When Nate Byham joined UAlbany’s football coaching staff in 2014, head coach Greg Gattuso challenged him.
“Gattuso said to me, when I first came here, ‘You have to do this, because you have to figure out if coaching is what you really want to do,'” Byham said in an interview with The Daily Gazette last week.
Byham came to UAlbany as a volunteer assistant, “working for free,” after four years as a tight end in the NFL. He started out working with the group of positions he knew best as an assistant under then manager Gabe Luvara and it’s been a long and winding road for Byham ever since.
During his eight seasons with the UAlbany program, Byham went from volunteer assistant to tight ends coach, special teams coordinator, to most recently serving as co-offensive line coach and game coordinator. race.
Earlier this month, with UAlbany reshuffling its staff after a 2-9 2021 season, Byham secured another new round of titles on the program. Following Gattuso’s decision not to renew the contracts of offensive coordinator/associate head coach Joe Davis and co-offensive line coach/assistant head coach Jim Sweeney, Byham was promoted to offensive line coach, coach associate chief and offensive co-coordinator alongside new quarterbacks coordinator/coach Jared Ambrose.
“It’s been a journey since I’ve been here,” Byham said.
The journey began when Byham, a sixth-round pick of Pitt by the San Francisco 49ers in 2010, was released by the New England Patriots after a short preseason stint in 2014.
Primarily a tight end blocker, Byham caught 11 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in 29 career games with San Francisco and Tampa Bay from 2010 to 2013. After being unable to stay with the Patriots, Byham decided to enter the field of coaches.
He arrived at UAlbany as a volunteer assistant through a previous relationship with Gattuso – then about to embark on his first season with the Great Danes – who was Pitt’s defensive line coach during Pitt’s career. Byham with the Panthers from 2006 to 2009.
It didn’t take long for Byham to realize the “telling” difference between a player’s life and a manager’s life, even an unpaid life.
“As a player,” he said, “you check in and you check out. It’s 9 to 5 in the NFL world and in college . . . you have the 20 hours in a week From a training standpoint, you don’t leave it after training, you go home for the day and forget about it until the next day. You spend 14 hours a day there, in season. opened his eyes.”
Initially, Byham said he was confused by those first words from Gattuso – of course he wanted to be a coach, he thought – but quickly learned the kind of grind that meant kissing.
But, as soon as he began to understand what life as a football manager entailed, Byham – now 33 – knew this was the life he wanted.
Byham’s success in 2014 while working with Great Danes tight end Brian Parker, who later played in the NFL, was a big part of letting the then-volunteer assistant know he was on the right track. .
“I just remember trying to teach him things about footwork, talking about a step,” Byham said. “When you start seeing that click and showing up, it really made me feel that gratitude to be able to be on the pitch with those guys. I was so grateful to be a part of so much growth.
Since then, he has steadily progressed in the UAlbany team.
After starting to work with the group of positions he knew best, Byham stepped out of his comfort zone and enjoyed working with the Great Danes offensive linemen.
While working alongside Sweeney, Byham was tasked with much of the weekly setup work for the offensive line. Now he leads the whole battalion.
“I’m ready to take the reins and lead this group,” Byham said.
In a UAlbany team entering 2022 after undergoing a major facelift, Byham’s offensive line should have several familiar faces. Tackle Crtt Johnson has graduated and guard Kassy Desir has entered the NCAA transfer portal, but the Great Danes are expected to return a handful of key players with significant experience, including three-year-old starter Kobe Thomas to the center, tackle Will Marotta and guards Parris Heath and Scott Houseman.
“When we started last season, there were a lot of new first-time players who were really playing together,” Byham said. “There was a learning curve. It took them a little while to gel and work with each other. As the season went on, they really bonded. You can see that in our stats – by giving up far fewer sacks after Week 5, our rushing yards have increased dramatically. . . . Now it’s a group of veterans.
As he progresses into a bigger role, Byham said he will build on an important lesson he learned throughout his tenure.
Each player, he said, needs to be coached differently, and it’s up to a coach to adapt his teaching style to successfully bring out the best in each of them.
“You have to be moldable as a coach for guys, rather than the other way around,” he said. “You have to adapt to them and be able to change on the fly.”
UALBANY LANDS TRANSFER RUNNING BACK
The Great Danes back room, which shed light on the experience with Karl Mofor’s graduation and his decision to turn pro, received a boost on Monday when transfer graduate Todd Sibley Jr. announced via social networks his commitment to UAlbany.
Sibley comes to UAlbany from Pittsburgh, where he has 321 career rushing yards. The 5-foot-10, 230-pound fullback appeared in 10 games for the Panthers in 2021, carrying the ball five times for 14 yards.
UAlbany landed a pair of transfers from the FBS programs last week, with Sibley joining former Colorado State and Boston College quarterback Matt Valecce.
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