Falcons’ assistant Aden Durde’s ‘long road’ from London to NFL

Defensive assistant Aden Durde during practice. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons).

Credit: Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons

Credit: Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons

Defensive assistant Aden Durde during practice. (Photo by Kara Durrette/Atlanta Falcons).

In Aden Durde’s youth, he would travel two hours across London to practice and play American football. Access was minimal when it came to a sport that British citizens knew of but didn’t play. The NFL was on British broadcast television, but there wasn’t a lot of interest to play among children and teenagers. Those with interest, such as Durde, were deeply interested and committed to the game.

Looking back, it’s quite the wonder that someone like Durde, on another continent separated by the Atlantic Ocean, would go from playing in a recreation league to becoming the NFL’s first full-time British coach when the Falcons hired him in 2017.

“It’s definitely been a long road,” Durde said.

When he played for the London Warriors, a juniors team, Durde said he had to pay his own way to be able to play. Schools didn’t offer American football, which forced those interested to seek the sport on their own.

In the beginning, Durde didn’t have NFL aspirations. He just wanted to start for the Warriors. Being in England, the NFL didn’t seem like a realistic goal when he first fell in love with the sport. He just loved the game and wanted to win a championship for his club team.

“Everyone there is there because they love the sport,” Durde said of his time as a young amateur with the London Warriors. “They wouldn’t do it otherwise. They’re not just going to wake up in the morning and play American football. Everyone there, it was such a team feeling. When you go over and you coach the people there, they love the game for what the game is. It’s quite refreshing.”

But as he progressed and improved, those goals evolved.

Once he won a championship, Durde wanted to break into the now-defunct NFL Europe as a linebacker, which he did with the Scottish Claymores in 2003. After two seasons with the Claymores, he was with the Hamburg Sea Devils from 2005-07. In 2005, he got to spend some time on the Carolina Panthers' practice squad and joined the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad for the 2008 season.

Following the 2008 season, his six-year professional playing career came to an end. Like every pro athlete, Durde was forced to figure out his next step. As a young player, Durde said his mentality was to “see ball, get ball.” As a professional, he had a lot of good coaches who taught him the intricacies of the game.

In an interesting sense, with all the knowledge he gained, he was more prepared as a player at the end of his career than at the beginning. Becoming a coach was a natural step.

After starting a business and spending a brief time away from the game, he started coaching with the London Warriors, the team he once played for.

“I wanted to stay within the game,” Durde said. “I went down and went back to the team in London, I just started helping the kids out. You get so much out of it. It’s like a community program here, it’s set up to help kids in a local area, not just play football but find jobs, help them in their schoolwork, and it was quite rewarding to be honest with you.

"And from there, you got to see how you can help people grow as people.”

Durde was the London Warriors' defensive coordinator for six seasons. In 2014, his interest turned back to the NFL by possibly getting some coaching experience through an internship. After taking some international players to a workout in Dallas, he happened to bump into a coaching contact he knew, who helped set him up with an interview with the Cowboys. Not long after, Durde became a coaching intern for the Cowboys.

And his rise sped up after that.

After his internship with the Cowboys concluded, he was offered to be the head of football development with NFL UK. In this role, he led the International Pathway Program, which helped British and other foreign-born players get access to NFL practice squads. In the process, Durde helped defensive end Efe Obada (Carolina Panthers), tight end Alex Gray (Falcons), defensive end Alex Jenkins (New Orleans Saints), and linebacker Eric Nzeocha (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) land practice-squad spots. Obada, who also saw practice-squad time with the Cowboys, Chiefs and Falcons thanks to Durde’s assistance, is now on the Panthers' 53-man roster. He also played a part in getting NFL scouts to notice tight end Moritz Böhringer, who was selected in the sixth round by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2016 NFL draft.

Durde’s introduction to the Falcons came in 2016, when former coach Dan Quinn granted him a spot with the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship, thanks to a reference from former defensive passing-game coordinator Jerome Henderson. Henderson knew Durde from his stint with the Cowboys.

In 2018, a defensive quality-control spot opened up, with Quinn making him the first-ever British coach in the NFL.

“I didn’t know what to think of him,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “I just knew he had a British accent, and he was very interesting. But he’s become one of my best friends. He’s this transparent human being that we all need in our lives. He’s incapable of (faking it with) anyone about anything. He doesn’t care if you’re the president. He doesn’t care if you’re a CEO. He’s going to tell you what’s on his mind and we all need that.

"It just gives us amazing perspective in a world where we don’t always get the best perspective and we don’t get the best honesty. He’s brought a ton of value to us.”

Over the past three seasons, Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said Durde, who is now the team’s outside linebackers coach, has shown a unique ability to hold other coaches accountable when the time calls for it.

“You can’t have thin skin around (Durde),” Morris said. “If I do something wrong or I do something he feels we can do better, he’ll be the first person to come sit in my office and tell me what his thoughts are and what he thinks. Then it’s up to me to take it and use it. And if I don’t want to use it, he doesn’t get sensitive skin. If I do use it, he reconfirms some of the things he comes and tells you that a lot of people don’t want to tell you all the time.”

On Sunday, Durde got his first chance to lead an entire unit as he was asked to handle in-game decisions with the defensive line. Durde was moved to that spot for the Falcons' 40-23 win over the Vikings after defensive line coaches Jess Simpson and Tosh Lupoi were forced to stay home because of COVID-19 concerns. Lupoi is expected to coach Sunday against the Lions, which will move Durde back to his outside linebackers role.

When he’s able, Durde still helps out at the NFL Academy in London, which has evolved into a training center for international players to develop and earn the attention of the 32 member teams. Reflecting on his career, Durde said he never could have guessed he’d wind up as an NFL assistant at the age of 41.

Yet here he is, furthering his success as the first person from his country to hold such a position in the NFL.

“I thought there would be a chain of opportunities to get those things to happen,” Durde said. “A lot of it is belief. As you move forward and progress through things, your vision and idea of what you can be grows.”