BUIES CREEK, N.C. (AP) — Mike Minter hasn't been able to stay away from football since he walked away from the NFL, and now he has his first college head coaching job.
Sure, he kept his business ventures humming along in his second hometown of Charlotte, and he lived off his status as one of the most popular Carolina Panthers ever. But something was missing.
“That oval brown ball,” Minter said with a smile.
So he started working his way up the coaching ladder, and has landed at tiny Campbell, a fledgling Football Championship Subdivision program trying to win without offering athletic scholarships.
“People look from the outside and (say), 'Look, you've got enough money. You don't have to do anything. Why are you doing it?' ” Minter said. “And it's really just because of the passion and the love” for the game.
As a player, he helped Tom Osborne's Nebraska teams win two national championships and play for a third in the mid-1990s.
He spent 10 years in the NFL — all with the Panthers — had a club-record 592 career tackles and led Carolina to its only Super Bowl appearance in 2004.
The Camels players — many of whom grew up in North Carolina and were in grade school during that Super Bowl season — say their new coach brings instant credibility.
Senior linebacker Michael Rudisill, an Appalachian State transfer and Charlotte native, said playing for Minter is “an indescribable feeling.
“You watched this guy just lay people out (in the NFL), and I think it makes it easier to play for him, because you've seen him put in the work, you've seen how dedicated he was to the game,” he added. “And it makes you want to be just as dedicated.”
Even when he stepped away from football, Minter couldn't shake the grip the game has on him.
After retiring in 2007, he started Minter Enterprises — a real estate, contracting and business consulting firm in Charlotte that employed between 200 and 250 people. He considered a run for Congress, but decided against it.
Still, something was missing — football.
Among the people Minter sought advice from were two of his former coaches — Osborne and John Fox, his coach with the Panthers who's now with the Denver Broncos.
“Mike was a leader as a player,” Fox said. “I knew that would be an easy transformation for him to become a leader as a coach.”
Minter started coaching at First Assembly Christian, an 800-student preparatory school in Concord, in 2008. After leading that team to two North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association championships in three years, he “got the bug of really wanting to do this” and wanted to test himself on the college level.
He spent 2011 at Johnson C. Smith, a Division II school in Charlotte, as an assistant head coach, defensive passing game coordinator and special teams coordinator. Then it was off to Liberty for a season as the special teams coordinator for fellow former Husker Turner Gill.
Late last season, Campbell fired Dale Steele — its only coach since the school brought back football in 2008 — and hired Minter.
He is tasked with reinvigorating a program that has won just 14 games in five years in the nonscholarship Pioneer Football League — the same conference where San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh got his head coaching start.
“He's risen rather rapidly in the coaching ranks and has done very well,” Osborne said of Minter. “I'm excited to see him in the coaching profession. As a professional player and as a player at Nebraska he was a great leader and someone the other players and coaches looked up to. He stands for the right things and will do a great job.”
The Camels open the season at Charlotte — in Minter's adopted hometown — in the 49ers' first football game since 1948. That school lists Minter on its website as a “founding member” of the program because he bought a seat license at Charlotte's new stadium, which bears the name of his former boss — Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
Minter knows it won't be just another game.
“I'm a firm believer that you always stay balanced so you don't let your emotions get too wild,” Minter said. “But we're going to be intense, no doubt about it.
“I was one that kind of helped that deal ... and now I'm about to go play them in the first game,” he added, calling it “kind of ironic. ... It's going to be fun. I think the atmosphere's going to be electric.”
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