Life has a habit of throwing us into difficult places. Yet, it also has the power to reveal our best qualities amidst those times. Mark Brunell is a perfect example of positivity. After going through a lot during his days on the NFL, he has remained undefeated, both on the field and in life after football. He shares with us almost everything about football, from playing in a small high school to choosing Washington and getting injured, and the values he got along the way. Bringing up the many people that has helped him all throughout, Mark conveys the power of teamwork and the importance of having the right people surround you. Be it in the field or in life, Mark shares how you, too, can overcome adversities.
I’m super jacked and pumped up because I’m talking to a fellow NFL player. This guy played nineteen years in the League. His name is Mark Brunell. He resides in Jacksonville, Florida. He’s the Head Coach of a football team. He’s been a broadcaster at ESPN since he left the NFL and he has been involved in all different things. He is prolific in terms of the people he’s played with, the things that he has had to overcome in terms of injury, being benched, being traded. All those things that a lot of people don’t consider when you open the transactions of the newspaper and say, “This guy went from Green Bay to Jacksonville or some other place.” It affects your family, your friends and your mental outlook. He has always stayed positive. As always, remember to go and check out my website at MarkPattisonNFL.com. Please to go in and rate and review. It does make a difference on iTunes in terms of the popularity within the Apple system.
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Winning At Life After Football with Mark Brunell
This guy is a guy who I’ve wanted to have on the pod for a long time for many different reasons. One, he is a former University of Washington Husky. He came a little bit after me and he also played in the NFL for nineteen years. I have on the pod Mark Brunell. Mark, how are you doing?
I’m doing well. Thanks for having me, Mark.
You sure rutted out many years ago as the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s one of the things that I found that was fascinating as I was going back through your long history. I wanted to know about where Orcutt is. I’ve been all over California and I know every single inch but I’ve never heard of this place.
Orcutt, California is in the Central Coast. The best way I describe it is it’s between LA and San Francisco on the Coast, right off the 101. The town I grew up in, which is next to Santa Maria, California. The high school I went to is in Orcutt, California. A farming town, really laidback. All my buddies were farmers, close to the beach. It’s a great community to live in. I was really fortunate. It was Southern California but it’s not southern California, if that makes sense. I’ve got some buddies that are still there farming. It was a good place to grow up.
I’ve been up and down 101 many times. Santa Maria is either like Santa Claus Drive or the Green Bay people or somebody.
We’re at North of Santa Barbara and it’s a beautiful part of California. We’re not in the Bay Area. We’re not in Southern California like Orange County, LA or anything like that. We’re tucked right in the middle.
In high school, you pulled off. You won the State CIF championship down here, which is not an easy thing to do. Much of that is all about having the right people and certainly the right guy behind the steering wheel at quarterback and that was you. You must have torn it up and had some talented players around. Growing up in a small town, it must have been an amazing experience, like the Friday Night Lights I would picture it being up there at your small school.
It was a small school. St. Joseph High School had about 650 students. My dad was the athletic director. He coached baseball, he coached football for 25, 30 years. I grew up with that school in the community. Friday Night Lights were a lot of fun, just how they’re supposed to be. Like every quarterback will tell you, you’re only as good as the guys around you. I had some guys around me on the line. I had a couple real good receivers, a really good running back. They made my job easy. I was fortunate for a high school quarterback that wasn’t in a big market. Because we were able to do some good things, put up some numbers, won some games, I was able to get the attention and specifically the attention of the University of Washington. I had some good people around me.
I went to the University of Washington in 1980 until 1985. At that time, we didn’t know our Head Coach, Don James, would become the legendary Hall of Fame coach that he ultimately became. I went there and Warren Moon had taken the Huskies to 1977 season. We got there and then the wave started cranking. During my freshman year, Jim and I went to sophomore Rose Bowl third year Aloha, Aloha and those were only because we got knocked out in the last game by the Cougars. Then in my senior year the Orange Bowl and beat Oklahoma. It was seriously glory years and we were on flipping fire. Then after my senior class left, it went into a dip period for a couple of years.
In 1988, when they were talking about blowing out coach James and this is before they brought in Gilbertson and changed the offense to what you were able to play into. By the way, I was so bummed that I wasn’t during that period of time as a receiver. The bottom line is why did you pick the University of Washington of all the places you could have gone to when they were into a dip period? On top of that, to find out that Steve Emtman and Lincoln Kennedy were also in that same class?
I went to Washington because honestly, Washington had me number one on their list. As a Southern California kid, USC was at the top of my list, Stanford, UCLA. My heart was set on staying in California and going to one of those schools because I grew up in that area. I was number two, number three, number four down the list and the guys ahead of me had committed to those schools but I was one at Washington. Chris Tormey and Gary Pinkel recruited me and I was impressed with those guys. I took my trip and got it to Seattle and Cary Conklin was my host. I instantly fell in love with the place. It seemed like the right fit for a seventeen-year-old kid on his recruiting visit to know that’s where he wanted to be, that it was the right place. Everything felt right at home.
I didn’t know a whole lot about Washington growing up and had heard about Coach James and their program. You’re right, they were struggling at that time. It turned out to be a good recruiting class. You mentioned the names like Lincoln Kennedy, Steve Emtman, Dave Hoffman from the San Jose Area. Mario Bailey who’s a local product and some guys who could play football that turned out to be good football players. There was a real shift by Coach James and the staff to target the California schools and it paid off. A lot of kids from California came up and we’re able to put together a good class. It wasn’t just about our class. The class before us and the class after us, they did some solid recruiting, which enabled us to have a lot of success there.
Certainly, you had speed, strength and new structure. Having Gilbertson come in and redefined what the offense and turn this thing into a spread offense. You were dominant on offense and you are dominant on defense. It wasn’t just one side of the ball controlling everything and the outcomes of these different games. The bottom line is though that you did move on to the University of Washington and you had probably next to my years, considered the glory years of the University of Washington. You went to the Rose Bowl in ’90, ’91 and ’92. The name of this podcast is called Finding Your Summit, which is about people overcoming adversity and finding their way. Everybody defines that adversity in a different way. Everything is going along great for you. You got up there, you found yourself as a sophomore, you were starting, you took the team to the Rose Bowl. By the way, I was there and I saw you play. You were the Rose Bowl MVP and then you came back or maybe it was in Spring Ball and you blow your knee out.
Everything obviously was going well. High expectations for what was my junior season starting quarterback, knowing full well, we had a very good team. As it turned out, we went and started the national championship but I blew my knee out. I was not in the mix until probably about the fifth or sixth game Billy Joe Hobert had become the starter and was playing well. We were undefeated. I got some mop-up time that year in and Mark it was tough. Coming off a real good season and being the guy who has an injury that is going to keep you out five, six, maybe seven months. At that time, I was questioning whether or not I’d even play football again. Just like being a quarterback, in life you’ve got to have some good people around you. I certainly did. I was surrounded by a coaching staff who was very supportive and teammates who had my back. The process was tough on an eighteen, nineteen-year-old kid. It’s part of the game, you get beat up, you have injuries, you have setbacks. All you can do is take it one day at a time and get back on the field as fast as you can. I was able to get back out there and rejoin my teammates.
I tell people this all the time because I’ve gone through my own frustrations and you’ve had yours and in athletics, things are always changing. That’s the reason why you don’t go to Vegas and put everything on black because you never know the outcomes of these different games. Who gets hot, who gets hurt, who starts playing bad, who’s good, all those different things. In 1992, as you’re saying, Billy Joe was playing as a starter on this team. You’re his backup, you were getting some mop-up time but then all of a sudden, The LA Times runs this story all about these things that Billy Joe had done. One thing leads to another and he is suspended from the team and all of a sudden you’re thrust back into the starting position of the team. You would have never ever in a million years thought that this would be possible, that this will happen, then like presto in a minute, you’re the guy again.
It was an interesting time. It wasn’t a lot of fun for Billy or the program but you’ve got to be ready. I’ve got an opportunity in my senior year too. I started maybe the last four or five games and played in that last Rose Bowl, which I was fortunate. If that didn’t happen, if I didn’t get at least some experience during my senior year, I would not have been able to go on to the next level. It worked out well. The Washington rebounded and I got back on track. It took some time. It was a blemish on our program and it was unfortunate.Winning is all about having the right guy behind the steering wheel. Click To Tweet
It was a total witch hunt. You know the truth with what was going on behind the scenes and ultimately, it led to Coach James resigning. That set off a huge chain of events. Moving forward out of that, I was very fortunate along with the rest of the Orange Bowl team to be inducted into the Huskie Hall of Fame. I’m grateful to be a part of that team and so much of that success that happened during that year. In 2015, you were inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. How do you get nominated and how does that work? What a great honor.
I got a call from a gentleman at the University of Washington telling me that he was going to nominate me and I thought, “We’ll see how it plays out.” I think maybe a month later I got a call from a Rose Bowl committee saying that they were going to induct me. It was a real honor. That was a great experience. I took my whole family out there and went to the parade and had a ceremony. In fact, Dave Hoffman was the one who gave the speech to introduce me and so I got to spend some time with him. He is an incredible guy. The whole experience was a lot of fun. I keep going back to it but through that process and getting to be a part of the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, I was reminded of all the great players that I had around me. The great teams that I was on. I had good numbers in the Rose Bowl. If there’s no Mario Bailey or there’s no Steve Emtman or Dave Hoffman or Beno Bryant, I wouldn’t receive that honor. It was a special honor. It is for me an honor that happened because I had some good people and I played with some good players.
Those teams were absolutely loaded like my teams back in my day. It was a lot of fun to sit there and watch back in the day I was at those Rose Bowl games watching you from the stands. You’re proud of your team. You’re proud of that legacy. It was cool to see your success after you have had a couple of bumps at the U-Dub and you rebounded. When you keep things at high-level and you don’t pout and you’d be a great team leader or a team member, good things can only happen and they did for you. You go off and you get drafted by the Packers in the fifth round. What was that like? Were you down there? You had to be during Brett Favre’s era?
I was there in ’93 and ’94. That would have been Brett’s. My first year I think was Brett’s third year in the NFL. This was long before Brett became the Super Bowl-winning quarterback legend Hall of Famer. Brett was a young quarterback at that time. I learned a lot from him. He played hard and I can remember watching and thinking, “If I’m going to make it in this league, I’ve got to play with that competitiveness, that fire and passion.” He left everything on the field. That was my biggest takeaway from Brett Favre. He’s a great guy. He was good to me and he taught me a lot. I was a fifth-round pick that wasn’t ready to compete at that level.
I was fortunate to land in Green Bay, was surrounded by a very good coaching staff, led by Mike Holmgren and I got to learn about the NFL as a backup, as a third string kid. I wasn’t quite ready when I got there. I’ve got a little mop-up time in my second season. Then after that, the Jaguars were looking for a young quarterback and so I was traded to Jacksonville. My experience in Green Bay, it was perfect for me. If I’m a first rounder or second rounder and thrown into the fire, I simply wasn’t ready. Things worked out well. All kids will tell you, “I want to be a first round or second rounder.” I would have said the same thing and how could I not want that? What was best for me was going in the second day, going in the fifth round to a team that was right for me.
Having gone through it, I was a seventh-round pick to the Raiders. What people don’t understand is that you’re sitting there and there are 32 teams and it’s like roulette. You look in there sitting in the Seattle or wherever you’re sitting at and you’re waiting around all day and you’re like, “Where’s my life going to lead me?” For anybody who’s not been down to Green Bay, you don’t have a concept of going into the small, teeny tiny town next to like grandma’s house as the stadium. It’s not like Downtown Seattle where you have the Qwest Field and in all that and all these other stadiums, skyscrapers and businesses and everything else. It’s like a little neighborhood and then there’s this huge stadium and it’s incredible. It’s the unique spot and the teams have to play up the road twenty miles, 30 miles away at Appleton because there’s no hotel big enough to accommodate a party large enough as a football team. It’s a different animal.
The other thing that people don’t understand is that the day that you’re acquired by somebody else, and that happened to me going to New Orleans. One day, you’re playing for the team, you’ve packed all your bags, you’re paying bills, you have an apartment or a house or something. Then you get ejected and now you find yourself in some other city. You go away and you don’t know any friends and family. People look at the transactions and they’re like, “Mark, got traded.” They don’t know what the impact that has and how hard it is for somebody to move their whole family and friends.
Football is a great game but it can be a tough business and that’s the way it is in the NFL. It’s a great game but many times it’s a tough business and it’s part of the deal.
It didn’t affect you that much because you ended up in a Pro Bowl for Jacksonville ’97, ’98 and 2000. You went on to play for New Orleans. You’ve got a Super Bowl ring. How do you play for nineteen years in the NFL? How does somebody do that? I went five and I was never a great player at all. I had my fifteen minutes of fame and that was it. To go nineteen years in anything is incredible especially at that level in that league.
I was fortunate to land in some good situations. I mentioned the Green Bay thing, two years there and I’ve got to learn. Jacksonville traded for me it was an expansion team, expectations weren’t high. I didn’t have to play well. We didn’t have to win a lot of games because the team was new. Jacksonville was excited to have a team. I go back, we had some good draft classes, some good free agent signings and developed a pretty solid team in a short amount of time. Tom Kaufman was our coach. He is a good coach and future Hall of Famer. I stayed there for about nine years. After that, I got an opportunity with the Washington Redskins. I was up there four years and started for a couple. Then, I realized that my starting days were probably over, I didn’t have any problem with being a backup. I wanted to play for as long as I could. I was a backup in Washington for a couple of years. I went to New Orleans back with Drew Brees that was a great experience. We went into the Super Bowl.It’s about the learning you have now that is going to affect tomorrow. Click To Tweet
You just don’t go in the Super Bowl. I know you did, it was a great year or so. Obviously, I watched the game. What was that like though going through the whole process of advancing? I’ve been to the playoffs and it’s such a disappointment on the other end because most teams lose, you don’t get to that magical moment.
You used the word, Mark. It’s perfect, it’s magical. A lot of things have to happen for a team to win the Super Bowl. First of all, you’ve got to have a lot of talent. Beyond that, you’ve got to have good chemistry. You’ve got to work well together. From day one before that Super Bowl season, I could tell we had something special. We had a great leadership, good core group of players. We had a good quarterback, Drew Brees, one of the best to ever play the game and the future Hall of Famer. We stayed healthy. We had some momentum. We’ve got a few breaks and pretty soon we find ourselves at the end of the season thirteen-three with the first seed. We went a couple of playoff games and soon we were in the Super Bowl. It was magical. It took me years to experience it and it was a dream come true. This is for a guy that was the holder and the guy that held the clipboard when he wasn’t holding for the placekicker. It was a lot of fun. It was great for that city. Mark, you were there, you understand New Orleans and what a unique culture community that place is. It was a lot of fun and it was fun to be a part of it.
It must have been out of control. When I got down there, Jim Mora, Sr. was the Head Coach and they had literally never won. This is back in the day when they’d have the brown paper bags over their head with the eyes cut out. The year I got down there in 1987, we’ve got on this amazing role and it did not lose. We were beating San Francisco and this was back when Joe Montana was the quarterback and made it into the playoffs. It was the first time they’d ever won on that city. It just went crazy. I always come from a winning organization. It was bizarre to me we beat Cleveland the first game. Bernie Kosar was the quarterback, and everybody came in. The entire locker rooms were sobbing, crying. I was like, “We won. What’s the big deal?” I didn’t get the pain that they had gone through for twenty plus years.
I think, what it is, Mark, is everywhere you go, you win. It’s you. You’re the key.
There’s an outside shot I can make it back on one of these teams. As you go through and navigating you mentioned that you went nineteen years and there were ups and downs. It sounds like it’s a big lorry ride all the way through. There’s injury, there’s being traded, there’s being cut, there is being picked back up. Now, you’re married and have a family. You’re trying to look for that stability and that’s a hard thing to do in that particular profession. How did you navigate it? I know you’ve got four kids, how did you navigate it with your family and your children?
First of all, I was fortunate to have a great partner, my wife Stacy. We met at the University of Washington. In the weight room of all places at the leg extension machine. Stacy ran track and cross country at the University of Washington. I met her second year there. She’s a wonderful woman and we’ve been married for years now. We have four children. The toughest time, raising a family, having young kids while you’re playing, obviously you have to manage your time well but you miss a lot. You know the schedule and the time commitment that’s necessary. The hardest part for me was training camp. You take off four or five weeks and you don’t see your family.
I’ve added up all my training camps and the time that I was away from home and it’s about a year and a half. It’s over a year of time that you’re away if you add all those years up. It’s difficult, but you learn the importance of when you’re with your kids, you’ve got to be with your kids. You don’t get a lot of time, but the time that you do have, you have to make it count. I did my best to be at everything I could. I was fortunate I landed in some places. I played on some teams where the family was important, with coaches understood that these guys listening, on Tuesdays, it’s their day off. They need to spend time with their families. We made it work and I missed a lot, but I wouldn’t trade it at all. My children had great experiences with their dad being in the NFL and got to experience a lot of things that a lot of kids weren’t able to do. We’ve made it work but it goes back to my wife. She’s a great support, my biggest fan. Together, we simply made it work with our children.Football is a great game, but it can be a tough business. Click To Tweet
I also have had Morten Andersen on the pod and he played for 25 years. He’s got the longest tenure of any NFL player ever. We went through the similar math or something crazy, like two years. He spent away in training camps and everything else. When you start talking about 25 years doing anything, let alone nineteen, it’s an incredible feat of being an Iron Man to make it that far and navigating all the different things you have to do. As you have progressed forward, I know that you have worked for ESPN. You’re now a high school football coach. I also read about the Whataburger franchises. Are you still involved in those?
No, those are gone. It was a business I was in for probably five or six years. We brought it to Jacksonville and it’s still going, but I’m no longer a part of those here locally.
As you blast forward, what is your career path?
I do have a few things. I do some local television. I have a TV show, basically just to cover the Jaguars here. I do some broadcasting in the preseason for them. I coach high school football at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville. We’re about ready to go into our sixth season. We don’t have a great a program in comparison to other big high school football programs in Florida, but our boys will compete. They play hard. The most rewarding part of it is the opportunity to invest in these young men’s lives. You’d agree on the football field you learned the importance of hard work, teamwork and leadership overcoming adversity. That’s what I learned on the football field and those are the type of values and things that we’re trying to communicate and teach our young men.
We do our best to win on Friday Nights. The other six days, it’s character development and trying to build leaders, get them ready for college and for down the road.
For me it’s very rewarding. I’ve got a lot of things going on. I also work with the Legends Community, the NFL Alumni Group that started about five years out of the League Office. What we try to do is connect former players like yourself with resources and opportunities that are available to former players. Connect them to different opportunities, inform them about benefits and different things that they have available to them, but try to connect them with each other, connect them with their teams. Mark, whether you played three years or thirteen years now, you’re part of a select group and it is a brotherhood. It is a family. We’re doing our best to try to keep those guys connected. It’s a great gig. I enjoy working with the former players.
It’s a blessing for me to be able to talk to guys like you. Former guys who are doing great things. What you’re doing right now going back to your high school coaching is you’re paying it forward. You’re taking all these years and years and all these great football players, Brett Favre and Drew Brees and all these other guys that you’ve played with under and around. Imparting that knowledge upon these young kids who are so impressionable and looking for those mentors. As you know, making it to the NFL, let alone college, as you go higher and higher, the guys start dropping off left and right.
It’s about what you’re learning, which is going to affect tomorrow and making the best people that they can be in their life. Well done to you. Also, back on the Legends back in the day, they didn’t have any programs. The NFL, I’ve got to give them total kudos for developing now programs across the board between education, connecting, health and everything else where we can go out and connect with people. I saw something here in LA, a chapter meeting in downtown LA, which I’ve been to before where I felt isolated and it’s great to reconnect with these guys and put them back in a room. Even though I didn’t play with most of them we all have that same thing that we did, which was it’s a special honor to be part of that community. It sounds like you’re doing great things, continued success to you. It’s a pleasure and honor that you came on the show. Thank you.
Mark, I enjoyed it. Thank you very much.