Navorro Bowman Is Transitioning From All-Pro Linebacker To Chargers Assistant Coach

Los Angeles Chargers linebackers coach NaVorro Bowman speaks during a news conference after an NFL football organized team activity Monday, May 20, 2024, in Costa Mesa, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
Los Angeles Chargers linebackers coach NaVorro Bowman speaks during a news conference after an NFL football organized team activity Monday, May 20, 2024, in Costa Mesa, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
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COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — NaVorro Bowman was able to see as a player how quickly Jim Harbaugh could turn a team into a Super Bowl contender.

Bowman has reunited with Harbaugh, albeit in a different capacity.

Harbaugh hired Bowman in February to be the Los Angeles Chargers' linebackers coach. It is Bowman’s first coaching job in the NFL after spending last year at the University of Maryland as a defensive analyst.

“Being able to understand (Harbaugh’s) message and get his nod, his approval on how I played, it’s my job to get guys to play that way and do the things that he expects us to do — or the players to do, I should say,” Bowman said.

Bowman — a four-time All-Pro selection — played in the league for seven seasons. He spent most of his career in San Francisco, where he was a third-round pick in 2010 before being released in October 2017. Bowman then signed with the Raiders and played more 10 games.

Harbaugh and Bowman were together for four seasons (2011-14), with the 49ers reaching a Super Bowl and three NFC championship games. But Bowman tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee during the NFC title game at Seattle and missed the 2014 season.

Bowman grew up in Maryland, and his family relocated to McLean, Virginia, after he retired. Midway through the 2022 season, Bowman called Maryland coach Mike Locksley about getting into coaching.

Locksley had founded the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches, so he told Bowman to come out for the final half of the season and serve as a volunteer assistant to get a feel for coaching and make sure it was what he wanted to do.

“I think he got the bug and liked the process of what being a coach is about,” Locksley said. “His experience of being an NFL great helped around the building.”

As an analyst at Maryland, Bowman didn’t do any on-field coaching. He broke down film, worked with position coaches and was a sounding board for players in meeting rooms to help them understand the defense.

“As a player, I was trying to dissect the coach’s brain and just wanting to know everything. Usually, the coach doesn’t give it to you that way. They give it to you for a player,” Bowman said. “I think it benefits the players just having me here and being able to give it to them both ways, just being able to say: ‘OK, you don’t understand it this way. Let me break it down to you how you and your teammate would talk about it.’”

Bowman had kept in touch with Harbaugh throughout the years and let Harbaugh know that if his former coach ever returned to the NFL, joining his staff would interest Bowman.

So when the Chargers hired Harbaugh away from the University of Michigan, it was there for the taking.

Linebacker Denzel Perryman, who is back with the Chargers after three seasons with the Raiders and Texans, said he watched Bowman growing up and tried to model parts of his game after his new coach. Perryman said Bowman reminds him of Antonio Pierce, who was the Raiders' linebackers coach before becoming their head coach.

“They understand the game, and it makes it a lot easier for us to play,” Perryman said.

Bowman said his biggest learning curve involves the terminology of defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s system.

He likes Minter’s scheme because it gives the linebackers more latitude to make plays.

“We do different things that we didn’t do when I was playing. It’s more fun, right?” Bowman said. “That just shows the evolution of the game. Jesse is a great defensive coordinator. His scheme is second to none. I think once we get all 11 guys understanding the things that they can do — because, like I said, I haven’t been in a system where you’re able to do these type of things.”

The biggest things Bowman has been stressing in the linebacker room are fundamentals and communication. Los Angeles has one of the better outside tandems in the league in rush linebackers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, but there are questions about the rest of the unit.

The Chargers added Perryman at inside linebacker to gain experience, though there is still plenty of youth in third-round pick Junior Colson and second-year player Daiyan Henley, who mostly played special teams last year.

“We stress to the guys a lot that you’re not going to make the team now being in shirts and shorts, so let’s not go out there and try to be the scout team hero or practice tempo setter. Let’s get all of the looks,” Bowman said. "This moment is all about technique, what you know and how much you can take from the classroom onto the field.”

With Pierce, Jerod Mayo and DeMeco Ryans working their way from former players to assistants to head coaches, Locksley thinks Bowman has the same potential.

“I think he has a bright future because of his pedigree, knowledge and experience," Locksley said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be one of those guys that once he gets the experience and continues to grow, he may end up being one of those guys to get a chance to lead a team.”