Matawan, New Jersey native Jim Jeffcoat was a star high school defensive lineman. He headed west to play college football for the Arizona State University Sun Devils. He was All-Pac 10 first team and an All American honorable mention in 1982. He was later inducted into the ASU Ring of Honor.
A big, bruising defender, Jeffcoat was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of 1983 NFL Draft. Jeffcoat spent over a decade as a defensive cog for America’s Team, winning two Super Bowls and ending his career with over 100 sacks.
When his playing days were over, he made the successful transition to the coaching ranks, spending the last 20 years as a defensive line coach on nearly every level of football from the NFL to the XFL and the Division I college ranks.
His rookie card is in the 1985 Topps set and he appeared on cards through the mid-1990s when he joined the Buffalo Bills.
The 59-year-old father of four talked with us about collecting New York Yankees cards growing up, seeing his own rookie card for the first time and Bruce Smith grabbing the game ball from his 100th sack.
TR–You were a standout at Arizona State University and spent a decade with the Cowboys and a few seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Do you remember the very first time you were asked for your autograph?
JJ– Actually it happened at Arizona State. It was somewhat shocking because you never know how good you are. It’s a little different when people started asking for autographs and when they start recognizing you.
TR–What was the experience like playing at ASU in such an incredible venue and in front of such a passionate student section?
JJ– It was great. At that time they didn’t have any professional football in Arizona. Later on they had the Cardinals but, at that time, they didn’t have any pro football. We were the only game in town. We got huge crowds and many, many people were avid Sun Devils fans.
TR–Your rookie card appeared in the 1985 Topps set. Do you remember the very first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
JJ-When I was a kid, we used to flip baseball cards. We flipped them and if you got the same colors you would get to keep all the cards. Now, I was on a card like all of the baseball players I watched as a youth. It was special.
TR– In speaking to a number of pro athletes, many say that seeing yourself on a trading card is one of those ‘I made it” moments. Did you feel the same way?
JJ-Yes, no question about it. You’ve made it, at least, to have the opportunity to have your picture on a card. That is something that will last long after you are not here anymore. Once your playing days are over, you still have those cards and those memories.
TR–You mentioned flipping cards as a kid. Did you collect certain players or teams as a young boy?
TR– Did you manage to hold on to any of those Yankees cards over the years?
JJ-Unfortunately, I didn’t. That would have been great.
TR–With the numerous accolades you received during your career, do you have a room or space in which you display those items?
JJ-I don’t have it displayed but I have quite a bit of memorabilia from when I played. I have memorabilia from other players I played with, too. I just keep it. I want to give it to my kids when I am gone, so they have something to remember me by and a way to remember my career.
TR–Is there one piece tucked away somewhere that is your favorite piece?
JJ– My favorite piece is my Ring of Honor ring from Arizona State. As far as pictures, it’s when Randy White, John Dutton, Ed Jones and I did a Stetson ad. It says ‘Real Cowboys wear hats.’ We all had Stetson cowboy hats on.
TR– Your teammate Emmitt Smith was not only one of the greatest running backs ever but a serious collector himself. Do you remember him keeping everything?
JJ– Yeah. He probably has memorabilia from various teammates, too. We all did that. I have stuff from Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett and many others. You keep those things. I kept various teammates jerseys over the years. I got them signed. There were a lot of great Hall of Famers and other great players involved in that.
TR–What players inspired a young Jim Jeffcoat?
JJ-I wasn’t a Cowboys fan at the time but I liked Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones, Harvey Martin and Randy White. I was always a big fan of ‘Mean’ Joe Greene and Deacon Jones. I watched the great players at the position and I tried to emulate them the best I could.
JJ– When I got my 100th sack I didn’t even realize it. Bruce Smith knew it and he went and got the ball. I got a sack against Philadelphia and he grabbed the ball and said “This is your 100th sack in the NFL. You need to keep this.” He grabbed it and made sure I got it. That was a great moment.
TR– You have now coached on various levels of football. How did you make a successful transition from player to coach?
JJ-I was a student of the game. I understood certain things. Even as a student of the game there are things you don’t realize, though. Now I had a huge appreciation, from coaching myself, on how many hours you spend. As a player, you depend on yourself to be successful. As a coach, you depend on what you are teaching the players to be successful and making sure you are putting players in the position to be successful. It’s rewarding when the players get what you are teaching. My mother was a teacher, so that helped me understand it a little better. I tried to understand that nobody is the same. You have to find out what each player does best and work from there. Each player has different abilities.
TR–Your longtime coach Jimmy Johnson was a master of that philosophy. Did you see that in action when Jimmy was in charge?
JJ– No question about it. Coach Johnson said he never treated players the same. He treated each player differently because they are different people. Obviously, he had a lot of success doing it that way.