MOBILE, Ala. - The decision to become a coach came 20 years ago. After his Titans lost the Super Bowl.
"By a yard," said Steve Jackson on Tuesday, the Bengals new cornerbacks coach, setting some kind of a franchise record by working his first practice less than 48 hours after he agreed to a deal.
Rams linebacker Mike Jones famously made the stop on Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the 1 at the gun in Atlanta, but Jackson's second career was just beginning.
"Gregg Williams became the head coach in Buffalo and he asked me ask to come play or coach," Jackson said of his Titans defensive coordinator. "My body was banged up. I figured I may have another year or I can coach a lot longer."
That's just the kind of hard-nosed mentality head coach Zac Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo wanted to make sure they had in this off-season overhaul of the defense when they teamed Jackson with returning safeties coach Robert Livingston.
And Jackson is old-school-pressure-in your-face all the way. An honest-to-goodness-in-the-box safety (and sometimes cornerback) from the rough-and-tumble 1990s AFC Central he spent tackling Corey Dillon, Jerome Bettis, Bam Foster, Fred Taylor and any other Pro Bowl running back you can think of.
You want the Bengals corners to tackle? Mr. Jackson will demand it after doing it himself for nine seasons and 118 games from 1991-99 in a backup role for his hometown Oilers before they moved to Nashville. He calls playing with Warren Moon "a dream come true," after growing up watching Earl Campbell and Dan Pastorini throwing it around."
"Anytime you see a guy play nine years for the same team that usually tells you what the coaching staff thought about him," Taylor said. "He got a chance to play in the Super Bowl. We are looking for guys … we want to play in the Super Bowl. Guys who can bring that experience to the table and know what it takes to be there. He's been on a lot of great teams as a player and as a coach."
Jackson, who comes to Cincinnati after two years as the Jets safeties coach, got accolades for developing Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye into what some believe is the NFL's best safety tandem. He's worked all but one of his 15 seasons with safeties, coaching the Lions corners in 2013 under head coach Jim Schwartz in Detroit.
"He's coached corners over the course of his career as well. I think he brings a lot of energy to the table," Taylor said. "He certainly brings a physical presence. If you look at him, he looks like he can play right now. He has great energy and great experience. He's handled a lot of different types of players and a lot of different types of personalities. I'm excited for what he brings to the table."
As Jackson will tell you, safeties and corners have similar tasks.
"(Coaching corners) isn't a lot of adjustment," Jackson said. "At the end of the day it's still football. It's about competing and denying the offense the opportunity to catch the ball."
Taylor likes the fact that the team that kept Jackson around played in eight playoff games during his run that included some memorable games against the Bengals in Cincy. In 1994, quarterback Jeff Blake and wide receiver Carl Pickens got Oilers head coach Jack Pardee fired the day after Pickens caught 11 balls for 188 yards and in 1997 Corey Dillon set the NFL rookie rushing record with 246 against the Tennessee Oilers.
"Zero," said Jackson of what he remembers of those days. "A defensive back has to have a short memory."
But Jackson was 8-4 when he played the Bengals on four playoff teams, although he had none of his 13 interceptions against them. He's got plenty in the memory bank from his coaches, counting Gregg Williams, Jeff Fisher (Pardee's successor in Houston) and Dick LeBeau as influential in his philosophy. He hooked up with LeBeau twice, in Buffalo and 15 years later in Tennessee, where he was the safeties coach for the Titans from 2016-17.
"Pressure," said Jackson of what he got from LeBeau, the former Bengals head coach. "Pressure. Pressure. Apply pressure and see who breaks. Jeff teaches a lot about game situations, situational football, and that's one thing I really emphasize. Know the situation."
FAMILIAR FACE: Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan had to laugh when asked if he had any reaction to dad Bill Callahan, one of the more respected assistants in the league, being named the Browns offensive line coach.
"I have to disown my family. My brother's fiancée comes from Cleveland. I don't think I'll ever talk to my family again," said Callahan, before getting serious. "It's great. I'm happy for him. There are only 32 of those jobs in the world. I don't have to coach against him."
It also means Taylor has to coach against one of his mentors, his former head coach at Nebraska.
"I have high respect for him. I always thought he helped me become a better player and really challenged me in a lot of ways that some coaches aren't able to do," Taylor said. "I've always had high opinions of him. I don't want good coaches in our division, so hopefully that (report) isn't true."
TWO A.J. GREEN UPDATES: Yes, wide receiver A.J. Green is most definitely in their plans as free agency looms.
"Oh, absolutely. He's a big priority for us," Taylor said. "Things will have to work out over the course of the spring, but we certainly plan on A.J. being in the fold next year. He's back healthy and we know that's a huge weapon that will certainly benefit us."
Credit Jay Morrison of The Athletic for the line of the day when he asked Taylor if A.J. Green was practicing Tuesday. He meant, of course, Oklahoma State corner A.J. Green.
"That's pretty cool," said Alvin James Green of playing for the Bengals coaches. "They're coaching a prospect with the same name looking to make his name."
Green said he always found it fun there was an NFL player with the same name and has followed him now and then. He's projected somewhere between the third and fifth rounds, but he's a longish (6-1) guy who can help himself this week.
"I'm trying to show (the scouts) I'm an all-around corner," Green said. "I'm a 1, 2 or 3 and you can plug me in no matter the scheme."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Thanks to Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, here are two guys to watch on the South defensive front: South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw in the middle and Alabama edge rusher Terrell Lewis, a player Lapham thinks can also drop back a linebacker. They've got no shot at Kinlaw at No. 33, but maybe Lewis.
After going 4-12 last season, the 49ers coached this game. Now they're going to Miami for the Super Bowl, calling the turnaround "From Mobile to Miami." Can the Bengals go from Mobile Bay to L.A., site of next season's big game?
"They were able to add some critical pieces during the offseason through the draft and free agency," Taylor said. "Their coaching staff had been there for three years and calling the same system. You knew playing them last year that this team was headed in the right direction … This year they kind of flipped the switch there."