Art Valero had a bucket list long before the term had been coined.
His to-do list was compiled at the turn of the 80s and came complements of a sociology professor at Boise State University, when Valero was playing offensive line rather than coaching it.
“He gave us an assignment – give us five things, as selfish as you want, that you want to do before you die,” said Valero, now the assistant offensive line coach for the Seahawks.
Valero, who just turned 52, has knocked off the first four:
One. Run with the bulls in Pamplona. He accomplished that in 2001.
Two. Run a marathon. That was achieved in 1989, when he completed a 26.2-mile event in Long Beach, Calif., along with now-Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
Three. Coach in the Super Bowl. “Because I knew I wasn’t good enough to play in one,” he said. That came in 2002, while as assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Four. Parachute from a plane. “By myself,” he said. “Not tandem. Solo.” Valero checked off that one in 2000.
What’s left? “I want to fly in an F-14, 15 or 16,” he said. “And I want them to give me the gas.”
That’s a five-step approach to unpeeling the onion of a character that coach Pete Carroll has hired to help line coach Alex Gibbs and coordinator Jeremy Bates install the zone-blocking scheme that will be the launch point of the Seahawks’ offense this season.
Before you think Valero is a few cards short of a full deck, it needs to be explained that in between these bucket-list adventures, he has coached 21 years in the college ranks – at seven schools – and the past eight in the NFL.
It’s also worth pointing out that Valero brings the same passion to coaching that he used to attack those diverse adventures.
Like some of the assistants on Carroll’s staff – and in contrast to others – Valero never planned to be a coach. It just kind of happened.
Football took him from La Mirada, Calif., to Boise, Idaho. It took a late 70s revelation to point Valero in the direction of what has become his career.
“When I first started at Boise State, I was your typical late 70s college student,” he explained. “I started as a business major and after two years of that I said, ‘I can’t see myself sitting behind a desk the rest of my life and looking out a window, or maybe not even having a window.”
Valero longed for the wide-open spaces – or at least the yardage between the white lines of a football field. He loved the game so much that he even looked forward to practice, and still does.
“I wasn’t a great player, so my playing came at practice,” he said. “I loved practice because I got to play.”
Sounds simple enough. It’s the climb up the coaching ladder where things got complicated.
As he puts it, “I’ve been all over the place.”
The journey began at – not surprisingly – Boise State. The Broncos won the NCAA I-AA title his senior season. In February, Valero went to see the head coach – Jim Criner, who had been his line coach as a junior.
“I told him I was really interested in coaching, that I’d like to make it my profession and would love to work for him if he had anything available,” Valero said. “He goes, ‘You’re hired.’ ”
Valero’s first “job”? Helping Criner move from one office to another.
Seahawks.com will feature the new coaches on Pete Carroll’s staff during the coming weeks:
“My first day on the job was packing up his stuff and moving it next door,” he said.
It turned out to be a good move. Valero’s line coach as a senior was Mike Solari, who coached with the Seahawks in 2008-09. “That dates him, not me,” Valero was quick to interject. Solari was leaving for a job at Cincinnati, so guess who became the new line coach at Boise State?
“My first year of coaching, I’m coaching guys I had played with,” Valero said. “Both feet were in right away, so I thought that’s the way it was.”
When Criner left to go to Iowa State in 1983, Valero went with him. But he lasted only a season because the program was facing NCAA sanctions. That’s how Valero got to Long Beach State, as the O-line coach on Mike Sheppard’s staff for three years – the same Mike Sheppard who was the Seahawks’ QB coach in 1999-2000. When Sheppard went to New Mexico State in 1987, Valero followed – but was fired after three seasons.
“He did me the biggest favor in my life,” said Valero, who then explained, “We were No. 17 in the country in total offense and we were No. 108 in total defense – and the only reason we weren’t 109th is that SMU had the death penalty.
“So he fired myself and Steve Fairchild, who is now the head coach at Colorado State. So we took the brunt of that, which was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
That was in November, when the job market was slow – to say the least. There was an opening at Idaho, but coach John Smith told Valero he wasn’t interested, “Because I was a Boise State grad.”
Undaunted, Valero called back and asked Smith to give him 30 minutes of his time.
“I met with him at 6 o’clock in the morning, and by 3 o’clock that afternoon I had the job,” Valero said. “And I was with him for 12 years after that.”
It was an association that took Valero from Idaho to Utah State (1995-97) and then Louisville (1998-2001). During all this, Valero did have an eye on the NFL, not to mention a foot in the door. He served minority fellowships at training camps with the Kansas City Chiefs (1994), where he worked with coach Marty Schottenheimer and Gibbs; the Buffalo Bills (1996), when Marv Levy was the coach; and the New York Jets (1998), when they were coached by Bill Parcells.
“All I did was take notes,” Valero said of those summer-school sessions with Schottenheimer, Levy and Parcells. “I’m one of those people who approached it as, A, I’m a free agent; and, B, I’m going to be very, very slow to speak and very quick to listen.
“The coaches who were on those staffs have no idea how much they’ve helped me – personally and professionally.”
Valero’s fulltime move to the NFL came with – what else? – another improbable story. It involves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Marvin Lewis and Tim Ruskell (the Seahawks GM from 2005 until last December).
Lewis thought he was getting the job as head coach and wanted Valero on his staff. So he resigned at Louisville.
“I went for a jog, came back and got a phone call from Tim Ruskell,” Valero said. “Tim said, ‘It’s not happening.’ I said, ‘What’s not happening?’ He said, ‘Marvin is not going to get hired.’ So I was officially a NFL coach for about four hours.”
Two weeks later, he was offered the job of offensive line coach with the Jets. But before he could say yes, Jon Gruden called and told Valero, “I want you to come to Tampa before you make a decision.’ ”
Already long story shorter, Valero was on Gruden’s staff in Tampa for six years – as tight ends coach (2002-03), running backs coach (2004-07) and assistant head coach (2007).
“I went from not having a date to the dance to being the prom queen overnight,” he said.
Valero soured on Tampa and found his way to the St. Louis Rams, because he had coached with Scott Linehan at Idaho and Louisville. But that reunion lasted four games as Linehan was fired and Valero ended up also working for Jim Haslett and Steve Spagnulo in two seasons with the Rams.
Spagnulo released Valero from his contract so he could come to Seattle and get back to his first love – coaching the offensive line.
“I thank him from the bottom of my heart,” Valero said. “Because I know it had to be tough on him to let me go to a divisional opponent.”
Not exactly by the book, but a meandering career path that is worthy of a book.
Valero has even gone about building a family in an unusual manner. He and his wife, Alicia, have five children. There’s Family No. 1 – daughter Kimberly, 26, and son Kyle, 24, who is the offensive quality control coach for the Detroit Lions. Then there’s Family No. 2 – son Brandon, 13, and daughters Alexa, 10, and Cami, 8.
“Most people only get to grow up with adolescence and kids once. I get it twice,” Valero said. “Believe me, they keep me young, they keep me on my toes and I’m living it again.”
While waiting for that jet ride to complete his bucket list.