MOBILE, Ala. — This offseason, eight NFL coaching vacancies were available.
This week, Ulbrich will finally have a chance to be a head coach at the 75th annual Senior Bowl.
“I wasn’t frustrated,” Ulbrich said about not getting selected for an interview. “I know how all of this works. It takes like a year to get your name out there.
“I always feel like things take like a year and then they talk about it and it gets the narrative going a little bit. If we play well again, who knows? My focus right now is winning a world championship with the New York Jets.”
Ulbrich became the Jets defensive coordinator in 2021 after Robert Saleh was hired as coach. In his first season overseeing the defense, Ulbrich’s unit finished 32nd in yards (397.6) and points allowed (29.6).
But in the last two years, the Jets fielded one of the best defenses in the NFL. In 2022, they finished fourth in yards (311.1) and points allowed (18.6). Ulbrich’s group followed that up in 2023 by ending the regular season third in yards (292.3) and 12th in points given up (20.9).
The Jets’ record during the last two seasons could have something to do with the lack of interest in Ulbrich. Gang Green has finished 7-10 each of the last two years.
“I think my superpower is not to pat my own back, I’m on my feet,” Ulbrich said. “I’m the defensive coordinator of the Jets. And I owe it to them, owe it to the organization, to the fan base, to Woody [Johnson], to Robert that they get the best version of me, and the best version of me is staying grounded and being focused on being a defensive coordinator.
“If that brings that opportunity, that’s beautiful. But if it doesn’t, I’m not holding my breath either because I love what I do and love where I’m doing it at.”
This week is a full circle moment for Ulbrich being back at the Senior Bowl. In 2000, the linebacker was selected to play in the Senior Bowl after being a two-year starter at Hawaii. His coaches during that Senior Bowl were Marty Schottenheimer and Gunther Cunningham, both known for their time with the Chiefs.
Ten years later, after his career was over with the 49ers, Ulbrich came to Mobile trying to get into coaching. There, he met then-Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and was hired as the team’s assistant special teams coach.
“I never met him prior to this and it was his first staff and I got an opportunity to know him,” Ulbrich said about meeting Carroll. “This was the place that got me drafted in the third round, this was the place that got me my first coaching job, and it was really cool to be a part of this.”
Throughout this week, Ulbrich will work with college prospects during practices and coach them in Saturday’s Senior Bowl game at Hancock Whitney Stadium. This is the second time in three years Jets coaches worked with players at the Senior Bowl.
But instead of just being on the staff, Ulbrich will wear many hats. He is coaching the national team and also evaluating talent for the Jets.
“It is a chance to look at it from a different perspective, which is a global perspective,” Ulbrich said. “It is just amazing how many little things that I never thought of as a position coach or a coordinator that a head coach has to deal with, so many non-football things especially. It has been interesting from that standpoint. I think it is great from my standpoint for me to look at it from this lens.”
In the 2022 Senior Bowl, the Jets staff coached the national team. Gang Green eventually selected four players who participated in that Senior Bowl — edge rusher Jermaine Johnson (26th overall), tight end Jeremy Ruckert (101st), tackle Max Mitchell (111th), and defensive lineman Micheal Clemons (117th).
“When you go to the combine, you go to pro days, there’s a rehearsal element to that with all these prospects,” Ulbrich said. “That’s intentional, you’re trying to get drafted as high as they can, make as much money as they can and I get that.
“In this environment, you get way more of an authentic look at these guys because it’s football and it’s a football environment and it is more natural. They might initially try to put up a barrier, but eventually, you’re going to try to figure out who they are, which is really cool for both sides. I was telling these guys earlier that as much as you want to get drafted as high as possible, you also want to go to the place that’s the right fit. Not just from a skill set standpoint or a personality standpoint.”