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Hands on approach
Ron Meeks is the Chargers' new secondary coach, hired in January to replace Steve Wilks, who took Meeks' former job as the secondary coach in Carolina. Meeks has an impressive resume that includes 11 NFL seasons as a defensive backs coach and nine as a defensive coordinator. He spent seven of those seasons as the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis and won a Super Bowl (XLI) with the Colts following the 2006 season. He understands that expectations are high in San Diego.
“Anytime you make a change or start a new job, you’re excited about it because it’s a new challenge for you and this is no different,” said Meeks. “I’m excited to be out here and working with another group of guys. What we’re trying to do here is get to that place where we need to be to get into the playoffs and to see how far we can go.”
Meeks figures to be a very good fit in San Diego. As the Colts’ defensive coordinator for seven seasons, Indianapolis ranked in the NFL’s top six in pass defense six times, including No. 2 rankings in three different seasons (2002, ’06 and ’07). The Chargers have ranked in the league’s top 13 each of the last three seasons, including the No. 1 ranking in the NFL in 2010.
Early on, Meeks has emphasized fundamentals. It’s a trademark of his career that dates back to his days as a player. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Meeks moved on to become a standout cornerback at Arkansas State University and later for five seasons in the Canadian Football League before he crossed over into the coaching profession.
At 57, some might expect Meeks to provide only the cerebral part of the game, but they’d be mistaken.
“There’s always a learning process for the guys, especially when you get a new coach in,” said Meeks. “The players have done a great job of picking things up and understanding how we want to do things here and I’m excited about it. I try to be a fundamentalist and I’m picky about certain things. I think a lot of times, you learn by example and watching me do it can sometimes help those guys and I think the guys get excitement out of that. Something that’s always been a part of what I do is to demonstrate things and show them how it’s done and then let those guys go out there and do it.”
By NFL standards, cornerback Quentin Jammer is relatively long in tooth as the 32-year-old enters his 11th NFL season but he has a good grasp of what the veteran coach Meeks can do for his game.
“He wants me to get back to fundamentals,” explained Jammer. “In this game when you start to get a little bit older, you get a little smarter and start to slow down a little bit. Fundamentals can help you take back over your game and so that’s what he’s been out there coaching, with everybody, not just me, but the young guys too. If you’re fundamentally and technique-sound, you can do a lot of different things and do them a lot better than you can just based on straight athletic ability.”
Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner knew exactly what he was getting in Meeks as the two worked together as far back as 1991 in Dallas and again in 2000 when Turner hired Meeks to coach the secondary for the Washington Redskins. Turner likes having the veteran coach heading up the team’s secondary and the qualities that he brings.
“He’s a detail guy, he’s very demanding and he’s very specific in terms of what he’s asked the players to do,” said Turner of Meeks. “He knows the pressure that’s put on the secondary in this day and age and he knows how to tie it to a front.”
At every stage of his coaching career, Meeks has tried to take a little bit of what he’s learned and incorporate it into how he goes about his job today. Besides Turner, he’s worked under an impressive list of coaches both on the college and professional levels and there’s a little bit of all of them in the Meeks of 2012.
“There’s a lot of guys I’d have to give credit to,” said Meeks of the guys who’ve helped mold his coaching career. “Obviously working with Tony Dungy was big in my career. Back when I got started, Jimmy Johnson, had a lot to do with my development. And I could go all the way back to college and working with Jim Sweeney back at Fresno State. He was an influence on my career. Some of those things you never really forget because they mold you. You pick up things as you go and you try to be innovative yourself and create your own things and I think that’s what I’ve done in my career.”
Cornerback Antoine Cason, who heads into his third year as a starter, is excited about what Meeks can do to help him improve as a player. Cason intercepted six passes and defensed 26 over the last two seasons and is a player headed into the prime of his career.
“He’s coached a lot of great players and he sees another side of the things I do and the things he can help me with,” said Cason of Meeks. “I know he’s going to provide a spark for me to do some even better things so I’m excited to get out there and do the things that he’s going to help me with.”
Even Jammer, who’s working with his fifth different secondary coach in 11 seasons feels re-energized not only by the change in seasons, but the change in coaches as well.
“It definitely gives you a shot of invigoration just the way he goes about coaching when you see how happy and animated he is out there,” said Jammer of Meeks. “It’s a new season, new coach, so you always get a little more excited whenever a new season rolls around. It’s always very exciting.”