A common phrase around the game of football is, "The NFL stands for not for long."
Ray Rhodes was not a common coach and patrolled the sideline for 32 years with eight teams – San Francisco, Green Bay, Washington, Denver, Seattle, Houston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.
After playing for seven seasons as a wide receiver and defensive back with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, he left the 49ers' locker room in 1981 and took a job as an assistant secondary coach on Bill Walsh's staff.
"I realized I wanted to get into coaching when I was playing for the 49ers because the coaches made me feel at home and I felt like I could do it," Rhodes says. "It was difficult, yes and no. But if you studied the game and worked at the game and thought about what was going on, I figured it'd come natural to you.
"It was hard to go from a teammate to a coach. It was tough because of all the relationships you had built up with your teammates. That makes it tough because you know that they're playing hard, but you know that the bonds and the relationships can't be the same."
In Rhodes' first season as an assistant, San Francisco won Super Bowl XVI with three rookies starting in the defensive backfield. And during his 12 seasons with the 49ers as a defensive backs coach and later as the defensive coordinator, they made the playoffs 10 times, advanced to the NFC Championship Game on seven occasions, and won the Super Bowl five times.
On February 2, 1995, five days after helping San Francisco win Super Bowl XXIX, Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie named Rhodes as the 17th full-time head coach in franchise history. He was the third African American to hold that title in modern NFL history, following Oakland's Art Shell and Minnesota's Dennis Green.
"Mr. Lurie's very committed to getting it done. He wants to win a championship," Rhodes said in his introductory press conference. "He reminds me of the commitment that (49ers Owner Eddie) DeBartolo has. When we had conversations during my interview, Mr. Lurie and I shared some of the same thoughts as far as how we feel about situations. He's committed to winning, I'm committed to winning.
"I've always wanted to be head coach. I'm prepared to be a head coach. I've had a game plan that I've been working on for the last three to four years, during which time I've had people and situations in mind. Head coaching is not something that I just came into today unprepared ... it's not something that came up overnight."
After opening with a 1-3 record, Rhodes guided the Eagles to seven victories in their next eight games, finishing 10-6 in his first season. After overseeing that turnaround and guiding the Eagles to the playoffs for the first time in three years, Rhodes was named the NFL's Coach of the Year.
"I was very excited. It meant a lot to me at the time," he says. "It was a very exciting time."
The following year was exciting, too. Posting another 10-6 record, Rhodes became the first coach to lead the Eagles into the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. Things, however, took a turn in 1997 when injuries were a huge factor. Compiling a 6-9-1 record, Philadelphia had 42 different players start a game, including three different quarterbacks: Ty Detmer, Rodney Peete, and Bobby Hoying.
The 1998 campaign was unfortunately worse, and Rhodes was replaced after the team went 3-13.
"Well, I didn't win a championship. I went to the playoffs a couple times, but I really thought that the players were going and getting better," Rhodes says. "There are a lot of things I'm proud of that happened in Philadelphia. The people I worked with in Philadelphia, they were all good people."
Rhodes is now enjoying his well-deserved retirement. He and his wife, Carmen, who make their home in Allen, Texas, have four daughters: Detra, Candra, Tynesha, and Raven; and several grandchildren.
On May 7, Rhodes was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
Following his sophomore year at Dunbar High School, Rhodes transferred to Mexia High School in 1967, where he played a substantial role in integrating the school. A standout running back and defensive back, Rhodes also lettered in basketball and track and field.
"I'm very excited about that," he says. "They did a good job. The function was extremely well put together. It was nice."