To the Arizona Cardinals, Tom Pratt is a great assistant coach.
To his family, Pratt is a beloved great-grandfather.
Pratt, 77, has put his own spin move on Father Time. He has the somewhat unusual job title of “pass rush specialist,” is the only remaining active coach from the American Football League, and is the only current NFL coach who has held that job in the NFL and/or AFL during each of the last six decades.
The Cardinals are still looking for their first Lombardi Trophy. Pratt, a former Kansas City assistant, coached against Vince Lombardi ... in Super Bowl I.
“It used to be that somebody my age would be sitting on the front porch, rocking,” said Pratt, whose first great-grandchild, a girl, was born eight months ago. “But it’s not that way anymore. You’re as old as you feel you are, and as old as you want to be.”
When the Cardinals kicked off their off-season training program, Pratt began his 36th season coaching in the league. On Tuesday, veterans were to join with rookies in the club’s first organized team activity of the year. Pittsburgh’s Dick LeBeau, beginning his 42nd season, is the only active coach with more NFL experience.
Better than a front-row seat, Pratt had key roles in some of the most memorable moments in NFL history. When miked-up Coach Hank Stram urged his Chiefs to “matriculate the ball down the field,” Pratt was huddled on the sideline with Kansas City’s defense.
Pratt was a defensive coach with New Orleans when Archie Manning was the Saints’ quarterback; was a defensive coach in Cleveland when Denver’s John Elway broke the Browns’ heart with “The Drive”; and, in another stint with Kansas City, coached star pass rushers Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith.
Pratt had three stints with the Chiefs (1963-77, 90-94, 2000), as well as stops in New Orleans (1978-80), Cleveland (1981-88) and Tampa Bay (1995). He joined the Cardinals before last season.
“It’s not just (Pratt’s) energy, but it’s the wealth of knowledge that he has, his library of tape,” said Arizona Coach Bruce Arians, a mere kid by comparison at age 61.
Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell had a career-high nine sacks last season, his first working with Pratt.
“Any time you coach a Super Bowl winner, I’m listening to everything you say,” Campbell said. “Obviously, you know what you’re talking about. To still be coaching at that age, you’ve got to be really good. Even though he’s 77, he doesn’t seem like he’s an old man. He moves pretty well.”
The Cardinals kicked off last season as the third-oldest team in the league. But, much like Pratt, they didn’t show their age. They had the legs to make a run at the end of the season, and, although they didn’t make the playoffs, they won seven of their last nine games and were the only visiting team to win at Seattle, the eventual Super Bowl champions.
If the Cardinals have experienced a rebirth under Arians, they have done so with a staff that spans the spectrum of age and experience. In addition to their young coaches, they have the seasoned trio of Pratt, Tom Moore, 75, and Larry Zierlein, 68.
“They’re youngsters, man, and they bring a lot of energy,” said Arians, who is beginning his second season with the Cardinals.
Pratt, whose lean build belies that he was once a University of Miami linebacker, typically walks a brisk five miles with Zierlein and a group of other coaches at lunch. Recently, while giving an interview over the phone, he multi-tasked by breaking down video on his desktop computer, careful not to waste a spare moment.
“Sometimes the stability of age is a good thing,” Pratt said. “It works in your favor in that you have no agenda. Some people think, ‘I’m going to coach here a year and get a better job someplace else.’ The older, mature coaches say, ‘Hey, we’ll live day by day here.’ They use their experience to create a positive atmosphere.
“Players want to be coached by people they have respect for, and they’ll play for them. Doesn’t matter if those coaches are 20 years older or 40 years older.”
Pratt clearly understood that when, after sending a congratulatory text to Arians on the coach-of-the-year award he earned with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, he immediately got a return text asking him if he was ready to return to an NFL staff. Pratt had spent the previous three years working as a defensive-coordinator consultant with IMG Academies in Florida, helping train draft-eligible players for the pros.
“Bruce sent him a text saying, ‘You ready to get back into this full-time?’” recalled Tom’s wife, Hope. “He turned the phone around and handed it to me. I turned the phone around and said, ‘Absolutely! I’m packed!’”
With that, Hope and Tom Pratt were off to Arizona. They’ll take a rocking stadium over a rocking chair any day.