Cliff Matthews is coming back to the Falcons, but he won’t be tackling anyone this time around. At last, I don’t think he’s supposed to.
Matthews is one of four Bill Walsh Coaching Fellows for 2021 Falcons training camp, joining strength and conditioning fellow Tessa Grossman, tights ends and running backs fellow Capetillo and special teams fellow Darryl Jackson. Matthews, who was a solid rotational run stopper over 35 games and several seasons with the Falcons, will be working with the team’s outside linebackers. That’s a large group with a varied set of roles, and it comes one year after Atlanta brought aboard one fellow in 2020 (former Georgia Bulldog Nick Jones) for training camp.
We’ll start with Matthews, the most familiar name to everyone here. A draft pick for an always-needy Falcons defensive line back in 2011, Matthews was one of the few 7th round picks in in the last several years of Thomas Dimitroff’s tenure as GM to offer the team some value. He appeared in 35 games as a reserve and was a useful player against the run throughout his tenure in Atlanta, chipping in on special teams along the way. From there he went to the CFL, where he’s played with the Ottawa Redblacks. From there, he picked up a job coaching the defensive line at Limestone College and currently coaches the defensive line at Reinhardt University in Georgia. He clearly has his eye on becoming an NFL coach someday, and we’re rooting for him as he works his way there.
Grossman is, per the team’s story, working on her Masters in sports psychology, served as an interim strength coach for the Rams back in 2018 and is a graduate assistant S&C coach for several women’s and men’s sports at Illinois State University. She already has experience at the NFL level thanks to that stint with the Rams and may, if she impresses the Falcons in camp, be able to parlay her resume and talent into a full-time role. That’s what happened for 2020 fellow Emily Zaler, who was hired by the Denver Broncos as an assistant strength and conditioning coach following training camp last year.
Capetillo, meanwhile, is the current varsity football head coach at Las Vegas High School, a positioning he’s had for the past six seasons. From the team’s writeup:
His team was ranked No. 7 in Nevada before the 2020 season began. Since being the head coach for the school for the last six seasons, the team’s GPA has improved from 2.71 to 3.28. Before becoming the head coach for the football team, Capetillo established the girls flag football program and served as head coach at Las Vegas High School. He established rules and procedures as well as hosted the annual tournament for 12 teams and more than 450 attendees. Capetillo will be specifically working with tight ends and running backs for the Falcons.
Last but not least is Jackson, the special teams coordinator and secondary coach at Brown University. He’s an experienced addition to the Falcons staff, as he’s been coaching at the collegiate level for a quarter century in a variety of roles on offense, defense and special teams. There may be room down the line on Marquice Williams’ new-look special teams staff in Atlanta, where he’ll be working in training camp, so Jackson is probably a name to keep in mind if he fares well in the coming weeks.
The Bill Walsh Coaching Fellows program is “designed as a vocational tool to increase the number of full-time NFL minority coaches,” giving coaches a chance to observe camp, get experience and hopefully pave the way to full-time positions in the league down the line. It’s a nice foot in the door for candidates who otherwise might struggle to get an initial opportunity in a connections-heavy business, and it’s helped some well-regarded coaches get into the league and thrive, including Falcons special teams coordinator Marquice Williams.
Give all four fellows a warm welcome, and welcome Cliff Matthews back to Atlanta.