|Preview: Watch The NFL Show on BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button and online.|
|Live coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra of San Francisco v Dallas Cowboys on Sunday (21:00); Follow live text and in-play clips on Saturday (21:00 GMT), Sunday (17:30 GMT) and Tuesday (01:00 GMT) on the BBC Sport website and app.|
Aden Durde had a low profile after becoming the NFL’s first full-time British coach, which suited him just fine.
But then he featured in last summer’s Hard Knocks, the NFL’s fly-on-the-wall series.
It follows the Dallas Cowboys during pre-season and Durde, the team’s new defensive line coach, emerged as one of the stars of the show.
Being a Londoner of mixed race, his accent was a source of much merriment. It even took team owner Jerry Jones by surprise.
“I look at him and he looks like he’s from Arkansas,” he said. “I listen to him and he sounds like Winston Churchill.”
Whoever Durde sounds like, the Englishman teaching America’s Team about American football is having a big impact.
He’s helped transform Dallas’ defence from one of the worst in the league to one of the best and on Sunday they play their first play-off game in three years against the San Francisco 49ers (21:30 GMT).
And Durde, 42, has used his new-found fame to help raise awareness of a cause close to his heart back in his home city.
‘His story is remarkable, he’s broken barriers’
At his first news conference after Hard Knocks, Durde laughed when asked if he’d seen Ted Lasso, the comedy series about an American coaching a Premier League club.
Unlike Lasso, Durde knows plenty about the sport he’s coaching. What they have in common is the ability to relate to players and ensure their message gets across – even though they have a ‘funny accent’.
“People joke about where I’m from but it’s just banter, there’s never been anything negative,” Durde told BBC Sport.
“Sometimes I have to think about what I say because if I talk like I do at home, they won’t understand it. And certain words I have to pronounce right because, in the heat of the moment, they’re not going to hear it the way I want them to.”
Durde says the key to earning players’ respect is being “honest and accountable” and “just being yourself”. And BBC pundit Osi Umenyiora was pleased to see Durde doing just that on Hard Knocks.
When working for NFL UK, Durde and the two-time Super Bowl winner helped establish the International Player Pathway programme (IPP), which prepares overseas players for a shot at making it in the NFL.
“The first time I saw him coaching [in 2016] we were out with a rugby player,” said Umenyiora. “I saw the way he was instructing this guy and told him right there and then ‘you’re going to be an NFL coach’.
“It was really cool to watch Aden [on Hard Knocks] and know he didn’t go over there and turn into something he isn’t. That’s just how he is, and now he’s thriving.
“His story is remarkable. He’s broken barriers and opened the door for international coaches.”
How does a British coach get to the NFL?
Born in Middlesex, Durde began playing American football in Finsbury Park and spent five years as a linebacker in the now-defunct NFL Europe League.
He also had two spells on NFL practice squads – at the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs – before retiring to coach with the London Warriors.
And a modest Durde says it was chaperoning a group of Warriors players on a trip to Texas that sparked a “chain of events that worked out really well for me”.
An old acquittance organised an impromptu interview with the Cowboys, who offered him an internship in 2014. Another followed with the Atlanta Falcons.
Durde also helped Warriors player Efe Obada get onto the Cowboys’ practice squad in 2015 before the British defensive end and Germany’s Moritz Bohringer were signed by NFL teams via the IPP. Durde then became Atlanta’s defensive quality control coach in 2018.
“I wanted to do this so badly,” he says. “My journey wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
“It’s about opportunities and being ready to take them. I’ve been prepared for a lot of those I’ve got and if I wasn’t, I tried to learn from it.”
Obada, who has also reached this season’s play-offs with the Buffalo Bills, said: “He was the first person that believed in me. He took time out of his life to coach me up and trusted me when nobody else did.
“Every time I was struggling he’d say ‘don’t feel sorry for yourself’ and that’s stuck with me. He’s an amazing coach, you can see that with the Cowboys.”
Helping the NFL’s newest defensive star
After being sacked as Atlanta’s head coach in 2020, Dan Quinn became defensive coordinator at Dallas last year and took Durde with him.
The Cowboys drafted Micah Parsons as a linebacker but he’s also played on the defensive line with devastating impact, sacking the quarterback 13 times in his first season.
Parsons is an overwhelming favourite for the Rookie of the Year award and Quinn has credited Durde with helping his transition.
And with the Cowboys riding high in December, Durde had a chance to highlight knife crime in London as part of the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign.
For one game, Durde wore specially-designed trainers featuring a foundation named after Godwin Lawson, who died aged 17 after being stabbed in east London in 2010.
While coaching the London Warriors, Durde also had a voluntary job mentoring children in north London and started a company teaching children who were out of the education system and looking for employment.
“I’ve seen how it affects people, on both sides,” he said. “I don’t want Godwin to be forgotten, or the other kids this happens to.
“The work that people do at the foundation is so important and it never gets talked about. Those things are the interventions that, at times, are missed because of funding or a lack of resources.
“Sometimes a person, or an environment, says you can be one thing, but there’s a whole world of things you can be and they never show you that.
“When I went to play football it made me believe I could be something I never thought of before, so more kids being around inspirational activities is important.”
Durde and Obada are showing what two boys from London can achieve, and their teams could meet in Super Bowl 56 on 13 February.
“How cool would that be?” said Obada.