Patrick Graham had just been hired as the defensive line coach at the University of Toledo when Bill Belichick was on the other end of the line offering him a job as a Patriots defensive assistant.
“And he hung up on him,” Duane Brooks told The Post. “He thought it was a prank.”
It was no prank. Graham called Brooks — his old defensive line coach at Yale, currently the assistant coach/defensive line coach at Dartmouth — to tell him about the call.
Brooks recalls the conversation this way:
Brooks: “You probably should call him back.”
Graham: “I’ve only been in Toledo for a week.”
Brooks: “So what? You’re going to the highest place you can go. Here’s your chance to be with a guy who’s gonna end up being the greatest head coach ever.”
Graham called Belichick back.
He resigned from Toledo after a month.
And now — 11 years later — he is the defensive coordinator for Joe Judge and the New York Football Giants.
Brooks remembers Graham, now 41, as a 250-pound Ivy League defensive tackle/end.
“We had a game called the D-line Olympics, he actually won those two years in a row,” Brooks said.
But while Graham liked football, he didn’t love it. “He put in enough to be adequate, but he could have done better,” Brooks said.
Graham wound up working in public relations in Cincinnati. He would call Brooks every week.
Graham: “Coach, I hate this job.”
Brooks: “Why don’t you become a football coach?”
Graham: “I don’t want to coach ’cause I see all the s–t you go through.”
Brooks had a friend who was defensive coordinator at Wagner College, a man named Mark Collins. There were two graduate-assistant openings. Graham could work towards his MBA with a concentration in finance there and see if coaching football might interest him. His junior varsity team went undefeated. Graham was also strength and conditioning coach and academic coordinator.
“And he fell in love with it,” Brooks said.
“He came in the same time as a guy by the name of Justin Davis,” Collins recalled. “Justin Davis and Pat Graham became best friends, and they called each other by their last name, and it used to make me crazy. ‘What’s wrong with you guys? First names, we use those in this country.’ ”
Graham and Davis lived together in a small apartment.
“I used to try to help ’em out on the weekends,” Collins said. “They’d always want to go to the city, and go to one of these clubs at night. It’s 30 bucks to get into these clubs and then for them to buy a drink, it would be another 14, and I said, ‘You guys don’t have that kind of money,’ so I’d give ’em a couple of six-packs before they went in so they can have a couple of beers and then go and they’d get one drink and sip on it all night.”
Graham was an offensive assistant.
“He was gonna be a star, there was no question about it,” Collins said. “He just had that special way about him. The kids loved him and they played for him.”
Davis coached linebackers.
“I think the players understand that Pat is always prepared,” Davis said. “There’s some coaches that are rah rah-type of coaches, and they scream and they yell. Pat’s prepared all the time, and as a player, that’s motivating. When Pat gets on somebody, they understand that he’s getting on them for a reason, because he doesn’t do it all the time.”
Dave Clawson was the head coach at Fordham when Graham caught his attention at a high school practice in one of the boroughs, where they were scouting potential recruits.
“I thought he had some really good, quick evaluation skills,” Clawson said. “And I just said, ‘Hey reach out to me sometime.’ ”
So Graham did. And Clawson hired him. Except a week later, Clawson accepted the head coaching job at Richmond.
“He was nervous I wasn’t gonna take him, and I said, ‘You have a job,’ ” Clawson said. “I worked five years at Fordham to get the Richmond job, he worked a week [laugh].”
Graham was the tight ends coach at Richmond in 2004, the defensive line coach from 2005-06.
“He was one of those young coaches that you knew was gonna be a fast riser,” Clawson said.
“I just thought he was very straightforward and very intentional, but also very genuine and sincere. Players trusted him, they knew he was really smart, and he was well-researched. He was not one of these guys that made stuff up if he didn’t know something, so he worked so hard to understand it so he could thoroughly teach it.”
He tells a story: “He was recruiting these two players from New Jersey, he couldn’t get our defensive coordinator to approve ’em,” Clawson said. “So he kept representing ’em, representing ’em, representing ’em, and the coordinator just said, ‘Don’t show me those players again.’ Well, both those guys ended up in the NFL.
“He was a young coach, and he was going to a coordinator that was 20 years older than him, and 20 years more experienced, but it showed that he had the courage of conviction.”
Graham became defensive graduate assistant in 2007 and 2008 at Notre Dame under Charlie Weis.
“It’s always been the M.O. of the people I’ve learned under is to hire smart guys with good work ethic,” Weis, who now has a show on SiriusXM, told The Post. “I used to ride Patrick pretty good ’cause I thought he had a chance of being pretty special.”
Weis explains why.
“You’ll come across and talk to him, and he’ll seem a very intelligent, quiet, polished and reserved guy … when you talk to him,” Weis said. “And then, you get him on a practice field, and he is one step from losing his mind at all times, meaning he is a highly energetic teacher. It’s kinda funny, because you talk to him, and he almost sounds like a professor. But then if you ask any of the players what he’s like, they’ll tell you he is ALL over ’em. The players like his energy.”
Brooks recalls working as a high school special needs teacher and running the local YMCA in Bar Harbor, Maine, after Yale fired him in 2011. “I was licking my wounds,” Brooks said.
Brooks was having a house built and invited Graham, who had been a Belichick aide for three years, to his football camp. Graham was an expectant father.
“And he came up to this camp, it was like three days,” Brooks said. “His wife had just had the baby like three days before and he still came up with his wife. They brought the baby.”
Davis and Graham have remained close. Davis stayed at the Graham home last season when Graham was Dolphins defensive coordinator.
“He’s up going into the office on game day at 4:30 in the morning, just to get a couple of extra hours to get ready for the game,” Davis said. “He is going to grind and come to work every single day with his work boots on.”
If Graham — who left Belichick’s tutelage after six seasons for stops with the Giants and Packers before landing in Miami for a season — sounds like the ideal Joe Judge aide, it’s because he is.
“He’s really team-oriented and meticulous about people doing things right,” Brooks said. “If you can do things right for him and be in the right place, you’re gonna be successful.”
Defensive coordinator is a prestigious job on the New York Giants, starting with Vince Lombardi and Bill Parcells and Belichick.
Thankfully, Patrick Graham called Bill Belichick back.
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