FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — New Arkansas Razorbacks assistant coach Chad Walker can’t stand still. That much is obvious from watching his media conferences and interviews.
Walker — hired in February to coach Arkansas outside linebackers — scoots back and forth behind a lectern. During more informal interview sessions, he moves around so much that sometimes the temporary backdrop behind him shakes. You almost worry that it will fall over at times.
It’s the same way on the practice field. During team sessions, Walker stands about 10 yards away from the play. He gets into the same stance as his players, and then reacts the same way they should after the snap.
One day after a spring practice, I asked Walker if he has always been that energetic and enthusiastic. He is friendly enough that it offsets the intimidation you might naturally feel from his voice. If you met Walker on the street — between his clean-shaven head, muscular build and deep voice — you would automatically assume he is a football coach.
“I think so,” Walker said. “I don’t know. I don’t know how people view me. I learned something a long time ago — you had to have enthusiasm.”
Getting his start
Walker grew up in New Orleans and fell in love with football at an early age. He remembers watching the NFL draft on television as a youngster and filling notebooks with information he learned about each player.
“I was 9, 10, 11 years old, compiling those notebooks,” Walker said. “I’d learn things about players and watch them. I’ve just always appreciated ball.”
(Keeping diligent notes is a habit he would continue as he entered his coaching career. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops remembered his notebooks filled with information about the 3-4 when Walker was hired as a quality control assistant for the Sooners a few years back.)
Walker was a team captain at Crescent City Christian School but didn’t play college ball. Instead, he enrolled at LSU with his mind set on becoming a football coach.
During one of his classes at LSU, he mentioned his career goals. A student manager happened to be in that class and encouraged Walker to volunteer as an equipment manager with the Tigers football team.
He did that for a couple years before Nick Saban was hired as LSU’s coach in 2000. Walker developed enough of a reputation for hard work and energy that Saban let Walker help as a student coach.
In addition to working with Saban, Walker was exposed to coaches including Adam Gase — the current Miami Dolphins coach — and Freddie Kitchens, now the Arizona Cardinals running backs coach. Gase and Kitchens were LSU graduate assistants when Walker was there.
“I put my head down and absorbed everything like a sponge,” Walker said. “I was fortunate to be around some phenomenal coaches at the time.”
A long journey to Arkansas
After stints as a graduate assistant at Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia, Walker returned to Baton Rouge as a “defensive assistant” under Saban in 2003 and 2004. He then followed Saban to the Miami Dolphins, where Walker worked as a quality control coach.
From there, he was a small-college defensive coordinator at Bryant University in Rhode Island and Mississippi College.
At Mississippi College — a Division III school in Clinton, Miss. — he reunited with his younger brother, Tyler, who went to school there and was trying to begin his own coaching career as a graduate assistant.
Tyler is 9 years younger than Chad.
“That’s where I really got to see him on the field,” Tyler Walker said in a telephone interview. “He always wanted to be known as the guy who was bringing the energy to whatever he’s doing.”
Tyler worked with the wide receivers and Chad with the defensive backs, so the brothers went head to head lots of times in practice.
“I know I’m biased,” Tyler said, “but I don’t think there’s anybody smarter than Chad. He’s very analytical.”
After two years in Clinton, Chad returned to off-the-field roles at Oklahoma for a couple years, and then two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. His last game on the Falcons staff was the Super Bowl. Days later, he was interviewing with Bret Bielema for the Arkansas job.
Tyler abandoned the dream of a coaching career, in large part because of how much he watched his older brother move around in pursuit of the opportunity he finally has in Fayetteville.
“As a Saints fan, it was kind of a relief because I didn’t have to cheer for the Falcons anymore,” Tyler said before turning serious.
“It’s just an awesome opportunity for him and I’m glad it finally came. He’s been deserving of this for several years.”
Chad Walker is excited
And maybe that’s why Chad is so wired up all the time. He’s finally back on the field doing a job that doesn’t feel like work.
Chad laughed and said he sometimes wishes he wore a fitness tracker so he could see how many steps he takes during practices.
And heck, he takes a lot of steps during media interviews, too.
But no one is holding that against him. It’s just his personality. Whether he’s coaching football or just talking about it, Chad Walker is excited.
“I’m passionate about what I do,” Walker said. “I never feel like I work. I really enjoy being around ball. I’m genuinely happy being around ball and being able to teach. That’s just who I am.”