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A Conversation With: Chargers Assistant OL Coach Shaun Sarrett

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Chargers.com is chatting with every Bolts assistant coach this offseason. Up next? Shaun Sarrett.

Before we get into football, I wanted to ask about your hometown since you're a long way from home. You grew up in Beckley, West Virginia, so what's it like being out here in California?

"It's funny you say that I was kidding with my wife, it really does feel like you're in another country. You got to set your times up to talk to family members back home and things like that, which is always interesting. But, I'll tell you what, I wouldn't trade it for the world especially where we live right now in Southern California. It's beautiful."

What does your family think when they visit?

"We haven't had the opportunity to get that done yet. We've had some friends come and visit and when they come they're like, 'This is vacation'. It does help, so it's a great selling point."

What is your main role as assistant O-Line coach?

"My No. 1 job, I would say, is to make [offensive line] coach [Brendan] Nugent's job as easy as possible. I'm there for anything he needs me to do and another set of eyes for him during the games and at practice. Something he may not see and I see it, then I relay it to our players or tell him and get that related. Then in the meeting room just assisting and all that."

Do you work with a specific O-line group?

"No, usually as the season starts — and when I say season I mean OTAs and into training camp — I'll spend more time with the young guys getting them adjusted to the new system, things we do differently, things like that. I would say I spend more time with those guys trying to get them prepared."

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What do you like about working with Nugent?

"'Nuge' is a competitor, man, when you sit back and you listen to him. One thing I think he does a great job is he makes it an open forum for the players and they have a voice. I think sometimes that gets lost in translation because at the end of the day, they're the ones doing it. You may say a technique, you may say this is the way you want to coach this, but a player you better coach them to what they're able to do and I think he does a great job of that."

What's the origin behind your nickname, "Sweet Feet?"

"Man, I haven't heard that in a long time actually. It's been quite a while. It was a nickname that was given to me by a defensive end where I played at Kent State, his name was Shawn Armstead. I was going through the bags, it was the first day of pads and we were going through the bag drills. I actually — believe it or not and not looking at me now — back then I was decently athletic. He says, 'Damn, you've got sweet feet'. So what happened was ended up about 10 years later, I was interviewing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was me, Coach [Dick] LeBeau, Todd Haley, Mike Tomlin and we're watching film. I see James Harrison, who I played with at Kent State and hadn't seen him forever, come into the meeting room. I'm like tucked over in the corner. He double looks me and he goes, 'What the hell is Sweet Feet doing here?' It stuck, so for the next nine years there I was 'Sweet Feet.' Which kind of died out here which is kind of good, but with all that said I still find humor in it. I'm just glad to be called something."

Do you appreciate where you're at now because you started as a high school coach?

"I think about my brother, my brother's a high school coach in Beckley. He's been there over 20 years. Sometimes when I'm talking to him and I'm listening to his schedule, I'm listening to the stuff he does, I'm like, 'Man, your schedule is worse than mine.' It's the same everywhere, what you want to put into the job and who you want to help. I think in high school it is a people business, it's about relationships. Same thing here, it's about relationships but just the idea of seeing that and growing it, which has helped because I got to see the different levels because I went from high school to college to pros. I got to see all three levels and see how each one works. There's good and bad in all three levels."

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You were with the Steelers for almost a decade. What did you learn about yourself in Pittsburgh?

"I learned to be open-minded about things. Don't be so bull-headed in rules and thoughts. If you work with people, if you can find the way to make something work, make it work. I think I learned that over my years. I was able to see that done under the head O-line guy for a little bit, Mike Munchak. It was like I should've been paying him for the stuff I learned from him."

You were the assistant O-line coach in Pittsburgh for seven years before being the main guy for two seasons. What was the biggest difference making the move up?

"It's funny you say that, it's kind of like Batman, I was going from Robin to Batman. Now you're the head guy, it's your voice. It's interesting, I was kind of blessed because I had been around the guys, I had been around them for seven years and that transition was easy. It's different from coming to a place you've never been and you're in a new room. Those guys knew me, they knew who I was, they knew how I was going to act, I wasn't changing. I was just going to be the person I was."

You mentioned you work with most of the young guys and getting them up to speed. Last season that would've been Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer. What did you see from them early?

"Zion was kind of plug-and-play starter. Jamaree, I did spend a little bit of time with, and this is not to say that 'Nuge' doesn't by any means. It's just one of those deals where he's kind of always working to get those five starters going for the game week. Even in training camp, you have a projection of what five you think and then you want to bring those guys along. I got to work with the young guys and then somebody gets hurt, we lose our All-Pro left tackle in Rashawn Slater and we sat back and, 'Well what are we doing?'. Luckily this guy was up to speed, working with me and [Nugent]. I just spend more time with them compared to an older guy."

What do you like about working with the young guys?

"It's fun because you come in and it's funny, each guy will have a way he's been taught and sometimes that's it's good, sometimes it's bad. You want to put what your thought process because sometimes when you start changing everything he does, the way he's learned, it kind of like paralyzes him and that's hard. I think you got to do a good job and you've got to see the things he does well and don't mess with that. If you can put things here or there, it'll work from there."

What's been your early impression of rookie Jordan McFadden?

"He's a quiet guy, but you can see he's very in tuned in meetings. He's always taking notes, on the field he's always looking for the nuggets to learn stuff like, 'Well, what about this step, why are we doing this?' He's asking all the right questions, which is always good."

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How do you view the projected starting O-line right now? It seems like the potential is high with this group.

"You have expectations but also what we're finding out right now is what that line does best. It goes from anything of what play they do best. Is it outside zone? Is it a gap scheme? Whatever it may be, you find that and then you go into training camp and then you test it. You're testing it live, you're seeing what their strengths are. Because at the end of the day, you don't want to be running something they don't have a strength at. Week 1 when we play Miami, we'll have figured out what they do best and we're going to put them in the right situations to make them successful."

Is coaching more about being a teacher and being adaptable more than actually being a coach?

"Oh, yeah. I do agree. I grew up in a family of teachers, my background in education is actually in teaching. There's something to it, you hear [Chargers Head] Coach [Brandon] Staley talk about how to lesson plan for your meetings, which makes sense because that's all it is. You've got your lessons planned and then you can actually take that lesson plan after you used it then go back a year from now, how you want to tweak it, how you want to teach it better, is there a better way to teach it, why didn't this kid understand it. Then you can go in and you can apply the new stuff to it."

What's your background in teaching?

"I actually have an undergrad in Health Education and then I've got a Master's [degree] in Special Education. My brother is a special ed teacher and head football coach in Beckley and then my mom was a special education aid, which she still does today."

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