The Cincinnati Bengals just added a familiar face to their ranks when they agreed to allow the defensive coordinator of Florida A&M serve an internship with them this summer. That coordinator’s name is Levon Kirkland, the former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, where he will be teaching the son of one of his teammates from his rookie season in Hardy Nickerson.
Kirkland, a second-round draft pick of the Steelers in 1992, played for the club through the 1999 season before playing one season in Seattle and then in Philadelphia to wrap up an 11-year career that included two All-Pro seasons (both in Pittsburgh) and a nod on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s.
The 275-pound linebacker recorded 982 tackles over the course of his career to go along with 19.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, 62 passes defensed, and 18 forced fumbles. He has been coaching at the college level for the past few seasons.
Kirkland joins the Bengals’ staff on a temporary basis as part of the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship, which for the Steelers includes such alumni as James Saxon, James Daniel, and, oh yeah, Mike Tomlin.
All three of those coaches have graduated through the ranks while serving coaching internships in order to learn more about the profession at the NFL level. Each year, over 100 coaches serve internships with teams through this fellowship, and Kirkland is one of five working with the Bengals right now.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati’s head coach, is himself an early graduate of the fellowship. “I had the opportunity to work in this program when coach Walsh initiated it with the 49ers”, he said, “and it’s great to see it continue as strong as it is. We are happy to have these coaches with us to benefit our staff as well as aid in their development as a coach”.
This isn’t exactly pressing news for either the Bengals or the Steelers, but it is a bit of an interesting tidbit from a Steelers perspective to see one of their former great players serve an internship with one of the team’s primary rivals.
Still, it’s not as though they will be meeting any time soon. Coaching internships vary in length, but they do not last into the regular season, so he will not be with the Bengals by the time they will play the Steelers in the regular season. He may only be on board through OTAs, or he could remain through the preseason.
The Fellowship has existed now for 30 years, founded in 1987, and has since helped roughly 2000 minority coaches dip their toes in the coaching pool, with, obviously, many of them going on to actually work on a full-time basis in the NFL, or at lower ranks.
The implementation of the program is largely left up to each individual team to mandate, but the Bengals under Lewis have historically been among those who have most taken advantage of the opportunity to bring in these novice coaches for the summer.