Philadelphia Eagles News

Marquand Manuel returns to the sidelines with a renewed focus after a year of introspection and soul searching

According to Marquand Manuel, life is 10 percent of what happens to you and the other 90 percent is how you react.

That 10 percent may seem small, but for Manuel, it has encompassed a lot.

The 10 percent includes growing up in poverty in a family of 18 children, becoming a four-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection, waiting until the sixth round to be chosen in the NFL Draft, playing for six NFL teams, being hired as an NFL coach, getting fired as an NFL coach, and more.

But those peaks and valleys are not what defines Manuel. In his eyes, it is how he has reacted to and learned from each experience – good or bad – or, as he puts it, the other 90 percent. Every triumph is a blessing and the product of hard work and dedication. Every failure is a challenge, which Manuel takes on through reflection and self-evaluation.

In many ways, it mirrors Manuel's life as a defensive back, which can at times be a harrowing position of isolation and ridicule. Defensive backs will lose some battles; that is simply part of life in the NFL. However, they must process what went wrong, correct it, and move on to the next play. Dwelling on it could only exasperate the situation.

It is a lesson that Manuel has passed down to the numerous defensive backs he has mentored during his career and that will only continue during his time as the defensive backs coach of the Eagles.

"Everything that happens is not by accident. It was a purpose," Manuel believes. "I'm built off of what my failures were."

Manuel built his foundation under the adverse circumstances of financial hardship. Manuel never noticed just how tough he had it, as his parents, Mary Manuel and John Eaford, always provided him with what he needed, including inspiration.

Manuel was inspired to play football through his father, who was a die-hard Chicago Bears fan. During the Bears' historic 1985 Super Bowl Championship season, a 6-year-old Manuel got his first glimpse of the walking refrigerator known as William Perry. He instantly became awestruck by not only the man, but the game of football in totality.

Manuel didn't have to look far for a player to model himself after. His oldest brother, John, played linebacker at Florida State, only to have his career cut short by a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Manuel's brother spent over two weeks in a coma as a result. As much as Manuel learned from his older brother, he also took lessons from all of his siblings. Whether it was through success, adversity, or failure, there was always an opportunity to learn.

It turned out Manuel had a constant hunger for knowledge, which helped him excel academically at Florida. But Manuel was just as studious on the field as he was in the classroom, as he actively sought every opportunity to increase his football IQ. What that meant for then Defensive Coordinator Bob Stoops was receiving many requests from Manuel to stay after practice so that he could put in even more work.

"He's everything you want as a student-athlete, a guy that cares about how well he did in school, was a great teammate, worked incredibly hard," said Stoops, who had a hand in recruiting Manuel when he was coming out of Miami Senior High School.

Manuel's teammates quickly took notice, too, and knew that a bright future in football lay ahead for him, whether it was as a player or as a coach.

"We knew he was going to be a coach, hands down," former Eagles All-Pro cornerback and Manuel's college teammate Lito Sheppard said. "If he wouldn't have been a coach, it would have been a conspiracy because that guy knew the playbook better than the coaches."

Manuel served as Sheppard's host when the latter stopped by Florida for a recruiting visit. During the visit, Manuel told Sheppard's mother about his success on and off the field. She was impressed.

"He needs to hang with you," Sheppard's mother said to Manuel.

Sheppard did hang with Manuel, and it paid off, as he eventually became the Eagles' first-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Manuel, however, had a much longer wait.

Manuel sat at his brother's house and watched five rounds of the draft go by without hearing his name. Eventually, he sat in the driveway with his good friend and future NFL star Andre Johnson and had a conversation.

"What are you going to do?" Johnson asked.

Manuel had every right to be frustrated with his long wait, but he wasn't fixated on what was happening to him. Instead, his focus was already on how he was going to bounce back.

"I'll just go do what I've always done and that's take the next step to wherever God's leading me," Manuel answered.

"Man, that's why I always loved you," said Johnson.

Moments later, Manuel got a call from then Bengals Head Coach Dick LeBeau, who informed him that he was about to be selected with the 181st pick.

"That moment right there changed my life," Manuel recalls.

Manuel's life-changing moment garnered him two seasons as a member of the Bengals' secondary, but in the NFL, adversity is never too far away. Before his third NFL season, Manuel was waived. Brief stints with five more teams followed his time in Cincinnati before calling it a career before the 2010 season.

Manuel had a plan for his post-career life: Coaching. He attempted to follow through on this plan by attending multiple college all-star games to pass out his resume hoping to land an internship. He didn't even ask to be paid. He simply wanted an opportunity to show what he could do.

"Coaching seemed to be something he thoroughly enjoyed doing, and I think he's going to be pretty good at it with the people he's been around," said Steve Spurrier, Manuel's head coach at the University of Florida.

Manuel did not come away with an NFL job, which on the surface, looks like his search came up empty. In reality, it wasn't. He left such an impression on the Seattle Seahawks that he was hired as a special teams assistant after only spending one season back at his alma mater as a quality control graduate assistant.

Seattle not only represented his first NFL coaching gig, but it was also the place where he began to get the itch to coach during his playing days.

The Seahawks claimed Manuel a day after he was waived by the Bengals. The Seahawks' staff was headed up by Mike Holmgren and their defensive coordinator was former Eagles Head Coach Ray Rhodes. Manuel sought Rhodes' advice on how to become a great player and the advice was simple.

"If you want to be great, I'll be here every day at 5 (in the morning). If you want to, meet me after you have your breakfast at 5:15," Rhodes told Manuel.

Manuel met with Rhodes every day, but he also sat in on the coaches' meetings on Tuesdays and saw the ins and outs of how they planned for the upcoming opponent. Rhodes' instructions to Manuel for the coaches' meetings were also simple: Remain quiet and listen. Manuel obliged, and sat quietly in the corner of the room, soaking up as much knowledge as possible.

Manuel's coaching career has seen its share of ups and its share of downs. He was part of a Super Bowl Champion in only his second season with the Seahawks in the 2013 season. He has also been a part of two teams that lost the title game.

Manuel spent the next two seasons as the Falcons' defensive coordinator but was relieved of his duties after the 2018 season. Being fired is a low point of anyone's career. Manuel could have easily moved on to the next job.

Instead, he decided to take the year off, spend more time with his family, and evaluate himself along with the rest of the league. It wasn't an easy process, as it required a lot of soul searching, but Manuel believes he gained a lot from it. With the blessing of his children, Manuel will return to the sidelines in 2020 as a member of the Eagles.

"None of it surprises me in how successful he's been and what a great man he is," Stoops said. "I had him young. I had him in his first couple of years at Florida, but I have a saying: Most people don't change, they just get older."

What can the Eagles expect from the new and improved Marquand Manuel? A passionate coach who used his time away from the game in a constructive manner, and now has a renewed focus on the game he loved since his childhood.

"He's going to bring a lot of expertise and honestly, I think, it's just fundamentals, getting them back to the basics, giving them an identity that they can grow with, have fun with, and embrace," Sheppard said.

Regardless of the percentages – 10 percent, 90 percent, etc. – Manuel is determined to bring 100 percent to the Eagles.

"If you thought I was highly motivated then, imagine now," Manuel claimed.

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