INDIANAPOLIS – In so many instances, it’s about who you know.
Networking rules when the NFL coaching cycle spins.
Gus Bradley had a history with Shane Steichen with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers and Jim Bob Cooter crossed paths with him in Philadelphia. Bradley has returned as the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator and Cooter was brought in to run the offense as Steichen has structured his first coaching staff.
Brian Mason’s career coaching path also has benefitted from a prior relationship. The Zionsville product was an integral part of the University of Cincinnati program from 2017-21 – director of recruiting, then a three-year run as special teams coordinator – before a colleague from the past lured him to Notre Dame.
That would be first-year Irish head coach Marcus Freeman. They had been together at Kent State, Purdue and Ohio State, and Freeman selected Mason to run his special teams unit in South Bend.
Occasionally, networking has nothing to do with career advancement.
Welcome to Indy, Brian Mason.
Did he know Steichen?
“I did not.’’
Had he met general manager Chris Ballard, perhaps at a Pro Day?
“I have not.’’
In fact, Mason’s meeting with two Colts’ powerbrokers was his first interview for any position at the professional level. But he was 36 and curious.
“I had never interviewed with an NFL franchise before,’’ he said. “Didn’t know exactly what to expect on a lot of different levels. Was really impressed with (Steichen) and Chris Ballard, just who they were as people and how sharp they were, how well-spoken they were, the vision, the plan they had.
“Really, just came in like a normal coaching interview for the most part and presented for several hours, answered questions, got to know each other.
“Did not by any means think I was going to get the opportunity right afterwards.’’
Shortly thereafter, the life of Mason, wife Rachel and their two children changed.
The 2005 Zionsville High School graduate played running back at Denison (Ohio) University before an injury nudged him into a coaching lane that would involve stops at Denison, Bluffton, Kent State, Purdue, Ohio State, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. Suddenly, he was headed home.
Well, he and Rachel were headed to her home base in Columbus, Ind. for her mother’s 70th birthday when he got the news they would be headed home.
“We were not expecting to get the call as we were driving down to do that, but we were really excited,’’ Mason said. “Obviously, talking through some situations and details from there and then talked with our family about it.
“It was an opportunity that we felt like we couldn’t turn down.’’
And to think it began with an opportunity he never had anticipated in the first place.
Mason was focused on building on his first season as Notre Dame’s special teams when the Colts called. The Irish finished No. 6 in the FEI Efficiency Rankings last season, which undoubtedly was boosted by seven blocked punts.
For perspective, consider Notre Dame’s special teams had ranked in the top 10 just once in the previous 15 seasons.
Despite his successes at Cincinnati and Notre Dame, the NFL and a return home weren’t dominating Mason’s thinking.
Then, the Colts gave him something to think about.
“Yeah, it was really just an opportunity that was too good to pass up,’’ Mason said.
It was an opportunity to take that next big step in a still-developing career and, again, for the family to return to its central Indiana roots. Rachel worked for the NCAA for seven years and now is with Cincinnati-based Proctor & Gamble.
“To be able to be in Indianapolis, the opportunity to pursue something in the NFL, to learn more about it, to meet Shane Steichen and Chris Ballard,’’ Mason said. “I grew up a huge Indianapolis Colts fan . . . it would have been a dream to be able to work for this amazing franchise and be able to live in Indianapolis and work for the Colts.
“I didn’t have any ‘Here’s my dreams or goals’ starting off coaching small college football. Just worked hard and took advantage of every opportunity that I had.’’
His first step into the NFL comes with significant challenges. The Colts routinely fielded one of the league’s premier special teams units under former coordinator Bubba Ventrone. According to Rick Gosselin’s rankings, they were in the top 10 in four of Ventrone’s five seasons, including No. 2 in 2021.
When Ventrone took a similar job with the Cleveland Browns, the Colts turned to Mason. He’s been leaning on special teams assistant Joe Hastings to accumulate himself with what he’s inheriting.
“It’s really just been full steam ahead,’’ Mason said.
At full speed.
“It’s been surreal,’’ Mason said. “It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind, but every day I come in and look at the horseshoe on my shirt and am like ‘This is unbelievable.’
“Just the opportunity to be able to work for the Indianapolis Colts is certainly a dream opportunity and I’m looking forward to taking advantage of it.’’
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