Former NFL wideout Wes Welker has had three tries at winning a championship. Two of them came down to a helmet catch by David Tyree and a spectacular sideline grab by Mario Manningham and ended with Eli Manning and the New York Giants hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The other he played with Eli’s brother, Peyton, in Denver with the Broncos. They had a run-in with the Seattle Seahawks and the “Legion of Boom” who smacked the Broncos 43-7.
“Just getting to the Super Bowl is so hard to do but now winning the game is 10 times harder,” said Welker.
He is now the receivers coach for the San Francisco 49ers, who face the Kansas City Chiefs on Super Bowl Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. He was hired by head coach Kyle Shanahan last February. Before that, he was an offensive assistant and special teams assistant coach with the Houston Texans.
“My first two years there I wasn’t even coaching,” said Welker. “Basically I was breaking down film and drawing pictures for the passes. I spent pretty much all of my time doing that stuff. It was good to be around the game and around those guys and around football. I am glad I did that because the breaking down of the film, it’s a process you have to go through. It makes you realize how little you know about football. Whenever you start doing it and you start ‘wait a minute, it’s this coverage’ and then you go ‘no it's this coverage,’ I go ‘oh shoot you are right’ and you start to see it more and more clear.”
This was his first chance at getting to coach a position group. The 49ers started the season with Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, and Kendrick Bourne as the main receivers. Goodwin had been injured for a good part of the season and finally in December was put on injured reserve with a knee injury. Pettis hasn’t made the stride as the team had hoped.
Midway during the season, they traded for an ex-teammate of Welker in receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the Denver Broncos. They played together during Welker’s brief two seasons in Denver.
“I can sit there and tell them ‘All right this is what we need to do to be a pro’ but until someone is showing them doing it on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t matter what I say,” explained Welker. “It is about someone showing them how to be a pro. Those guys have really taken to him and he has been great for our room. I knew with Emmanuel (Sanders) we were getting a dog and I knew Deebo (Samuel) had a dog in him, but you need someone to show him how to do that.”
Welker, since acquiring Sanders, changed up the rotation going with the former Bronco and started using the team's second-round draft pick Deebo Samuel who had a motor but needed to learn how to put it all together. Sanders said that the coaching of Welker was starting to rub off on Samuel and it all started to click week 10. Samuel showed his game-changing ability when he had eight catches for 112 yards in the team’s first loss of the season against the Seattle Seahawks.
“It’s always nice to have a receivers coach that has been in the league for a while,” said Samuel. “Not only a coach that can tell you what to do but also a coach that can show you how to do it. It has been a blessing in disguise to have him in our room.”
Welker wasn’t a prototypical receiver. He didn’t win jump balls and just wasn’t a big player. He stood 5 feet 8 inches tall but was creative with the way he ran his routes.
“Every play I made sure I went as hard as I could,” explained Welker. “Doing the best I could on every play. Whatever happens from there happens. One thing I knew I could control was my effort, the way I approached the game, and the way I prepared for it. I let the chips fall where they may.”
He was an undrafted free agent that decided to sign the then San Diego Chargers, who were coached by the legendary Marty Schottenheimer in 2004. During training camp, he showed flashes of being able to hopefully be the next star the Chargers signed as an undrafted free agent, but he just needed to keep working his tail off. He did. He made the team's initial 53-man roster. Until he was cut after the first game of the season to make room for recently claimed safety Clinton Hart. Schottenheimer a few years later admitted that it was “the biggest mistake he ever made.”
“Incredible,” explained Welker. “How long he coached for and the type of coach he is and the type of talent evaluator he is an honor. I love Marty. He was always good to me even though he ended up releasing me. I enjoyed my time there. He ran a great program. I definitely learned a lot from how he ran things.”
Welker played for the Miami Dolphins for two seasons until the New England Patriots traded a second and seventh round draft picks for the Texas Tech alum. Welker began forming a great relationship with quarterback Tom Brady on the field.
He played two seasons with the Denver Broncos and a record-breaking offense. Then in 2015, he played for the then St. Louis Rams for eight-games then called it a career due to how many concussions he sustained.
Welker explained that he has taken a little bit from each coach he has either played for or has talked to in the past. He said that from Schottenheimer, he liked how stern he was but also that he was fair and that he created a great atmosphere in the locker room.
From Bill Belichick he learned about how important it was to not only being able to break down the X’s and O’s but also to be able to teach them to the other players as well.
He said that under then Broncos head coach John Fox he learned about how if players practice and play hard then it is okay to have fun. That is where he and Sanders grew so close.
“It’s cool to have him as our coach,” explained Sanders. “Wes knows I just want to get it right. He wants us to get it right. All of the receivers want to get it right. There are no egos in the locker room.”
Both Sanders and Welker have said they want honest from each other because that is the only way both will continue to grow in their respective roles.
Sunday will be different. They will face a Chiefs defense that statistically may be in the middle of the pack but ever since their bye week have been playing at a high-level lead by safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Welker is trying to explain to his players that it is just another football game just with more lights and more media.
“Once you hit somebody you go ‘oh yeah this is just football’, said Welker. “Yeah it’s the Super Bowl and I know they are going to have nerves but once the ball is snapped once you hit or get hit you will be like “oh this is just a football game’.”
Shanahan and Welker didn’t have much of a relationship before the hire last spring, but he had heard great things from mutual friends.
“He (Welker) has done a great job,” said Shanahan. “He spent some time in Houston and got some good experience. Everyone knows about his career and how unbelievable it was. It is his first time in our type of scheme just verbiage wise and everything. He has worked his tail off trying to pick it all up in the offseason. He has done a great job coaching those guys up during the season.”
As for what he wants to do in the future Welker said he does have dreams of making it all the way to head coach, but for right now he is trying to stay levelheaded because he knows Sunday’s game is his first opportunity to win a championship.