How many coaches in the history of the NFL can lay claim to the fact that they had the opportunity to coach a father and son duo—not at the same time, of course, but over the course of their coaching career?
Seriously, I’m asking, because it can’t be something that happens very frequently. Yet that is where Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Marvis Lewis is in his career right now. As a linebackers coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1990s, he got the opportunity to coach Hardy Nickerson in his final season with the team.
Now, so many years later, Lewis has Nickerson’s son, Hardy Nickerson, Jr., with him on the Bengals’ roster after the team signed him as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 NFL Draft. And though his father only played for his coach for just one season, Lewis credits the senior Nickerson for having a big impact on his career. And the feeling was mutual.
When Nickerson first arrived in Cincinnati, Lewis told him, as he relayed in a later press conference, that “I wouldn’t be here without his father. His father tested me as a coach, to be right. He was an outstanding player—smart”. He called Nickerson “a great, great football player, and he’s become a very fine coach. I was blessed to be with him even if it was only one season, but he taught me a lot”.
Nickerson, his part, recalled Lewis as “very detailed and demanding”, saying that “he has a way of getting the best out of players. It was one of my best years. That season kind of set the stage for me in terms of becoming a free agent in that first class”.
“That year made me highly sought after”, he concluded. He recorded 114 tackles with two sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries that season in 15 games. “I probably owe a lot of that to Coach Lewis getting me coached up”.
And, of course, as Lewis alluded to earlier, Nickerson followed him into the coaching ranks, breaking in as a linebackers coach under Lovie Smith at first. He is now coaching at Illinois as the defensive coordinator, where he got the opportunity to coach his son—who is now playing for his old coach.
And he didn’t come here just to play for a man who coached his father. He came to the Bengals because he believes there is an opportunity for him there to make the roster. The Buccaneers, for whom his father became an icon, were heavily pursuing him as well, but he chose the Bengals and Marvin Lewis.
Though he didn’t make a Pro Bowl with the Steelers during his six years there, Hardy Nickerson the elder was an integral component of the team’s defense in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He went on to have a 16-year career with some Pro Bowls and accolades mixed in. Cincinnati is certainly hoping that his son bears more resemblance to his father than just the name.