Raiders legend Charles Woodson was recruited to the University of Michigan by a coaching staff he never got to play for. A sudden regime change elevated Lloyd Carr to head coach and put Vance Bedford in charge of Woodson’s development.
Woodson met Michigan’s new defensive backs coach before the 1995 season and came away with a distinct impression.
“I thought he was a cocky, arrogant young coach,” Woodson said. “He reminded me a lot of myself. That’s probably why we related to each other.”
Woodson was the best prep football player in the state of Ohio that year, a supreme talent who knew exactly how good he was. He had all the accolades to prove it, but Bedford didn’t care.
He refused to join the chorus of those inflating Woodson’s ego. Bedford didn’t give supreme athletic gifts preferential treatment.
“Charles needed to be coached hard,” Bedford said. “Being a superstar in high school, at first I coached him harder than some others. so I could get him to think the Michigan way.”
Assimilation didn’t come easy. Woodson bucked and then Bedford tightened reins several times, but a lasting respect was formed during this battle of wills.
“We clashed a little bit because we were a lot alike, but that turned out to be a good thing,” Woodson said. “We went head to head a little bit, but turned out to be a great relationship.”
It’s a relationship Woodson holds dear to this day, one he credits for launching a Hall of Fame career. That’s why the legendary Raider, one of the greatest defensive backs in the history of college and professional football is honoring Bedford at the Fifth Annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards on Wednesday night.
The mission of Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards is to give professional athletes an opportunity to acknowledge coaches who have been influential to their success while also raising money and awareness for Coaching Corps, a nonprofit that provides youth in underserved areas access to trained coaches in a variety of sports.
Woodson will be one of several prominent Bay Area athletes honoring coaches who impacted their lives on and off the field at the annual gala, which will be broadcast on Sunday at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.
“He took raw talent and molded me into a guy who could be the best player on the field at that cornerback position,” Woodson said. “It all started in 1995. He took a young player and imparted wisdom over time. In 1998, he told me, ‘just go out and play football. I’ve given you all I can give you as a coach. Now it’s time to take all of that and be the best player in the country.’
Coach Bedford got me to that level, which is why I’m so very proud to honor him in this way.”
That level was good enough to win the Heisman Trophy and help Michigan win a national championship. That level was the foundation of an excellent NFL career, with the Raiders and Green Bay Packers and then the Raiders again. Woodson won a Super Bowl and a defensive player of the year award. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro and a nine-time Pro Bowler, with numerous NFL records to his credit.
He’s widely considered among the greatest to ever play over 18 professional seasons. He was tutored by several excellent coaches, none more influential than Bedford.
“I tried to instill hard work and work ethic,” Bedford said. “Things came easy to Charles but sometimes everyone hits a bump in the road. It was my responsibility to prepare him for those moments.”