issues he had.
“I was just trying to make a positive impact on the players and, more importantly, the decision-makers, the Bill O’Brien’s of the world,” Boyd said. “The guys who are going to be, ‘Hey, we’ve got an opening, who was that guy from Washington we had? What was that guy’s name?’ I want them to remember Benny Boyd.”
On Wednesday, June 6, Boyd was afforded a rare opportunity to shine. He was hanging out near Smith’s office late in the day, just before the assistant coach was ready to leave, and the two were just chatting.
“He was kind of joking with me, ‘Man, you should give a presentation. That will really wow Coach O’Brien,’” Boyd said. “I said, ‘You give me a time and I’ll knock it out.’ He goes, ‘I’ll be right back.’ He walks out of his office, comes back 2 minutes later and says, ‘Friday at 3:30, you’re up.’ I go, ‘Up where?’
“He goes, ‘You have the rookies, Friday at 3:30, special teams meeting.’ I go, ‘Well, what should I present to them?’ He goes, ‘You’re a football coach, figure it out.’ So I had to come up with a presentation from out of the sky for these NFL guys that don’t know me from Adam to grab their attention on a Friday before a 3-day weekend when all they want to do is get out of there.”
There were two main themes Boyd spoke about, and the first was the avoidance of penalties. He did some research, and of the most-penalized players in the NFL the last 2 years, the majority of them were out of the league for that reason.
“I talked to those dudes about, ‘I know you don’t know me, but the bottom line is that paycheck. If you want to keep a paycheck in this league, you’ve got to do some things to stay out of the coaches’ ire, and getting penalized is one of those things,’” Boyd said. “That’s a big thing Coach O’Brien had been talking about offensively and defensively, so I kind of picked up on that and ran with it.
“Whether it was good or not, I don’t know, but I know I got the guys’ attention when I started talking about getting cut.”
Boyd noted he received positive feedback from Seely and Smith for that speech, along with linebackers coach John Pagano and defensive backs coach Anthony Midget.
The other theme Boyd touched on was the importance of special teams play, and how that likely could determine if rookies get a roster spot or not. As stars in college, most aspiring NFL players didn’t have to play special teams, or perhaps had a limited role in them. At the NFL level, Boyd stressed, you’d better be good at them.
“I tried to impart on them that you’re not sweet anymore, buddy,” Boyd said. “Everybody’s that good here, so what are you going to do to stay? I could tell by some of their eyeballs as they were looking at me that I did make an impact on some of them.”
Boyd will be at the Texans’ training camp in West Virginia from July 24 through August 5, and work primarily with punters and kickers. He will be charting hang time, ball flights, makes and misses – anything that helps gauge the effectiveness of a prospective punter and kicker.
“The coaches like to have some hard data they can look at,” Boyd said.
The ultimate goal is to move up in the football coaching ranks, whether it be at the collegiate level or the pros. Boyd, a 4-year varsity letterwinner and two-time all-conference performer in his playing days at Aurora University, began his coaching career at his alma mater as a graduate assistant
for the 2000 and 2001 seasons. After that, it was on to Luther College (2002-10), North Dakota (2011-13), Aurora again (2014) and Central Washington (2015-present).
At each of those stops, he’s worked with defense and special teams in some capacity.
“A coach told me a long time ago if you want to be ready for the next opportunity, you excel in the current one you’re in,” Boyd said. “That’s how you’re going to get your next opportunity. I just work as hard as I can to make everything as good as it can be at Central Washington University, and leave my mark that way.”
Central Washington, a Division II school located in Ellensburg, Wash., had a powerhouse squad in 2017. It went 11-1, losing to Texas A&M University-Commerce 34-31 in the playoff quarterfinals. The Wildcats allowed just 45.5 rushing yards per game; picked off 23 passes, which ranked second in the nation; and racked up 63 sacks.
“You couldn’t run it and you had a hard time throwing it against us,” Boyd said. “If you did throw it, we caught it. We were really, really good.”
Many of the assistant coaches on the Central Washington staff left for one reason or another after last season, but Boyd will be back. He’s happy there, for now, but is hoping for something bigger down the road.
“This profession, like anything, it’s about who you know to get an opportunity to prove what you know,” Boyd said. “I honestly thought, after the success we had at Central Washington in 2017 – we went undefeated in the regular season, we had a historic defense, and special teams were very good as well – I was convinced this was going to be the year something would pop, whether it was a big D-1 job or an NFL experience.
“It wasn’t in the tea leaves for me, but I feel I’m inching closer and closer.”