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Washington is well-schooled

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CHARLOTTE - Eric Washington has never hesitated to take advantage of unique learning opportunities in the coaching profession, from a stint in the military to a minority intern program.

As a result, the student has become the teacher.

"A tremendous love of the game and a love of teaching – that's what drew me to coaching," said Washington, the Panthers' defensive line coach. "I always wanted to stay a part of the game that I love, that has given me so much."

Washington's love of the game predates his time as a tight end at Grambling State, where he soaked up knowledge for his future career choice from legendary coach Eddie Robinson.

Washington coached at four different high schools and served as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M in 1997 before an unusual coaching opportunity came his way. He was offered the defensive coordinator position at a prep school – a military prep school.

"At first I thought it was purely a coaching opportunity, but then I realized I'd have to accept a commission to do it. I was like, 'Hold on. Timeout,' " Washington said. "But then when I thought about it, I thought, 'Why not?' Why not serve, why not gain from the discipline it takes to be a military officer?

"Why not take that experience and allow it to affect my life, and maybe in turn it will allow me to be a better football coach? It did. I don't regret it at all."

After Washington served in the coaching role and in the Navy for three years as a commissioned officer at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., he got his first full-time college coaching job. Washington worked as defensive line coach at Ohio University for three seasons, then he accepted the same position at Northwestern.

During his four seasons at Northwestern, Washington twice took part in the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship Program, an NFL summer internship program for prospective pro coaches that Walsh inspired nearly a quarter-century ago.

The program has mentored more than 1,500 coaches over the years – among them current NFL head coaches Mike Tomlin, Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith and Raheem Morris.

"It gives you insight," Washington said. "It allows you to be around that level of player and allows you to watch how staffs have to function with guys on this level.

"It also gives you an idea of whether or not it's something you want to do. It was exciting to me, the prospect of working on the highest level. It was something I always kept my eye on."

The program certainly benefited Washington. In 2005, he interned with Smith and the Chicago Bears. In 2008, Smith hired Washington as the Bears' assistant defensive line coach. Washington was promoted to defensive line coach last season, and in January he was hired for the same role by the Panthers and first-year head coach Ron Rivera, who was the Bears' defensive coordinator when Washington was an intern.

"First and foremost, I was attracted to being able to work under a staff that was going to be directed by Coach Ron Rivera," Washington said of his move to Carolina. "Having worked with him previously while he was in Chicago, I developed a tremendous amount of respect for how he goes about his daily business, how he manages players, how he teaches, how he leads. Naturally, I wanted to be a part of that."

Washington experienced a whirlwind of activity around the time the Panthers hired him. He helped coach the Bears against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship on Jan. 23. A week later, the Panthers hired him, and a after that - on Super Bowl Sunday – his wife gave birth to the couple's first child, Ellis.

"It was hectic," Washington said, "but it's what I would call a blessed hectic."

Now Washington stands ready for the hectic nature of the season.

"Carolina didn't have the year that they would have liked to have had, but Carolina has had success, and there are a lot of players on this roster that have achieved success," Washington said. "I think it's a matter of getting back on track, and we're excited about being a part of the process to get them back on track.

"I'm excited about the group we have, about getting to know them and working with them and determining how I can help them get better."

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