Preparing to face Eagle’s View Academy is worlds removed from studying film in preparation for, say, the Philadelphia Eagles.
But the turnaround has happened so quickly to Mark Brunell that he has barely had time to process it.
Less than 24 months after wrapping up a 17-year NFL playing career, the most successful quarterback in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars is the new head football coach at Episcopal School. Brunell and the Eagles have a spring game next week against Paxson, with his official coaching debut to take place late this summer against Eagle’s View.
Given that he was a volunteer quarterback coach in the area for Providence School’s District 2-3A playoff team last year, it isn’t as if Brunell came to Episcopal in January with nothing other than his impressive professional background and visible name recognition.
“The athletic director here (Andy Kidd) reached out to me through a mutual friend,” he said by phone. “And over the course of about four weeks, I met with him and the head of school, Charley Zimmer. With each meeting, it just really seemed to click.
“We hit it off very early. And the opportunity was something that was a very good fit for my family and certainly an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. When I got done playing football, I wanted to make Jacksonville my home. I wanted to be connected to football and work with young men. This was just a perfect fit.”
A decade has passed since Brunell, now 42, last took a snap for the Jaguars. Although he threw for 23 touchdowns in 2005 with the Washington Redskins and later won a Super Bowl ring as a member of the New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville is where he not only built his legacy but put down roots with his wife and their four children.
“We really never left the area,” he said. “We fell in love with Jacksonville, this community and the people, immediately when we got here in ’95 and knew this was where we wanted to make our home. Once I left the Jaguars, we couldn’t wait to be back.”
Episcopal is a school with an enrollment of around 650 students between the ninth and 12th grades. Brunell is aware he’ll be coaching against much larger schools, as well as taking over a program that finished with a 3-6 record in 2012.
By leaving Providence, Brunell will now be on the opposite side of the field this fall from his longtime friend and teammate, former Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli. Among the people he consulted before deciding to commit himself fulltime to coaching were Boselli and Brunell’s father, who coached him in football as a freshman in California before later becoming his varsity baseball coach.
“There was about a 12-month process where I really took the time to decide what I wanted to do next,” Brunell said. “So I didn’t go right from the playing field into a fulltime coaching job. But being over at Providence really got me interested and made me consider a bit more about being a fulltime football coach. And being a part of high school football is great.”
In nine seasons with the Jaguars, Brunell passed for 25,698 yards and 144 of his 184 career touchdowns. Those franchise records could easily stand for another 10 years, considering this is a team that has made the playoffs just twice since 1999 and bottomed out a year ago by going 2-14.
But while fans have yet to warm to Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne like they did him, Brunell isn’t refusing to touch the Jaguars’ quarterback situation with a 10-foot pole.
“I don’t mind touching that at all,” he said. “I think they’re in good hands. I think they’ve got two solid quarterbacks in Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. They have some depth there. Both guys have proven they can have some success. Obviously this is a big year for Blaine. And I like their coaching staff. I like their offensive system. I like the players that Blaine and Chad will have around them. So I’m anxious to see it.”
Episcopal isn’t the only team in Jacksonville with a new coach. Like anyone else who has been around Gus Bradley even for a short period of time, Brunell has come away impressed and enthused with what the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator has to offer.
“I have every reason to believe that this will be a very good year for Jaguar football,” he said. “And their coach is just a great guy. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s a hard-working, proven coach, and he’s got a good coaching staff around him.”