(This story appeared in the September 30th issue of The Outlook, the student run newspaper of Monmouth University.)
There was a different kind of bird on campus as the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League came to practice at Monmouth on Friday and Saturday. With Pope Francis staying in the Philadelphia area, the team needed a place to practice for the weekend. With their upcoming game being against the Jets at MetLife Stadium, New Jersey was a logical choice.
“Coach Kelly and I have known each other for a number of years,” MU Head Coach Kevin Callahan said. “It’s a professional relationship that goes back to when he was a college coach throughout the northeast. There are also a good number of coaches on his staff who were college coaches in the northeast that I know fairly well also.”
Kelly played collegiately at the University of New Hampshire as a quarterback and a defensive back from 1981-1984. His coaching experience in the northeast began in 1990 with Columbia when he coached the defensive backs and special teams. The next year he coached the outside linebackers and strong safeties before moving on to New Hampshire in 1992 where he coached the running backs. A brief stop at John’s Hopkins as their defensive coordinator in 1993 was followed by his return to his alma mater in 1994. He coached the running backs and the offensive line until he took over as offensive coordinator from 1999-2006, when he left for the University of Oregon. Kelly was their offensive coordinator for two seasons before he took over as Head Coach in 2009. While at the helm, Kelly took the Ducks to two Rose Bowls and a National Championship Game before taking the Eagles’ job in 2013.
“They contacted me back in July about the possibility of working out here because of the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia,” Callahan said. “They said they would need a place to practice for two days on Friday and Saturday as well as use our football weight room for one of the days as well. It took some cooperation from our other sports as well to make sure that the facilities were available and everybody was able to pitch in and do whatever we could to accommodate the Eagles.”
Per NFL policy, the practices were closed to the public and to all members of the media.
“The NFL has a policy where after Wednesday, their practices are closed to everybody. Closed to media, closed to visitors and fans,” Callahan said. “We wanted to make sure that we abided by that league policy and the Eagles requested that it be a closed practice because that’s typically what they do.”
The visit was special, not only because an NFL team came to campus, but the football program’s biggest icon was back as well. Eagles wide receiver Miles Austin starred with the Hawks from 2002-2005. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent for the 2006 season. The MU all-time leader in receiving yards and total touchdowns would become a star while a member of the Cowboys. Austin is a two time Pro-Bowler and holds the franchise record for most receiving yards in a game with 250.
“I come back here a lot anyway, but it’s great to be able to practice here and be able to show the other guys where I came from,” Austin said in an interview with Matt Harmon of the Monmouth Digital Network. “It’s a special opportunity and it’s something I know doesn’t happen very often to be able to practice at your old college with an NFL team.”
2009 and 2010 were Austin’s best years with “America’s Team”. He eclipsed the starting lineup halfway through the 2009 campaign and finished with 81 receptions, 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2010, the Summit, NJ native started all 16 games and caught 69 passes for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns. Austin spent the 2014 campaign with the Browns before signing a one-year, $2.3 million deal with the Eagles. Callahan, who coached Austin in his colligate career, felt that it was special to have Austin back on campus.
“It was great to have the Eagles here but it was even more special because Miles Austin is now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles,” Callahan said. “When Miles was here it was very obvious early on when he arrived on campus that he was a very talented and special player. He had the athleticism and the skillset to play beyond college. To have him back here, I just think it added a little something extra to it.”
This is not the first time an NFL team has been on campus. The New York Giants held their training camp in West Long Branch from 1972-1973.
“The Giants used to have their preseason practices here, but I do not believe anybody has been here since then,” Callahan said. “I know in the NBA the Knicks used to use Monmouth as their practice facility as well years ago, but nothing else beyond that until the Eagles came here.”
Though it has been over 40 years since an NFL team has been to MU, the fact that a team decided to come here can only mean good things moving forward for all parties involved.
“I think we certainly were able to get a lot of attention through social media after the fact,” Callahan said. “The Eagles put it on their website when Coach Kelly announced at his press conference on Wednesday that they would be coming to Monmouth to practice. We were able to get the Monmouth name out there and I think anytime you get a professional team, particularly an NFL team, throwing your name around then I think it’s good for everybody. It drew attention to the university and I think that will benefit us in a number of ways.”