In the days after Indiana football beat Michigan, former Hoosier quarterback Antwaan Randle El definitely wore his alma mater’s colors to work.
It’s hard to brag about a man like Tom Brady.
Brady, the timeless wonder, joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ahead of the 2020 season, reminding Randle El, an offensive assistant, of a competition against IU in 1999 where he drove Michigan across the field and milked the clock in the fourth quarter a game-deciding field goal with 18 seconds left.
That was Brady’s last season in Michigan. Randle El was in his second campaign at IU.
All these years later, Brady is still behind the center and Randle El is in the early stages of a coaching career. But IU beat Michigan in November – breaking a streak of 24 losses in the series – and Randle El wore his IU jersey at the Bucs facility.
Randle El had a word with Brady, or “Six” as he is known, for his six Super Bowl wins.
“They call you ‘Six’ but it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if you don’t win this year. We live in the now, ”said Randle El and refuted Brady and Bucs in front of linebacker trainer Larry Foote, two men from Michigan. They wanted to show how long it’s been since IU won.
“Indiana just beat you guys and that’s what it’s about,” added Randle El. “We live in the now.”
Now was a good time for both Brady and Randle El. “Six” just became “Seven”, which led the Bucs to a title in February. Randle El had his fame with an IU win, then a Super Bowl win as a coach for Brady’s receivers, and now he’s moving up in his profession. In mid-February, he was appointed wide receiver coach for the Detroit Lions.
It’s a bit surreal when Randle El ponders his way to this point. He was a talented multi-athlete in Harvey, Illinois high school drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 14th round of the 1997 MLB Draft. He would have gone the pro baseball route – if his parents had let him.
“They let me go to school because they wanted me to graduate,” Randle El said. “I didn’t speak to them for two or three months because I was angry. I thought I should play the baseball diamond. “
Instead, he was sold on a seat by IU head football coach Cam Cameron, who wanted Randle El to play quarterback on a more offensive offensive. The only other college willing to let Randle El play behind the center at all was Ohio. IU was also the home of Randle El’s older brother Curtis, a defense attorney for Hoosier.
That part of Randle El’s story is well told. He followed his brother to Bloomington and became one of the most prolific, double-threat quarterbacks in Big Ten history. He became the first college football player to score 40 touchdowns in his career and rush another 40. He spent time with IU’s basketball and baseball teams became a second-round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002 and switched to receiver and punt returner for the later Super Bowl champions.
In a 2016 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Randle El wondered aloud if he might have been better off playing baseball, citing the physical strain of soccer. He could have played baseball until his mid-thirties. But he later clarified those remarks clearly, saying they were exaggerated and he didn’t regret playing in the NFL. Football was good for Randle El, an All-American, an All-Pro, and a Super Bowl champion as a player and coach.
But it took some time before he got that final title. Randle El tried broadcasting immediately after retiring from the NFL in 2010. That was his college major. But it didn’t scratch the itch as he puts it.
Randle El then helped found a Christian high school in Ashburn, Virginia, called Virginia Academy, which acted as director of sport. He trained soccer, even basketball. That gave him an even bigger itch.
As a man of faith, Randle El was just as drawn to the idea of mentoring athletes as he was training them, and he believed he could do it at the highest level. When Bruce Arians, his offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, became the Arizona Cardinals head coach in 2013, Randle El gave him a call. He just couldn’t commit to the dream. Not then.
Randle El’s wife was already the father of a handful of children and was pregnant with her sixth.
When Arians became head coach of the Bucs in 2019, they reconnected.
“I’m like, okay, I’m in,” said Randle El. “When do you have to start?”
A life in football created all of these wonderful interfaces. He would play Brady in college and then practice his wideouts decades later. Foote, who nearly intercepted Randle El in a game between IU and Michigan, became Randle El’s roommate at the Senior Bowl, then a fellow rookie with the Steelers, and now an NFL coach.
When Randle El played for the Redskins, the 2007 season opener met the Miami Dolphins, who were coached by Cameron. In that game – a 16-13 win for Washington – Randle El started for 162 yards.
A football life has been successful for Randle El, and all of the places he’s been, the coaches he’s had, and the positions he’s played give him a unique perspective as an NFL assistant. He had to learn wide receivers at the highest level and hone his craft by following in the footsteps of accomplished professionals like Hines Ward and Terance Mathis. Now he can teach what he has learned.
As a former quarterback, he has always brought a sense of urgency to the position.
“I understood when this broad receiver wasn’t there, and I tried to throw this hot route so that this linebacker wouldn’t hit me on the head – that’s what I got as a broad receiver. I knew that, ”said Randle El. “I knew if I threw that arrow in there and you’re wide open … I expect you to catch it.”
He wasn’t going to let his quarterbacks down. Randle El doesn’t let his players down either.
Here, too, mentoring is important for Randle El. In a recent meeting with one of his recipients, Randle El said they talked about life for the first 35 minutes and football for the last 10 minutes. About being a good husband and a good father. It’s about saving money and then spending it, not the other way around.
Football ends one day.
“It’s just little points like this that I try to get the guys across and then they’ll have life problems and we’ll be able to shake the tree over them,” Randle El told. “My boys are going to run through a wall for me because we’re building relationships. … It’s not a cold turkey. ‘Hey, I’m a receiver trainer, you do what I say. ‘No, this player is going to do it because we have an understanding, because there is a trust factor that is there. “
Randle El had coaches at IU who knew the game but also looked after him as a person. He will remember Pete Schmidt, his quarterback coach, who made a black kid from south Chicago feel comfortable in Bloomington, a city with very diverse populations. Schmidt died of cancer at the age of 52, early in Randle El’s junior year.
Randle El also points to then-IU strength coach Matt Bomba, who spent hours on the Hoosier QB prior to his first college season after injuring his wrist. He wasn’t even allowed to sprint because he could bend his wrist that way, leaving Randle El sitting on a stationary bike just talking to Bomba.
“My legs got super big and we had long conversations,” said Randle El. “Deep conversations, just about life and play.”
Randle El could reveal the names of a dozen people who influenced him at IU, including assistants Anthony Thompson and TJ Weist. These trainers provide information about how he behaves now and how he relates person to person. His mentees happened to be NFL stars like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, recipients who picked up passes from a future Hall of Fame quarterback in a Super Bowl season.
Randle El is in the process of winning the Lombardi Trophy and continues to take him to new and unexpected places. Without his parents, he could have been a Chicago Cub. Instead, a fan of the lifelong bears will train for one of their rivals, the Detroit Lions.
“It’s weird, but it’s good weird,” said Randle El. “We get to play the bears twice a year. I want to make sure we hit the bears and I can pat them on the back afterwards. “
Speaking of rivalries, there’s no Michigan alum like Brady leading the Lions, but maybe their third quarterback, David Blough, can be made friendly jokes. He’s a Purdue alum.
IU will always be an important part of Randle El’s identity. It’s what got him into the here and now.
“I ended up going to school and of course the rest is history,” said Randle El. “A real blessing. Again I thought I should play baseball and everything worked out fine. For sure.”