Someday, but definitely not today, former Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker will have an important decision to make.
Does he continue down the path he started before his playing career was over and try to be a referee?
Or does he trade in his zebra stripes for a spot on the sideline, teaching young players the tools and tricks that allowed him to enjoy an 11-season playing career?
"I don't know. That's a tough question. It's a really tough question," Crocker said to reporters in Cincinnati this week. "Both are two different lifestyles. Both have their pros and cons. Obviously, coaching is a lifestyle. Officiating, a lot of those guys have other jobs and it's the weekend gig. But it does take a level of dedication for both. But I enjoy both of them. Why not?"
Since Crocker's career ended after his release from the Minnesota Vikings in August 2014, he hasn't been just sitting around on his couch. Last fall, he worked as an official for the SIAC and SWAC conferences, spending his Saturdays at colleges primarily in the South. And for a few weeks this summer, he will be participating in the NFL's Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship, working with the Bengals. It's a program that helped give Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis his start in coaching.
"This is just an opportunity," Crocker said. "Whether you look at it as an opportunity to sort of get your feet wet or to just walk through these doors. Not even college coaches get a chance to do this fellowship. Just having the opportunity to come out here and do it, I look at it as a blessing just to be able to be thought of as a guy that they see doing something like this."
Crocker will finish out organized team activities (OTAs) with the Bengals this week, before rejoining them during training camp in late July. Last year, former Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh participated in the Bill Walsh program with the Bengals, as did former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith, whose specialized defensive-line coaching center in Atlanta is respected in coaching circles.
In addition to the six seasons Crocker spent playing for the Bengals (the last two came when he was signed off the street a couple weeks into their season), Crocker also was in Cleveland for three, Atlanta for two and spent part of the 2008 season in Miami before he was signed by Cincinnati that October. He had 15 career interceptions, 14.5 sacks and forced seven fumbles.
When he's refereeing, the 36-year-old finds himself in familiar territory.
"I work the back three [officials positions], which is side judge, field judge and back judge. You're watching the DBs," Crocker said. "I'm watching the same thing I watched as a player.
"I started refereeing before I even retired, so I sort of learned the knacks of it and what they were looking for and who was looking at me and how I could cheat a little bit more. I think it helped extend my career, because I knew what I could get away with."
"I'm really interested in the depth," Crocker said. "Those guys are great, but you're one play away, and that next guy is going to have to step up. So I'm really interested to see what the depth does and who emerges, because those guys, there's a big question mark after the first four."