Former Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw goes all in with Falcons internship | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

For at least a few short weeks, and he hopes much longer, Courtney Upshaw is back in the NFL.

The former Crimson Tide linebacker, who secured Alabama's 2009 national championship with a late fumble recovery against Texas, is one of several former NFL players working in a coaching internship with the Atlanta Falcons this preseason under the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship. The program, named for the former San Francisco 49ers coach, serves as a vocational tool to promote minority coaching hires in the NFL. All 32 teams participate; Upshaw applied in 2021 without success, but tried again this year and got the call from the Falcons earlier this summer.

His dream? Coach in the NFL. And he's taking some bold leaps to get there.

The first leap came on his application form, which calls for candidates to rank the five NFL teams they would most like to intern with. Those fortunate enough to be selected don't necessarily get to intern with their top choice, but they're glad to be sent anywhere.

Upshaw wrote in the Falcons for his No.1 choice, and left the other four options blank. That move no doubt dimmed his chances; he said he was given no preliminary assurances by the Falcons that he'd be selected.

"It was all or nothing with the Falcons for me," he said.

Upshaw has some roots with the Falcons that he wasn't going to leave behind. That's where he finished his pro career, playing two seasons (2016-2017) as a backup defensive tackle. Nick Perry, a former teammate of his at Alabama and now an assistant defensive backs coach for the Falcons, was the first person to encourage Upshaw to apply. He played for Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees, himself a branch on Nick Saban's coaching tree, when he was with the Baltimore Ravens. Falcons linebackers coach Ted Monachino was on that Ravens staff, as well.

Despite all those ties, Upshaw compared his selection to hitting the lottery.

He has been with the Falcons since the start of training camp; working with the club's outside linebackers, sitting in on staff meetings, observing practices, watching film and more.

"It's been great," he said. "We've been treated like part of the coaching staff."

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At some point following Atlanta's preseason opener against the Detroit Lions on Friday, Upshaw and his fellow interns will learn if any or all of them will be retained for the remainder of the preseason, and perhaps beyond.

His fingers are crossed, which brings us to his second leap: Upshaw left a job at Grayson High in Loganville, Georgia, where he coached pass rushers, to accept what is more than likely a temporary internship.

He doesn't care.

He'd rather bet on himself. Prove his worth. Fallback plans be damned.

"I'm just going to let the chips fall how they fall, and go from there," he said. "I'd like to stay on here. If not, well, I'll look to something else, but this coaching thing, I'm taking it serious. I want to teach the game, and to do that well. I have to learn a lot more than I knew as a player."

High school coaching jobs, after all, aren't that hard to find for former NFL players.

A month or more of seeing how the pros do it, by contrast, is a leap worth taking.

Reach Chase Goodbread at cgoodbread@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread

Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.