Adam Coon Returns to Wrestling: The Interview (Part Two)

Adam Coon with the Tennessee Titans (photo courtesy of Tennessee Titans)

In conjunction with yesterday's announcement that Adam Coon is returning to the mat, his sister Maddie, has conducted a long-form interview with Adam to get into more detail about his decision, along with his wrestling and football career.

Since this is a lengthy interview with plenty of information that Adam has not discussed publicity, it will be broken up into two parts.

Part One will consist of the news itself along with the logistics involved, Adam's initial interest in football, the recruiting process, and the possibility of Adam playing football for the Wolverines.

Part Two is largely dedicated to Adam's NFL experience

MC: So, when did you officially make the football transition and how did that work?

AC: It was kind of a twofold thing. I wasn't ready to transition over to football after I was done wrestling, but I remember in 2018 after the NCAA Championship, I remember on the bus ride home, I got a few different - ON THE BUS- I got two different phone calls.

One was from my now-agent and the other one was from the Titan's head coach, Coach Vrabel. They called me up and the agent wanted to just talk and get to know me and introduce me to the process because the University of Michigan Athletics did a fantastic job of presenting my story. They did this big article and they were constantly posting about how I had these three major goals in life and I wanted to compete in the Olympics, win medals, I wanted to give my hand at the NFL and try to make a team and obviously, the astronaut thing was blown WAY out of proportion! I loved every second of it!

They did a great job showing that story and presenting it so once the word got out that you have this high-caliber athlete, a heavyweight wrestler who was cutting to make heavyweight so he has the size, who has some football experience in high school, didn't have the college experience, but I was starting to get some attention.

So Coach Vrabel called me, my agent called me, and they both basically asked the same question: "Do you want to play football?" and I basically told them "um, let me think about it. I just got off the mat less than 12 hours ago. Let me think about it." I took a couple weeks to kinda think about what I wanted to do and during that time, I had more coaches calling me asking "hey do you have an interest in playing football?" I basically told them all the same: "I don't know." After going through that I realized, no. My first goal is to try to make a world team, try to get on that podium, try to make a run at the Olympics. That was the first goal because I kinda had that feeling that if I were to pursue football at this time, yes I might be successful, yes I might get all that stuff, but I would've gone and pursued that route having never given the Senior level World Championships or Olympics a chance.

I felt like if I had gone down that path and become successful and stayed on that football path, I would never get that attempt. I would have never tried at one of my three life goals and that didn't make sense to me. I decided at that point that I was going to try to make the 2020 Olympic team. So I basically told them "hey guys, we're gonna back off for two years and in two years, I'll give you a call and see if you guys are still interested in giving me a try out so that's where I ended that one.

2020 rolls around and I tried to make the Olympic team. We all know 2020 was absolutely hectic with the Olympic process where the 2020 Olympics didn't happen for over a year later and they postponed a lot of stuff, so it ended up being three years. I failed to make the Olympic team, or I should say wrestle in the Olympics. I guess technically-

MC: You made the team!

AC: I did technically make the team, but I never wrestled in the Olympics, so it's one of those asterisk-type things of did I actually do it or not. At that point, I remember having conversations with Coach Sean Bormet and family and I kinda came to the realization that that loss hit me really hard. I mean it was a big thing that I missed out on and I took it really hard and I just couldn't see myself popping back on the mat anytime soon. Normally after losses, I would get off the bus and I would start working out, just because I couldn't go to sleep because I was so angry that I lost and I was going to train to be better right then and there.

Adam Coon at the Last Chance Qualifier for the 2020 Olympic Games (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo;

MC: And you have the mentality where you have to figure out how you're going to fix it.

AC: Yeah! How am I going to get better? How am I going to fix this? How am I never going to lose like that again? How am I going to be better the next time? How do I not lose to a guy like that? How do I find a way to win? All of these things. I had none of that after I got back from Bulgaria. I had no drive. I had no interest in lifting weights. I had no interest in going for a run. I had no interest in getting on the mat to the point of even a week off wasn't enough. That bothered me because I'm normally like, 'Alright you need to take a week off' and it ends up being three days because I can't stand it. Usually, I'm getting kicked out of the room because "you need to take a break" and I just had no interest in going.

I talked it over with a bunch of people and I remember talking with Coach Bormet and started asking the questions "how did you know it was time to hang up your shoes?" I started asking those questions and I remember him asking me "What would you do if you weren't wrestling? If you would've never chosen wrestling, what would you do?" So, I told him, "I would've gone football. I would've played football in college." And he said "so go play football."

Made sense. So I kinda thought about it for a while and decided, you know what? Yeah. I didn't achieve what I wanted, but I gave it an honest shot. I gave it an honest shot and I didn't make the Olympics, but if I'm going to go for it in the NFL and give that a shot, I gotta go for it now. I need a change of pace, I have no interest in wrestling at this point.

MC: You got your 'what ifs' out of the way.

AC: Yep. So I said "you know what? Let's do it!" So I called up my agent and he pretty much says "hey where do you want to go? These are the places still interested in you" and one of them ended up being the Tennessee Titans and my first phone call that I ever got was Coach Vrabel, so I wanted to call him up. We called him up and I got word from him probably within the hour and it was "when are you ready for a tryout?"

I thought it was going to be a long process but no, they were ready to fly me out the next day if I was ready. I hadn't done any football or any of that stuff so my agent goes "why don't we just call it two weeks?" so I spent the next two weeks trying to get into my best attempt at a football shape (laughs hard) and try to put on a little bit of weight just to be respectable when I stepped on that scale (laughs) for the tryout and said "yeah okay let's go for a tryout and see what happens." (keeps laughing)

MC: So for your last few years cutting weight for wrestling, did you ever then think 'oh crap I need to gain weight now?'

AC: Oh no it was never an 'oh crap,' it was an 'oh yeah!' (laughs) Because then it was like if I felt like eating this amount- you know because when you're cutting weight, even if you're on weight, especially if you're typically heavier, you will have your little treats here and there, but you never indulge every single time and I reached the point where if I wanted it, I ate it. (laughs)

It's just what it came to. I didn't have to limit myself and I naturally gained the weight, not to the point of where I was overweight, but enough where my body just grew into my frame. I had been cutting for so long that it just grew into a frame of 300 pounds and I was like 'oh. This is what it feels like.' (laughs) I mean, yeah, I was carrying a little more fat than when I was wrestling but I still felt good. I still felt good movement-wise.

MC: Okay, I've gotta ask for everyone else because I've learned that football operates very differently from wrestling, especially even if you just saying that they were flying you out for a tryout. That is not something you see in wrestling. It's more like "you're going to get a ride with my college roommate's friend who lives in the next town over." So what is the whole football scene like? How is that different? Was it a huge culture shock?

AC: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It's… it's just wild how- there's so much money in it. The one thing that was just wild was just Gatorades everywhere, sweet teas (cause you know we're in the south), they had buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that you could eat at all times. And the other weird part was just how much time you spent at the facility. I'm used to wrestling practice where the busiest you'd have is like 1.5-2 hour technique session in the morning and then in the afternoon, you'd have an actual full-on practice for 1.5-2 hours. So four hours you're required to be there and then whatever work you put in outside of that. Those are the busiest days you have.

No. In football, you're in at 6 am, if you're okay with being there right on time. If you want to be there early, you get there even earlier. Well, first you get breakfast, you might have to go do recovery or stuff in the early morning to kinda get things woken up, you might have to go to training staff to do all those different things. Usually, coaches are already there studying film to prep for the day. Then depending on what time you're there, you have an hour and a half practice, but then you have 57 hours of film (laughs) that they seem to pack in there in one day and you have your 14 different meetings. Obviously, I'm exaggerating here but yeah it was a full day. You're in there at 6 am and you're out by 7 (laughs hard).

MC: It's more like a full-time job.

AC: Yeah, it was a full-time job, wrestling is too but it's different. The workouts are different because obviously conditioning and cardio are necessary, but not to the level that wrestling is, but explosivity and collision and being able to stay healthy were emphasized so much more in football than anything in wrestling. Like if anything is tweaking in football- people talk about how they're soft because if you have anything tweaked you've gotta take time off whereas in wrestling you just wrestle through it. Well, with how collisions and the high explosivity goes, those tweaks turn into some nasty stuff if you don't get them handled, just because of the level you have to be at.

So like there was stuff that I had to play through, but then there was other stuff… that I probably should've fought through because I got cut because of it (laughs) but you find a way to play through some stuff but also if you're making multi-million dollars just to be on the team, and you're not necessarily on that cut watch that rookies are, yeah you're gonna take that time off because your body is worth millions of dollars and you're not going to mess up a season and get cut or just wait three weeks to get it healed up. So there's a lot of those different things that come into play.

Wrestling? You play through injuries. Football? If you're high up on the roster anyway, no, you take that time off.

Adam Coon with the Tennessee Titans (photo courtesy of Tennessee Titans)

MC: You're getting that paycheck whether you're injured or not.

AC: Exactly. And that was the other thing, too, was just the amount of money that was in it was just another shock, too. I remember when I first got offered that contract and I took a look at the number and was like "holy moly! This is the league minimum?! Dang!!" (laughs hard) and then realized that the contracts really don't mean much. It's pretty much like 'if you can make this team, this is what we'll pay you but we can cut you at any time.' So the contracts really don't mean too much in my opinion.

MC: When you first explained your first contract to me, to me it sounded more like a non-compete clause. Like 'you're with us, until we decide we don't want you, and then maybe you might be able to play for someone else.'

AC: Yeah, I mean a little bit of that, but there was some player protection at the same time.

MC: Oh, yeah, for sure!

AC: Like 'we will provide these things, we will do this as long as you're on the team. You will provide this as long as you wear our stuff.' That type of stuff. And there is stuff in there where if you get injured -which the injury I had was a minor injury that only took a couple weeks to get better- so if you get injured during actual practice time or game play, while on the roster, in the facility, using… you know, all that fun stuff, they owe you for the injury. So for the two weeks that I was out were preseason, so I still got preseason pay. Which by the way, for those wondering, is nothing compared to the actual money you make in-season. Those contracts they offer, the league minimum, are divvied out of the seventeen/eighteen weeks of the season. What you make early on is actually semi-comparable to what the wrestlers are making.

MC: Oo. That's a bummer. (laughs)

AC: (laughs) Yes. I basically made wrestling pay all the way through (laughing) because I never made a regular-season roster, where I would've actually seen some cash.

MC: So sad! (laughs) So you said that you called Vrabel back so obviously the first step was with the Titans, but what was your pathway after that through the NFL?

AC: So, I was with the Titans, I came in a little bit later than most of the guys. I came in towards the end of OTAs which is basically their optional training

Adam Coon with the Tennessee Titans (photo courtesy of Tennessee Titans)

MC: Was it mostly rookies there at that time?

AC: By the time that I got in, no, because I got in basically the week before the mandatory minicamp that brings all the vets in, so most of the vets were in town trying to get a week of workouts in at least. There were a bunch of guys that were in for a lot longer, but they were at least trying to stretch their legs and get ready for the mini-camps, so yeah, there were a lot of vets there. But I came in late, so the fun part with that one is they break apart the playbook so the rookies don't have to swallow the whole playbook all at once, they break it apart and do what they call "installs'' and just do a little bit of the playbook each time. There's a total of like 11 installs and I came in on install 11. So I did have to eat the entire playbook all at once (laughs).

MC: I do remember you saying that your study material on the flight back was plays.

AC: And back and forth and at nights and over meals and yeah I was studying that playbook like crazy because, unlike the rest of the guys, I had to learn the plays and the rules of football (laughs). I didn't know what I was doing at all, let alone the techniques that go with the individual plays and stuff. So I came in at OTAs and then I progressed to going to their training camp leading up to preseason and during one of the practices in the preseason I ended up taking a collision to the head that ended up jolting my neck and I had to get that checked out and as is kinda the way with the NFL, if you're injured and aren't useful, they look for a replacement. So I was cut and then basically had to train on my own at that point, so I went back home and trained for a few weeks and tried to get back into the league. I called the Titans back up and was like "hey I'm no longer injured and ready to play again" but they had already filled spots and were moving forward and just didn't have room to bring me in.

So we opened ourselves up to the rest of the league just to figure out who was interested now. I first got a tryout with the Colts right around week 4 or 5 of the season, somewhere around that time, so some fun stories from there, but can be told at a later time. (laughs) So I had my tryout with them and they told me they had some interest but the thing that I lacked was experience and they hoped to bring in some experience. December, sometime, I ended up having another tryout with the Giants and was basically told the same things: I'm athletic, they like what they see, I'm just raw and kinda lacking experience. So they were all emphasizing getting experience so I'm trying to figure out how to experience without playing on a team so that was fun trying to figure all that out. Basically, I was just working all the drills and filmed stuff just to show improvement in my footwork and all the drills that I did with the Titans and at the two tryouts. So I'm filming myself and trying to send things to other coaches that I make along the way just to show that I'm improving with the techniques.

My training at this time was basically just going to the weight room at the high school- I went back home to Fowlerville- worked out at the high school and then while the kids were in school I went out to the football field all fall and winter just doing footwork- in the snow, in the cold, whatever, just working footwork pretty much every day just to try to show that I can get better.

I started hitting, taping up bags to trees or whatever I could just to start hitting some things just so I could get used to that type of pressure. I had to get really creative with my training.

MC: You're getting really good at Rocky-style workouts because you did that over quarantine for wrestling, too!

AC: (laughs) Yeah! I had to do a lot more of that with the football training too just to figure out all that fun stuff, yes! (laughs) So basically that ends that season, I don't see any more practice times at all. The OTAs come around for the next season and we're making calls trying to get me on a team at any point, just anything. I get a call, excuse me, prior to OTAs-

MC: That was this spring, right? 2022?

AC: Yes, this spring, 2022. I get a call from the Atlanta Falcons saying that they want to invite me to the rookie minicamp, so they're bringing in their draft picks and any other rookies to take a look at. I have to play there for a bit, it was a three-day camp and that was a lot of fun doing that one. It was nice to be back in a facility and not be going through a 5-15 minute tryout and actually going through like a 3-day, fully involved, full-day camp, so that was really fun just to be back on the field again.

You know, all the work I had done was paying off. I was able to actually play. It was great! So, I got to do that and did well enough that they called me into the office afterward and basically told me: "Hey, you showed a lot of improvement and most improved player over the last three days, we really liked what we see, let's progress to the next step here" and they invited me to the mandatory minicamp for all the vets. They didn't have spots for me, necessarily, to bring me to OTAs, but they wanted to see me again at the camp in the next, I think it was like three or four weeks later. So that was a nice highlight and I went back home and trained hard to make sure I was ready to go at veteran style and not rookie style. You know, it's camp so I wanted to make sure things were put in place.

So I went to that camp and again, had a blast, had a really fun time getting to do all of that stuff. They called me into the office again, that's when I was told pretty much the same thing that the other places told me: "we like what we see, I think you're very athletic, checking all the boxes of what we're looking for, just you're raw and lacking experience." But this time, they actually gave me some contact information for someone to call. I ended up going down to Texas to the NFL Alumni Academy, which their whole thing is, they try to bring in football players that either haven't made it in the league yet or those that have made it and are trying to get back into the league. The idea is that they put you through an NFL-level camp and then they send out film to all 32 teams and these are all former NFL coaches and players, by the way, that run the camp, and they're putting their stamp of approval on all of the guys that are there saying either: "yes, this person's ready to play" or "no, they're not." If they say "yes, they're ready to play," they also tell "here's the strengths, here's the weaknesses" so it's a full scouting report from former coaches and athletes given to the current coaches. I was there for three weeks working through their program. The interesting thing that they had at the end is for those that weren't picked up by NFL teams, to gain more experience, you had a guaranteed XFL contract coming out of it.

So, that's where that kinda came to and I did my time there and that's pretty much the last stop when it came to football. After that point, I was offered contracts for the USFL and was offered a Letter of Intent for the XFL and that's when I came to the decision of 'is this what I want to continue to pursue?' and realized my way back into the NFL was to do some time here and I don't know how long it would be, I don't know if it was possible, but I would need to go through these leagues in order to get there. I saw the road in front of me and that's when I had to make my decision if this was where I was going to continue on or if I was going to make a career change.

MC: But you didn't have that nagging feeling of "I need to try this" like you did with wrestling and making the Senior Level team.

AC: So when it comes down to the three goals that I had, the making the Olympic Team, playing in the NFL, and going to space, I looked at where I was in life and figured that I still have an opportunity for the space because you can be much older and still go into space, not necessarily with wrestling and football. I'm starting to get to the age where when I choose the route I want to go, this is the final route. There is no transitioning back. There is no… any of that stuff, I've kinda reached that point, so I had to look at that I had come just shy of wrestling in the Olympics and I came just shy of playing in the NFL and I needed to make the choice: which one was I okay leaving as just shy?

I was okay, I had my shot at the NFL, I gave it my all and I found out what I needed to find out and that was exactly what caliber I could be at in the NFL and I found my answer. It felt like I didn't with wrestling, so that's why I chose to come back to wrestling.

I still have some questions that I have unanswered. I need to know, can I make another world team? And if I do, can I step on the podium? Can I make the Olympic team and actually wrestle in the Olympics? There are still all these question marks in my mind of where can I actually go, even after a year and a half of cross-training? NFL: I felt like my questions are answered, I know what it would take to get back, I know what route I would need to go to and I know the level of where I would need to get to that I wasn't currently at. I felt that for me, personally, I would rather spend my energy elsewhere in the wrestling world than to continue to pursue down that path.

MC: I also have to ask about Steven Neal because he was always a huge deal in our house growing up because of the wrestling and then football thing, like you said, but you got to run a heavyweight camp with Steven Neal through U of M with Mason Parris a few years ago. What was that like? I mean he was a huge name in our house!

AC: Oh yeah! It was a lot of fun! When Coach Bormet first told me he was coming to help out with the camp, I was so excited because by that point, Coach Bormet knows him pretty well and has his contact information and it goes back to early on when I was telling him "oh have you ever heard of the guy Steven Neal?" " Yeah, I know him. I worked with him at camps. Do you want his phone number" Um, YES! So I talked to him a couple times just to talk about his journey, this was pre-football, too. I had asked about his journey and all his different things just to see what was going on and then to hear that he was coming down to run camp with us, that was just awesome to actually get to see the guy in person, talk with him and just run all these different things. Since I moved to football I also called him a few times there from stuff like "hey, how's it going?" to "dude how do you read a playbook? What is going on? How did you do this?" And then hearing all these different stories. The fun part of it, too, is he played for the Patriots, as did Coach Vrabel. They were teammates. So it was really fun to also talk to Coach Vrabel about that, too.

MC: Did he have any fun Steven Neal stories?

AC: OH... He had some GREAT stories that I don't think are necessarily worth repeating here (laughs) but you can imagine the wrestler transitioning over to football. I made a lot of mistakes, as did Steve, so it was fun to hear those stories because I could say that I was on the right path. Like, he was making some of the same mistakes that I was, but also making different ones and he became so successful that I knew was still on the right path. It's not like I was completely out of my element. So that was nice to hear and then also just talking with Steve himself, he was telling me the same thing, "just keep working it, this is how it's done, this is how things work, this is how things run in the NFL," so he was helping me out along the way so that was cool to have that contact and to be able to rely on him to help me through some situations that I wasn't sure how they would work. I appreciate having him as a contact.

MC: Definitely pretty cool because like I said, someone that was a big name at our house, we all looked up to him, and you not only got to talk to him and get advice but now have a personal relationship with him has got to be super cool. Well, it looks like Mom's calling us to dinner so I guess we're done. (laughs) Time to go eat!

AC: Sounds good!


Login or Register to post a comment