David Diehl spent the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend like a lot of Americans – driving in a car.
The two-time Super Bowl champion made the 16-hour haul from New Jersey to the University of Memphis in a silver luxury SUV with blue interior, fitting colors for a Giants legend and his next endeavor. Diehl was recently hired as the newest member of the Tigers' coaching staff, leading the former fifth-round draft choice to pack up his belongings and leave the area for the first time in two decades.
"It's tough," Diehl said. "The preparation for this has been my entire life. I walked away from the [Giants] facility crying."
Now he will walk into a new one.
Diehl, who will serve as an analyst for the Memphis football program, had been with the Giants since 2003. He poured out his sweat and blood for 11 seasons as a player. Since then, he had been a member of their broadcast team.
With a career marked by toughness, durability and versatility, Diehl played every position on the offensive line except center and started the first 120 regular season games of his career. By the time he hung up his cleats in 2013, Diehl started 160 of 164 games played in the regular season in addition to all 11 postseason outings, including victories in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.
"I'm essentially taking what I've done for over 20 years of my life," Diehl said. "I'm 41 years old. I've given two decades to the New York Football Giants, and I wouldn't have it any other way. To use all those experiences and all that knowledge and the fact that I've literally faced every type of defense, every run scheme, every pass scheme, every stunt, I've lived it. I've studied it. I've physically gone through it. The fact that I have that background, I have that knowledge, I have that passion, I'm going to be able to help find those strengths and weaknesses of other opponents. There's nothing better than it."
View photos of two-time Super Bowl champion David Diehl, who started 171 games for the Giants from 2003-13.
Diehl's decision came as a surprise to his former teammates … until they thought about it.
"The biggest thing out of everybody's [reaction] is nobody was expecting this," said Diehl, who has a running group text with many of his fellow former linemen. "I mean, I knew that this was happening, this is what I wanted. But everybody was shocked when they saw this. But when they thought about it and talked to me, 'OK, it does make sense after we sat here and thought about it.'"
Even his former position coach was a little shocked at first but then became a sounding board for the ex-player looking to join the profession.
"As I told David when he called me when he got that job, they're fortunate to have a guy like him," said Pat Flaherty, who coached the Giants' offensive line from 2004-15, Tom Coughlin's entire tenure as head coach. "It's very difficult, in my opinion, to get somebody with experience and with passion. When you get that combination, you're really going to have a pretty good chemistry to be a great assistant, whether it's at the college level or the pro level. … He's going to be around young players just coming out of high school, and he's going to develop them the right way - which in this profession, there's a need for guys like David Diehl."
Never lacking energy or passion, Diehl seriously started to pursue a coaching career at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this past winter.
"To really make that step and make that big jump, I was sitting there watching all the players work out after watching film on every single one of them before they performed their drills, and I just knew this is exactly what I wanted," said Diehl, who attained his master's degree in education years ago in case his NFL career didn't go the way it went. "The dream and the love that I have to help kids fulfill their dreams, it's because I was in the same exact position as them. You always hear the cliché, 'I know exactly what it's like to sit in this room and to go through the things you're going through, I have at every single level.'"
Not a bad recruiting pitch. It will certainly be used by Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield, who has a background in developing offensive linemen.
"You know I will definitely be in this [New Jersey] area," Diehl said.
Although he will be valuable on the recruiting trail, Diehl will bring his expertise to the classroom. Diehl's role will center on breakdowns of the Tigers and their opponents, including strategic analysis of defensive lines, run fits, and pass schemes.
"He's been a student of the game, and he'll be able to share that with the players that he's going to coach," Flaherty said. "And that's sometimes difficult, how you express yourself to the players. I don't think Dave will have any problem at all because he has good patience. He can communicate very well. He's a great person with a great personality. He'll care for the players. They will find that out very quickly. As important, they should soak up the knowledge he has."
In addition to the Xs and Os, Diehl is also a master motivator.
"That's going to be natural for him," Flaherty said. "His playing days, that's his personality. He always has energy. The passion and the love for the game and the passion and love for his teammates has always been expressed by him. And that's genuine. That's not something that he had to put on a show about it. It just came right from his heart that will carry over to when he gets into coaching. He'll be great; he really will be. I'm excited for him because you can feel how excited he is about it. They're very fortunate to have him."
Flaherty, who has 40 years of coaching experience, shared his advice to Diehl as he enters Year 1.
"The biggest transition that those guys have is the time factor," Flaherty said. "As a player, you work a full day and long hours but then you go home. Well, as a coach, now you've got those night hours. That's going to be an adjustment. That's an adjustment for everybody, but he'll do real well. Be yourself [is my advice]. You've learned things the right way. You've done it. You've prepared yourself for this direction that you want to go in with coaching. I told Dave this: I'm a phone call away. I said if you ever have any questions about anything that comes up, just give me a call and I'll try not to screw you up like I did as a player and he laughed."
The modest Flaherty hardly did that. He developed the linemen who helped the Giants win two world championships, including four-time Pro Bowler Chris Snee, Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert, Kareem McKenzie, Kevin Boothe and, of course, Diehl.
"All those guys could be outstanding coaches," Flaherty said. "It was just the way that room developed. They helped one another. They were so unselfish. I can't say enough. That's what really made them tick. They didn't care about the notoriety. You always talk about the offensive line being a group, and you need a leader of a group. Well, that group had five leaders."
Diehl isn't the only connection to those teams that made its way to Memphis.
Packed in his SUV was a box containing every notebook from Diehl's playing days. An obsessive notetaker, Diehl kept every offensive line reminder, top 15 script, game prep, review notes, and playbook from 2003-13.
"I've always been that way," Diehl said. "I'm a person who could sit there and read something four times and, yeah, I'll get it. But I'm a visual learner. So if I hear it, I see it, and I write it down, it's ingrained in my memory. That's something that [offensive line coach] Harry Hiestand at the University of Illinois ingrained in me. Write notes. Keep yourself accountable. How do you know what you need to improve on if you go back and you're not even specific with it? When you write out detailed notes like that, it helps you not only understand and get that knowledge to where on the football field it's all about reaction. If you're thinking for that split-second, especially when you're playing offensive tackle, it's over for you. So, that's been the thing for me since the get-go."
Flaherty witnessed that first-hand.
"As a player, he was a guy that, like the rest of the group, they were very diligent in their preparation week in and week out and took great notes. I've always believed that football players either watch or study film, or tape as we know it now. That group, including David, studied the tape; they didn't just watch it. It's a big difference because when you study it, you learn how to read the defenses, how to read the different players you're playing against. It takes time to prepare like that, and that group did."
And it's because of that group and all that ensued that made leaving the Giants "bittersweet" for Diehl.
"The Wednesday of 2003 after my dad passed away, and to hear Wellington Mara and Ernie Accorsi say, 'This is your family. The door is always open.' It's why I was a Giant for life," Diehl said. "I told them right there that I can't promise a lot, but I can promise I'll be trustworthy, loyal and accountable until the end. For two decades, I have - to the best organization in the NFL."
That's what Memphis is getting now.