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One phone call put McComb native Aukerman on path to NFL coaching career

Jul. 13—The trajectory of Tennessee Titans special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman's career changed with a phone call from former University of Findlay football coach Dick Strahm.

Aukerman, a McComb native and University of Findlay football alum, was on the verge of taking a high school coaching position.

Instead, Strahm offered Aukerman a position at Findlay to coach the Oilers' wide receivers.

It helped pave the way for an NFL coaching career.

"I told him I was about ready to accept a job at Kenton High School, and he said, 'Yeah, you're not going to do that,'" said Aukerman, who recently hosted a free football camp, charity golf outing, and auction to raise funds for his family's foundation.

"I said, 'Well, great coach, what am I going to do? He goes, 'Well, you're going to coach college football.' So that's how I got started coaching in college."

Ackerman journey from northwest Ohio brought him to a career in the NFL that stands at 11 years and counting. He has served as an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Denver Broncos, the San Diego Chargers, and the Titans.

Back in 2000, Strahm didn't have to hesitate to hire Aukerman.

"He was the first person that I would hire," Strahm said. "It doesn't surprise me that he's doing well in coaching at the professional level or the college level or high school level — it really wouldn't matter. He's got that kind of personality. He's got that smile. He can jump your tail if it needs to be jumped, but by the same token, he doesn't make a lot of mistakes on the field. He never did as a ballplayer. And he's not making a lot of mistakes as he's coaching."

Auckerman was a star quarterback and defensive back at McComb. He was named Blanchard Valley Conference defensive player of the year as a senior.

Even his high school, he was thinking like a coach.

He's quoted in the 1995 McComb High School yearbook as saying his team "should have used our timeouts better in the Leipsic game."

At Findlay, Aukerman was a two-time NAIA All-American defensive back. He was a part of two national championship teams (1995 and 1997) and three Mid-States Football Association Midwest League titles.

His time with the Oilers, both as a player and a coach, helped prepare him for the next steps in his career.

"It gave me that little edge where guys know, 'Hey, he knows what he's talking about. He experienced it. He played there,'" Aukerman said. "I think guys end up liking that, because I was young and I played at the University of Findlay, that they could talk to me about different things."

Strahm was impressed.

"As the old saying goes, 'Surround yourself with better people than you are, and you're gonna win," he said. "And that would be Aukerman. If I could get a lot of Aukermans, that would make me a great head coach."

Aukerman's wide receivers coach position led to a 10-year collegiate coaching career with stops at Miami (Ohio), Western Kentucky, and Kent State.

His first position at the NFL level came with the Broncos as a defensive assistant to former defensive coordinator Don Martindale. That opportunity instilled into him a strong work ethic, the importance of continuous growth as a coach, and being sincere with players.

"I want to be brutally honest with players," Aukerman said, "so years down the road when 20 years go by, and I get a chance to meet up with them for a drink or whatever, they say, 'Hey coach, you know what, I really appreciate you being honest with me, and letting me know what I need to work on, what I need to continue to develop in.' And I've always kept that along the way."

Aukerman was a defensive assistant and assistant special teams coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2011 to 2012, before his first stint in Tennessee as assistant special teams coordinator from 2013 to 2015. He spent the 2016 season as special teams coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.

He came back to Tennessee in 2017 as assistant special teams coordinator. He moved up to coordinator in 2018.

Part of his current job is coaching All-Pro punter and University of Toledo alum Brett Kern.

"You look to coach a guy that's been an All-Pro punter for the last couple years, you really got nitpick on things," Auckerman said. "And I think the greatest thing about Brett is he's willing to learn on every aspect, whether it's through his drops, whether it's through his leg swing, different things, or even holding on field goals. This guy is such a pro's pro that he's looking to develop in every aspect of his game. He never settles for anything less than perfection."

Last season, when Titans defensive play-caller Shane Bowen spent time in coronavirus protocol, Aukerman's responsibilities increased for a game Sept. 29 while head coach Mike Vrabel helped oversee the defense. Aukerman wore a headset on the sideline — rare for a special teams coach — and was given the power to call a timeout or throw a challenge flag if Vrabel wasn't available.

Meanwhile, Aukerman had always wanted to find a way to support his hometown of McComb.

He and his wife, Summer, founded the Aukerman Family Foundation, who's mission is "dedicated to positively impacting local youth by providing scholarships to college-bound students and sponsoring programs that strengthen family relationships through sports," according to its website.

"We obviously want to give back to the local community," Aukerman said. "I know it was a struggle, always growing up. We're a small farm town community, and my parents worked really hard to allow me to go to college. And it's just something that I know it's sometimes a struggle for people."

Proceeds from his recent events will be used towards scholarships for college-bound students.

"Helping people out, whether it's just helping for books, whether it's helping them to get some extra spending money for certain things, hopefully we can provide that for young kids who want to go off to college that might not be able to afford everything," Aukerman said. "And when they do, they won't have such a crazy debt going into the real world."