BOONE — New Appalachian State defensive line coach Robert Nunn had not coached college football since 1999, when he was the head coach at Georgia Military College.
From 2000-2018 Nunn has worked as an assistant coach, mostly on the defensive line, in the NFL. That includes a couple of tours of duty with the New York Giants, twice with the Miami Dolphins and stops with the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Bucs, Washington Redskins and New York Jets.
But it was his tie with longtime App State defensive assistant coach and current defensive coordinator Dale Jones that brought Nunn to Appalachian State. The two coaches coached together at Georgia Military College and stayed friends despite Jones staying in the college ranks and Nunn going to the NFL.
“He coached with me at Georgia Military College back in the ‘90s, and I stayed in close contact with him,” Nunn said. “I felt like as many guys that played for me at Georgia Military that played at App State, I always stayed close to the program and enjoyed watching their success. It was one of the top in the country and it’s a special place.”
With three stints in New York, it would easy to think that coaching in Boone would leave Nunn with some culture shock. But, Nunn was born in Apache, Okla., which is considerably smaller than Boone.
“I grew up in a town with one flashing red light,” Nunn said. “Boone is a thriving metropolis compared to Apache, Okla. It’s where I’ve been all my life and I’ve enjoyed that and I enjoy going home.”
Nunn said he’s been to Boone several times before taking the job, so there was no shock in the weather or culture for him.
“We love it there,” Nunn said. “My kids love it there and we’ve been attached to Boone for quite some time.”
Nunn has made several memories along the coaching trail, none bigger than Super Bowl XLVI when he was the defensive line coach for the New York Giants that upset the New England Patriots 21-17 in Indianapolis. Nunn said winning the Super Bowl is a career highlight that is all it’s cracked up to be.
“It was a special experience,” Nunn said. “Towards the end of the season we were on fire. We were having an awful year and all of a sudden we caught fire and the next thing you know we’re in Indianapolis playing in the Super Bowl.”
Nunn said the experience was enhanced because his family was able to attend the game.
“My mom and my dad sat on the sidelines for mine and my brothers’ games for all of our lives and for us to be able to get there and for the family to be able to go, that was the special thing about it,” he said.
But Nunn — who has worked with professional athletes since 2000 when he broke into the NFL ranks with the Dolphins as an assistant — said coaching in the NFL isn’t all that different than it is coaching college ball. Coaches still have to connect with players on both levels to be effective.
“There are a lot more similarities than differences,” Nunn said. “Coaching is coaching. You hear people say that but there is so much truth to that, but there are differences. In the NFL, 90 percent of the guys are easy to deal with and they want to be coached. The other 10 percent are the guys who wouldn’t be there unless they had special abilities and you’ve got to learn to deal with that 10 percent.”
Nunn said he did not feel the Mountaineers had any players who fell into that category of players.
“A place like Appalachian State, the guys who are in my room, it’s close to 100 percent that are guys who want to be there and guys who want to work and do what you ask of them,” Nunn said. “I don’t know if there is anybody who doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t want to be coached.”
Nunn would like to show the Mountaineers some techniques that they may have not been seen either in high school or in college. At the same time, Nunn pointed out that several techniques have been used in collegiate games that the pros are catching up to.
Nunn said there are some pass rush techniques that college players may not have been exposed to that NFL players use, but sometimes, the student-athletes are the teachers.
“I might be able to bring some things to the table that they may not have been exposed to at a different level,” Nunn said. “I think they are excited about that. I’m probably learning more than I’m teaching as far as scheme-wise how college football is played. There are a lot of different things that you don’t see in the pro game that that you’re actually starting to see now. Some of the offensive things you’re starting to see are bleeding over to the National Football League that weren’t there just a few years ago.”
Even with being in the NFL for 20 years, coaching at Kidd Brewer Stadium isn’t necessarily a move back.
“I enjoy coaching and I enjoy the relationship with my players,” he said. “The thing I enjoyed most in my 20 years in the league is being with my players. I love the relationship with my players and the coaches you work with. I’ve had a lot of special things happen in my career and to be able to coach that long in the league. I love the locker room, I love the meeting rooms and the sidelines and the meeting with coaches. Whether it’s college or the pros, I enjoy what I do.”