Jim Schwartz’s eyes began to light up before the question was finished.
As soon as Schwartz heard the name Brandon Graham, he couldn’t hold back a wide smile.
The same Brandon Graham who was written off as a bust, the same Brandon Graham who is in his 11th NFL season, the same Brandon Graham whom Schwartz coached in the Senior Bowl and the Super Bowl finally got his first Pro Bowl nod on Monday.
“Man, there were some tears shed in the coaching staff rooms last night,” Schwartz said. “Just a totally deserving guy. He’s had a long career and he’s been a very good player for a long time. But to get his first Pro Bowl nod, it sort of choked everybody up. Because we know what kind of guy … I mean, you guys know what kind of guy he is. I think the fans know what kind of guy he is.
“He persevered through some tough times early in his career. He’s battled some injuries, he’s an incredibly hard worker, he plays with a lot of spirit. All the things you respect about a player, Brandon Graham personifies. So for him to get that nod was big.”
When asked for his favorite Graham story, Schwartz went back to 2010, when he was the head coach for the North team at the annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. That week, he got to coach a young Graham, who was about to enter the NFL draft out of Michigan.
After coaching Graham during the week, Schwartz gathered his North All-Stars coaching staff and told them he would give out $500 to the coach who picked the MVP of the game. The only catch was that Schwartz got to make the first pick.
Guess who he took?
Guess who won the MVP?
“So I didn’t have to give out any money to anybody,” Schwartz said.
Graham in that game had two sacks and a forced fumble to help lead the North to a 31-13 win over Tim Tebow and the South. And that game helped propel Graham into the top half of the first round in 2010. The Eagles took him at No. 13 overall; he’s their longest-tenured defensive player.
So maybe Schwartz had a role in helping Graham get to the Eagles and eventually coached him in the biggest game in franchise history, a game in which Graham made one of the biggest plays in franchise history. It’s amazing how some things work out.
But it wasn’t like Graham found success instantly in Philly. He had to work for it. Graham had to overcome microfracture surgery after his first season. Then he had to overcome the “bust” label that was attached to him because he wasn’t Earl Thomas or Jason Pierre-Paul. Then he had to endure a scheme change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and then back to a 4-3.
And through it all, he remained the same positive and upbeat Brandon Graham that he’s always been.
“It’s tough business in the NFL,” Schwartz said. “There’s a lot of scrutiny from the fans, from the media, from the locker room, scrutiny from the coaches. It’s tough to deal with. He never lost his faith, he never wavered and he got past that and he has gone on to have an outstanding career. And he has a lot left on his career.”