The much-traveled Prince is the Seahawks’ third wide receivers coach in as many years in large part because he worked with first-year head coach Jim Mora and new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in San Francisco and Atlanta.
Before being on the staffs of the 49ers and Falcons, however, Prince coached with Knapp at Sacramento State and also spent two training camps with the 49ers as part of the NFL’s minority coaching intern program when Mora and Knapp were assistants.
“I did work for Greg as a wide receivers coach in college,” Prince said this week. “There’s a trust factor that he has in me. So I think for him, to have me on the staff, he felt like he didn’t have to go through the growing process of having to teach the whole offense to someone new at every position.”
But for Prince, “what you know” also has obviously served him well during his 20-year career.
Like the time he was sitting with the Fort Lewis College staff at a coaching convention in New Orleans and a recruiter for a Japanese team approached the group.
“The guy sat down at our table and says, ‘Do you guys know anyone that can coach quarterbacks?’ ” Prince said, smiling. “Everyone at the table pointed at me.”
That’s because Prince was born in Okinawa, to an African American father who was stationed there in the Air Force and a Japanese mother. He lived in Japan until he was seven, and still spoke Japanese.
“I figured I’d get over there and have no problems,” Prince said. “Then, when I get over there, everyone is talking so fast I couldn’t understand anything.”
After working with a tutor for a month, Prince was able to close the gap between his rusty Japanese and his obvious knowledge of the game.
The two-season sojourn to coach the Recruit Seagulls was just one stop in a 15-year journey that led Prince from being a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Humboldt State, to his first job in the NFL – as an offensive assistant with the Atlanta Falcons in 2004-05, when Mora and Knapp were the coach and offensive coordinator.
Back to the “who you know” for a second, Prince also coached with Gus Bradley, the Seahawks new defensive coordinator, at Fort Lewis College and he coached against Nate Burleson when the Seahawks split end was playing at Nevada and Prince was at Boise State.
“One day, he said, ‘Remember when I was going against you when you were at Nevada?’ ” Burleson said. “I was like, ‘What?’ That’s crazy, man.
“But he’s definitely got history in this sport. You can tell he’s been enjoying what he’s doing. Sometimes the stress of somebody not being able to handle a job, or not liking what they’re doing, is apparent. With him, you just can’t see that. He loves what he’s doing.”
It’s a long-running love affair, because Prince’s overnight success story actually began in 1989 and has taken him from Humboldt State to Montana State, to Sacramento State, to Fort Lewis College, back to Japan, to Portland State, to Boise State, to the NFL – where Prince spent the past two seasons as the assistant wide receivers coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In the nine stops that preceded his reunion with Mora and Knapp in Seattle, Prince also coached every position on the offensive side of the ball – except tight ends. It has allowed him to develop a broader view of the game, and plays into Mora’s desire to have his assistants and players see the total picture.
“Is that right?” Prince asked when informed that he had coached the offensive line, wide receivers, quarterbacks and running backs in addition to being a head coach, offensive coordinator, passing game coordinator and even recruiting coordinator.
After mentally flipping through his resume, he added, “That is right.”
One thing belies this wealth of experience: Prince. He just doesn’t look, or act, the part – or his age.
“He looks like somebody in his mid-to-late 20’s,” Burleson said. “He’s in tremendous shape. He runs all over the field.
“The one thing that comes to my mind when I think of coach Prince is energy. It’s almost like he’s approaching it as if this was his first day of coaching – ever.”
Actually, Prince just turned 44. He and his wife, Susan, have a 14-year-old daughter, Hayden, as well as two other children – Tyson, 12; and Jasmin, 9.
His story also includes one more “who you know” sidebar, and involves how he ended up playing at Humboldt State after beginning his college career as a wide receiver at San Bernardino Valley Community College.
“Our quarterback, Darrell Womack, decided to go to Humboldt State,” Prince said. “I didn’t have a lot of options. Since my quarterback went there, I decided to go up there with him.”
That move led to Prince sticking around as a graduate assistant, and adding a master’s degree in physical education to the math degree he already had.
“That’s how I got started in coaching,” Prince said.
Through it all, Prince has become a coaching sponge, picking up some ideas here and borrowing others there. There are two pieces of advice that standout from the rest.
The first came from Steve Kenyon, who was on the staff at Sacramento State with Prince.
“Steve said the phrase, ‘Tell them what they did right. Tell them what to do next,’ ” Prince said. “So a guy jumps offside. You don’t just yell, ‘Don’t jump offside.’ You say, ‘Hey, great get-off. Now, next time just wait for the snap.’ ”
The other words that have stuck with Prince came from Mora.
“As everyone here knows, Jim has great energy and is a great guy to work with,” Prince said. “I say ‘work with,’ not ‘work for,’ because that’s how Jim approaches this.
“One of the things he says is, ‘It doesn’t matter who’s right, it matters what’s right.’ That’s how he is.”
As it turned out, Prince was the right fit for the Seahawks – because of who he knows and what he knows.