In a professional sports league such as the NFL, where the
average player’s employment lasts two to four years, Jeff Ulbrich
was as much an oddity as he was a commodity.
In a professional sports league such as the NFL, where the average player’s employment lasts two to four years, Jeff Ulbrich was as much an oddity as he was a commodity.
As the Morgan Hill native approached the twilight of a surprisingly long NFL career – 10 years spent entirely with the San Francisco 49ers – he became even more of a credible mentor for the team’s up-and-coming talents at linebacker. Now retired at age 32, Ulbrich is looking for a new job – one that can put his motivational skills and knowledge to good use.
The former Live Oak standout who never dreamed of making it in the NFL has been actively pursuing a coaching job since December, when he confirmed his playing career would end after this season. Ulbrich had been out of action since San Francisco’s 35-0 win over St. Louis on Oct. 4. He was concussed during the opening kick-off.
While the 49ers have been in offseason mode the last two weeks, Ulbrich has been as busy as ever. His wife, Cristina, and kids Sammy, 8, Jax, 6, and Jace, 4, are aware his break from employment is just that – a break.
“A normal day is lots of phone calls,” Ulbrich said Wednesday, still looking game-ready at 6-foot, 240 pounds. “I’m trying to find a coaching job; just reaching out to all the coaches I played under, players that I played with who are now coaching.”
A short list of Ulbrich’s list of contacts includes Jim Mora, Dennis Erickson, June Jones, Bryant Young and Jim Harbaugh. Ideally, Ulbrich will land a job that isn’t far from his family’s new house off of Watsonville Road in Gilroy.
“We’re not taking any vacations or going anywhere until he has something down,” said Cristina, 32. “We know Jeff’s coaching can take us anywhere, just like with playing. I’m on board and so are the kids.”
Jeff Ulbrich is open to coach at any level – he did not rule out joining Live Oak’s staff for a season or two. He’s eager to get started.
“That’s kind of the key,” he said. “Coaching is a funny business, but it’s a lot like being a player. You want to surround yourself with people you know and trust. It’s all about developing relationships.”
Ulbrich had a knack for that during his playing career. He was well respected by teammates and opponents; the longest-tenured 49er when he stepped down. Ulbrich has a plaque on the wall dedicated to the team’s 10-year veterans.
“It’s probably my biggest thing, [especially] for a guy that never thought he would come close to that,” he said.
Any coach is likely a former standout. What sets Ulbrich apart, according to him, is his marketable path to college and the NFL. Following a redshirt season with San Jose State and another year at Gavilan College, he received his first FBS (formerly Division I) scholarship offer.
“I’ve been thinking about coaching probably since my first year in the NFL,” he said. “I always felt like I’m a guy that overcame a lot. I wasn’t one of the fastest guys or one of the biggest guys, but I knew the game pretty well. I’ve always felt that’s a great makeup for a coach; kind of an overachiever.”
Ulbrich is confident he can bring his on-the-field passion to the sideline. After doctors said he was not cleared to play football in the wake of his Week 4 concussion, Ulbrich became the 49ers’ biggest fan.
His last game as a member of the team was a Jan. 3 28-6 win over the Rams, Ulbrich’s favorite opponent. He ended his career with 495 tackles, 5.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, two interceptions and a tackle for a safety.
“Walking off the field in St. Louis was really hard. I just looked around and thought, ‘This is it.’ It was funny because I always prepared for it,” he said. “Every year, I told my wife, ‘This is the year; they’re going to cut me this year.’ I’ve said that since Year 1 after we got married in college, so she’s been through the whole thing.”
That includes Ulbrich’s numerous bouts with concussions, whose long-term effects have been a popular – and humbling – topic in sports as of late.
“It’s knowing we don’t have to worry about his health anymore,” Cristina said.
Ulbrich said he felt fine after suffering his latest concussion, but symptoms came to light the next day.
“There was nothing different about that hit. I didn’t feel like I got hit hard at all,” he said. “There was nothing different about it than any other hit on kick-off coverage. It was just my last one.”