The rejections stung, sure. They always do. But Ronald Curry had overcome far more, and a few job interviews that didn't pan out weren't about to discourage him.
"Everything happens for a reason," he said Friday afternoon. "That's how I've always lived my life."
Providence, not coincidence. It's such a blissful outlook, and it's precisely how Curry explains the improbable course that led him this month to an entry-level coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers.
Indeed, improbable has long described the thoughtful, understated Curry.
A once-in-a-generation athlete, he was — long story short — an All-American quarterback and point guard at Hampton High who, after a circus recruitment, saw his college and professional careers derailed by constant coaching turmoil and three Achilles tendon tears, a right and two lefts.
"I've been there," Curry said. "I've been cut, I've been on the practice squad. I had to come back from injury. … I've done it all."
Curry retired prior to the 2009 season after seven years with the Oakland Raiders and believed his range of experiences prepared him for college or NFL coaching.
He worked two minority internships with the San Diego Chargers under Norv Turner, the second of his four coaches in Oakland. He coached basketball and football, and served as athletic director, at Mooresville Christian Academy, a small school in the Charlotte, N.C., suburb where he and his family lived. He worked football camps at the University of North Carolina, where he had set school records for total offense and passing yards, despite playing for three offensive coordinators.
"I could see Ronald as a coach," said Boo Williams, Curry's youth basketball coach. "Even-keeled. Doesn't get too high, too low. Great personality. Forget talent, just one of the great kids we ever had."
Curry interviewed for assistant positions at James Madison, William and Mary and Hampton University but lacked the requisite recruiting experience. The jobs went to others.
Curry understood, and the disappointment didn't approach that of having to move from quarterback to receiver in the NFL. The challenge didn't approach that of recovering from a third Achilles tear to author his best professional seasons: 62 receptions in 2006, and 55 in '07.
"My family is good, my health is good," Curry said. "All I can ask for is the next day. I wasn't discouraged. I went into the interviews, I knew I was qualified. At the time, they were just looking for something different.
"The college game … is all about recruiting. If you don't have any ties with recruiting, it's hard to get in (with staff limited by the NCAA). In the pros, it's a little easier to get in. They can have (unlimited) coaches on the staff. In the pros, if you like a guy, you can hire him, give him something to do."
Which brings us to this spring and a fledgling charter school near Curry's home.
As Curry and his wife, Stacie, explored the Community School of Davidson for their children, Curry happened upon a quarterback there. Turns out the quarterback's dad is a cousin to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who just happened to be a rookie assistant with the Raiders when the team selected Curry in the seventh round of the 2002 draft.
That evening Curry received a text from the Davidson quarterback: Harbaugh wanted to reconnect. Two days later, Harbaugh called and asked Curry to interview for quality control position with the 49ers' offensive coaching staff.
"It was a whirlwind," Curry said. "I flew out (here) two weeks ago and haven't been back."
Stacie and their children — daughters Raley, 8, and Emery, 5, and 3-year-old son Carter — will join Curry once school lets out. Meanwhile, Curry is taking a coaching crash course from the man who led Stanford to an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in January 2011 and San Francisco to the Super Bowl two years later — the 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens, coached by Jim's brother John.
The teacher-student dynamic is not unlike 2002, when Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback, was assigned to groom the rookie Curry.
"We worked every day and developed a relationship," Curry said. "He was so passionate about what we had going on. You'd have never known I was a seventh-round draft pick trying to make the team. He coached me like I was the first pick overall."
Oakland lost the Super Bowl in Curry's rookie season to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and by 2004, Curry was a full-time receiver, and Harbaugh was coaching the University of San Diego.
"You have to be careful how you treat people," Curry said. "These are the seeds I sowed back then. … Those are relationships you build."
As a quality control coach, Curry will work a week ahead of San Francisco's schedule, cutting up tape of opponents, analyzing tendencies and helping assemble the playbook. And like Harbaugh in 2002, he'll mentor reserves.
Hampton High football coach Mike Smith considers that latter task ideal for Curry, who led the Crabbers to three consecutive state championships from 1995-97.
"Ronald is a very, very intelligent young man, hard worker, great personality," Smith said. "There wasn't any doubt (he would coach). Even with younger kids, he was always so personable. He was always a people person."
San Francisco's offense has a wealth of talent in players such as quarterback Colin Kaepernick, receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Kaepernick, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Washington's Robert Griffin III led their teams to the playoffs last season and are the type of dual-threat quarterbacks so many believed Curry would become.
With better health, more stable coaching and less attention to basketball, might Curry have fulfilled that promise?
"I honestly don't think about that," he said. "I felt like I had a good run. My book was written the way it was supposed to be. I don't really harp on not playing quarterback. … I enjoyed my ride. I got to do what everybody said I ought to do as a young kid, and that's play in the NFL.
"I got to live that dream, regardless of who was at quarterback. … I met great people … It allowed me to take care of my family. Would I have wanted to play quarterback? Of course, I would have. But I'm not bitter one bit about how things turned out."
Curry, 33, usually returns to Hampton during the summer, and he remains close with his cousin and former Crabbers teammate Almondo, the defensive backs coach at Christopher Newport University. Studious and serious even as a high schooler — I saw Curry speak Latin with a Nike employee during a basketball camp he attended prior to his senior year — Curry is raising his family accordingly.
"My kids are at a great age now," he said. "They're adventurous. I love parenthood. We talk (about becoming) doctors and lawyers around our house. … I've got bright kids that love to read. … They take tap, ballet, volleyball. My oldest daughter, she hates basketball. My middle girl, she'd be a football player if I'd let her. …
"We've got a good thing going on."
The opportunity with the 49ers is beyond good. Entering his third season, Harbaugh appears to have the franchise poised for an extended run.
Harbaugh's rise was meteoric, from Raiders assistant to college head coach in two years. Curry has similar aspirations but isn't burdened by a timetable.
"The great thing about it is, you get to learn the whole game through this process," he said. "It's a great place to start. It's on you to soak it all in. … I'd definitely love to be a head coach one day, preferably in the NFL or college. But right now, I'm just learning. …
"I came in here thinking I knew a lot. After the first day, I knew I didn't know nearly as much as I thought. It wasn't a rude awakening, but it was an awakening. But I'm learning, man. I'm learning so much. I've got some great coaches that are great teachers that are willing to teach, and I'm just going to take it and run with it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times