There are a lot of Carolina Panthers coaches at Wofford this summer who can teach players what they’re supposed to do.
Aaron Curry can tell them what not to.
Curry, the former Wake Forest star considered one of the biggest NFL busts in recent years, is working with the Panthers during training camp as part of the Bill Walsh NFL minority coaching fellowship program.
Curry, 31, spent the past two seasons as the Charlotte 49ers’ defensive line coach before resigning in June to pursue an NFL coaching career. Curry was with the Cincinnati Bengals for a week during OTAs as part of the Bill Walsh program before joining the Panthers in Spartanburg.
“The NFL is where I belong,” Curry said during a break last week at camp. “I believe I bring in a wealth of experience and knowledge from playing the game.”
Curry earned much of that knowledge the hard way.
A big-play linebacker for the Deacons, he was drafted fourth overall by Seattle in 2009. He signed a rookie deal worth $60 million, with $34 million guaranteed, the most lucrative contract for a non-quarterback in NFL history.
But Curry was out of the league four years later, done in by what he calls a lack of motivation after reaching the pinnacle of a sport he grew up playing in Fayetteville.
Even after being identified as a bust, my life went on. Some folks can’t let it go. I struggle with it a little bit. But then I looked up and realized I can be a really good football coach.
Carolina Panthers coaching intern Aaron Curry
As Curry put it: “Ball didn’t matter.”
“I worked out. I ate what I was supposed to eat, took care of my body. I spent a lot of money taking care of my body,” he said. “But the football intelligence, the Xs-and-Os, there came a point where it didn’t matter. I’d just go out there and ball.”
Curry averaged 55 tackles and 2.5 sacks in his first two seasons with Seattle. But it wasn’t the type of production the Seahawks envisioned when they drafted Curry ahead of other highly rated linebackers such as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and James Laurinaitis.
In 2011 the Seahawks traded Curry to Oakland, where he played parts of two seasons before being cut. He signed for veteran minimum with the Giants in 2013, but didn’t survive the final roster cuts.
The following year Curry went to Charlotte as a graduate assistant under head coach Brad Lambert, who recruited Curry to Wake Forest as the Deacons’ defensive coordinator.
The itch to return
Curry enjoyed his time on Lambert’s staff. But he said going through the draft process this year with 49ers defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, Cleveland’s third-round pick, gave him the itch to return to the NFL as a coach.
He’s helping coach the Panthers’ defensive linemen with Eric Washington and Sam Mills III. Besides giving players tips on their techniques, Curry also has pulled players aside to talk about the big picture.
“I’m not afraid to share the fact that I was the fourth pick and only played three-and-a-half seasons in four years,” he said. “That experience alone gives me a unique amount of knowledge. I learned what to do by not doing what I was supposed to do.”
Curry said his favorite line he’d use with reporters after arriving in the NFL was: “See ball, hit ball.”
Curry learned too late that succeeding against the world’s best players involved a lot more prep work.
“I felt like I could just go out there and run around and hit the ball,” he said. “That’s not the case.”
Roots in Charlotte
Curry lives in south Charlotte with his wife and four children, including a 7-year-old son whose favorite player is Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Curry says he’s been responsible with the money he made during his short-lived NFL career. He didn’t get into coaching for the money.
He says his nest egg is “one of the reasons I was able to get out of college coaching and take a leap of faith.”
Curry seemed at ease Thursday morning talking to a group of players from Dorman High, which held a joint practice with the Panthers at Wofford.
Panthers rookie receiver Austin Duke, who played at Charlotte, said young players could relate well with Curry.
“He was a cornerstone of Charlotte,” Duke said. “Being there for us mentally, and as a man of faith, being able to go to somebody and talk and have him understand what you’re trying to do goal-wise and really helping you through the process, I think he’s done a really good job at that.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the point of the Bill Walsh fellowship is to open doors for coaches such as Curry who want to try to break into the NFL.
“He’s done a nice job. It’s only been a few days. We’ll see how it progresses,” Rivera said. “The nice thing is he’ll be with us for awhile and he’ll get an opportunity to really show us what he can do.”
Returning to the NFL also gives Curry the chance to push the reset button on a disappointing chapter in his life. He understands anytime ESPN or another media outlet does a story on draft busts, there’s a good chance he’ll be included.
But Curry insists he won’t let that define him.
“Even after being identified as a bust, my life went on,” he said. “Some folks can’t let it go. I struggle with it a little bit. But then I looked up and realized I can be a really good football coach. And I’ve got a wife and four healthy kids.
“Life is so much bigger than the game. Maybe we look up in 20, 30 years and I’m one hell of a position coach. And it’s like, is he still identified as a bust?”