Detroit Lions special team coordinator Dave Fipp is quite the storyteller. Ask him any question, and there’s a 20% chance he’ll go off on a tangent, recanting a lesson he’s learned in his life or a memory from 20 years ago.
Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers will be a homecoming of sorts for Fipp. Not only did Fipp grow up in California, but he coached at Cal Poly, San Jose State, and his first crack at the NFL was with—you guessed it the 49ers back in 2008 as the team’s assistant special teams coach.
When asked about returning “home,” Fipp dove into a story on how exactly he got that 49ers job, and the important lesson he learned that has stayed with him over the next 15 years.
It began at the University of Arizona, where Fipp was a graduate assistant. After a change at head coach for the program, Fipp was hoping to step into the defensive assistant role, but the new coach brought in his own preferred coach for the position, Jeff Rodgers.
Fipp eventually followed another peer to Cal Poly, and it was there that he got a random phone call. It was Rodgers—the man who took his job at Arizona. Rodgers was looking to Fipp for some guidance on a project that Fipp had had some experience with. At first, Fipp was incredulous.
“I’m kind of like, ‘Help you out? You just took my job.,’’ Fipp told the media on Thursday.
But eventually, he put his differences aside and helped him out. After all, it wasn’t Rodgers’ fault that he was tagged for the job.
That good deed would end up paying dividends. Eventually, Rodgers landed a job with the 49ers as the assistant special teams coach. When Rodgers left in 2008 to become the Kansas State special teams coordinator, he made one more call to Fipp.
“He calls me up and he says, ‘Hey, man, I just want to give you a heads up, I gave your name to the head coach and the special teams coordinator,’” Fipp recalled.
That endorsement was all 49ers head coach Mike Nolan needed. Fipp immediately was hired to Rodgers’ vacancy, and since then, Fipp hasn’t left the NFL ranks. He would remain in San Francisco for the next three years, spend two years with the Dolphins, and eight years with the Eagles, before landing in Detroit for the past three seasons.
Fipp has passed this story down to his kids as an important lesson professionally and personally.
“Don’t burn bridges. You just never know (when) it’s going to come back.”