Picture Jeff Stoutland at practice with Jordan Mailata for the first time.
It was OTAs in the spring of 2018, and Mailata, as we all know by now, had never played organized football on any level.
Not a snap.
Raw doesn’t begin to describe him. Mailata didn't even know how to put his helmet on.
Stoutland is a magician when it comes to coaching offensive line. He’s as good as there is in the business. But nothing prepared him for the challenge of being coached by Stoutland.
Actually, one thing prepared him.
Recruiting in Texas as a college coach.
“You know the little guys?” Stoutland asked. “When I used to recruit Texas (high schools) years ago, I used to go to practice, but then I’d see the little guys over to the side, the little guys’ deal, and I’d go over and watch."
So picture a young Jeff Stoutland watching a Texas high school football practice, and then strolling over to another field to watch the itty-bitty Pop Warner kids running around learning the basics.
“They would put telephone poles down on the ground and they’d have these little guys and they’d be in the middle and they’d just fight each other, just try to block through the end of the pole,” Stoutland said in reverence. “And I’d be like, ‘This is unbelievable.’ But they learned toughness, they learned how to be (football players).
“Jordan never had to do that ever in football. And I’m like, ‘Well, I guess I gotta be like that coach.’”
Stoutland didn’t set down telephone poles and make Mailata fight his teammates, but he did start from scratch with Mailata three years ago.
And now Mailata is a very good left tackle with a new $64 million contract extension.
And on Friday, Stoutland spoke about how he helped Mailata get from Point A to Point B.
“Jordan never played football,” Stoutland says now, marveling at the thought. “He never played Pop Warner football, he never played high school football.
“Sometimes Jordan (thought), ‘God, this guy. ‘Can you let up on me a little bit?” Stoutland said with a laugh. “No. No! But it’s for your own good.
"But he knows I care an awful lot about Jordan. I care about all the players. But I understand my responsibility and I understand what we have to do to get this player to be the best he can be, and we’re not letting up from that.”
Stoutland started coaching college football in 1984 at Southern Connecticut and coached college ball through 2012. Chip Kelly brought him to the NFL in 2013 and he’s still here.
And he said that experience of coaching for 30 years on the college level was the perfect training for working with Mailata.
Because most NFL position coaches don’t have to start from scratch with a 21-year-old Australian rugby player who doesn't know how to put on shoulder pads.
“I would say the match between Jordan and I is really perfect because I coached in college for 30 years before coming to the National Football League and had the opportunity to develop a lot of young players, and so when you do that from the ground up, you understand what it takes to develop a player,” he said.
“And this was a guy that needed that. He doesn’t know anything about the game of football and we had to go back to those times and really develop him from that standpoint. And he’s still developing and he’s doing a wonderful job of it.”
Stoutland recalled the first time he saw Mailata when he was meeting with prospective NFL teams at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“When I worked him out, I was like, ‘Wow, for a guy his size, he just was extraordinary.’ And I knew he didn’t play any football, so we also did an interview with him in the classroom.
"I taught him something and then I erased it off the grease board and I said, ‘I’m coming back tomorrow at this time and I’m going to have you teach me what I just taught you.’ And he said he ran back in after I left and tried to see the stains on the grease board.”
And how did it go the next day when Stoutland came back?
Stout ponders the question for a moment and then says: “I would say that he needed to come here and let me coach him.”