EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It's a blustery, gray day in late March, and inside the Michigan State Spartans' defensive meeting room, Kenny Clark gives what amounts to a graduate-level seminar on why he's so effective at his job. As the group of 40 or so men watch film of the Packers Pro Bowl defensive tackle, there are frequent requests to stop the tape and have Clark explain what he was thinking just before winning another rep against an offensive lineman helpless to do much about it.
These men, some of the best defensive linemen and edge rushers in the NFL, are in East Lansing for three days of training and film study -- and Brandon Jordan is the man behind it all. In January, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker hired Jordan, who goes by "B" or "BT," to be the Spartans' pass rush specialist. But until eight years ago, Jordan had never coached on the defensive side of the ball. More than that, he had been out of college coaching altogether from 2015 to 2021.
For the average NFL or college football fan, Jordan, 35, isn't a household name, at least not yet. But ask NFL defensive linemen or edge rushers about him and their eyes brighten.
"BT is different," Clark told CBS Sports. "As big guys (on the defensive line), we have to have good feet. BT understands that -- the footwork, using your hands, flipping your hips. All the things we do here, it translates to the game, and it translates quickly and effortlessly."
It's Jordan's ability to translate and teach these concepts that led everyone to East Lansing for what's technically known as the Nose Tackle Retreat. In reality, every position along the defensive line, from nose tackle to edge rusher, is well represented because for the players here, it's another chance to work with Jordan. Even if that means leaving offseason homes in Florida or California and coming to Michigan during a time of year when temperatures hover around freezing and glimpses of the sun are rare.
An unconventional path
Jordan's path to this point has been anything but conventional, and more than once his journey appeared either stalled or about to hit a dead end. After a college career as an offensive lineman, Jordan briefly played football in Norway and spent a training camp with the Arena League's New Orleans Voodoo. Then there were several stops as an O-line assistant with smaller college programs in Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois. In 2014, Jordan was named the defensive line coach at Austin Peay.
"That was my first time ever coaching defense," Jordan told CBS Sports. "I didn't know anything. All I knew was that the head coach told me to get those guys to get off the ball. So that's all I worked. I made sure our D-line got off the ball. I didn't really have anybody to teach me about the position."
But after the 2015 season, the entire staff was let go and Jordan couldn't find work.
"I probably sent out 1,000 emails," he said, in search of anything -- graduate assistant or analyst jobs, at every level, down to Division III programs. "I couldn't get anything, so I ended up going to a coaching convention. You have to understand, I'm not really a talkative guy, so I'd go to these conventions and nobody would say a word to me -- they'd walk past me and not think twice. It was tough. And in my mind, I'm thinking, 'OK, what am I going to do, what's going to be next? Am I going to have to use my degree, which I didn't want to do because I always wanted to do something with football."
Jordan moved home with his parents in New Orleans where he worked maintenance and picked up trash at a housing complex to make money. On a whim, he messaged a local high school player who lived in his neighborhood and offered to train him. There was a park around the corner, Jordan didn't have anything going on, and his mindset was, yeah, he was new to coaching the defensive line, but the only way he was going to get better was to work at it.
"At the time I didn't realize it, but like I tell players now: reps turn into habits. Reps make you better. And that's all I was getting: reps to become a better D-line coach," he said.
Jordan also volunteered at Velocity, a local training facility where he ended up working with more high school players, including Trai Turner, now a five-time Pro Bowler. That led to three seasons volunteering as the defensive line coach at John Ehret High School in New Orleans, which reinforced what he already knew: he didn't know how he was going to get there, but he wanted to coach.
Part of what makes Jordan special is that he has a keen sense of himself, and a deep understanding of what it means to help others, even as he was finding his own way.
"These students didn't have the resources that people in other neighborhoods had, to hire a trainer," he explained. "This was my way to give back. And the thing is, training these kids was really my therapy, too. If I had something going on, I'd do this. So even though I was helping them, it was really helping me, and it turned into helping them.
"And all the guys I was training there? They all ended up signing D1 scholarships."
Jordan still lived in New Orleans as the list of players he trained continued to grow. He then started filming his sessions and posting them to Twitter. Initially, the posts didn't generate much interest, but it wasn't long before people noticed. One of those people was Rischad Whitfield, better known as Footwork King on social media. He trains some of the best athletes on the planet, and Whitfield invited Jordan down to Houston where he's based.
Jordan happened to be in Houston for a coaching convention, trained a couple of high school players at Whitfield's facility and made some money.
"I came back another weekend, made some more money and I had the thought that I'm either about to be done with football because I couldn't get a job or I have to find a regular career," Jordan said. "Because I was questioning everything -- I still hadn't gotten any calls about possible coaching jobs."
Then one of Jordan's videos went viral, and a friend convinced him that he could make a career training players.
"I was like, 'You think so?' Because the whole time I had been looking for jobs, calling guys I went to school with to see if they had any openings," Jordan said. "And the job was right there in front of me and I didn't even see it. So that gave me confidence and I took a chance."
Taking the leap
In 2018, Jordan moved to Houston with no money. He continued to build his clientele, working mostly with high school players, but he still struggled to make ends meet. Then he saw that Von Miller and Aqib Talib were opening a gym in Dallas. He sent them a message on Instagram saying that he trained defensive linemen and was looking for work. They checked him out on social media, saw what he was doing, and invited him up. After just a few months, Jordan was on the move again.
The first week after Jordan got to Dallas, he got a message from Damon "Snacks" Harrison, who played in the NFL from 2012 to 2021. Harrison had been following Jordan on social media, saw he was in Dallas, and wanted to work out with him. The 2016 All-Pro was Jordan's first big-name NFL client.
When they first met, Harrison told Jordan that he would watch his videos every week and figured if he could do that with high school players, he knew he could make him better.
"Me and Snacks worked out five days a week, grinding," Jordan said, "and we started putting videos out. Next thing you know, Gerald McCoy messaged Snacks, asking who I was. McCoy came to Dallas the next week and I was working with them both. We put that video out and more people started coming around. Then, the next year, I got a message from Rashan Gary, and he would be the first guy I trained during the lead up to the draft."
It was during the stretch, from the 2018 college season to before the NFL Combine in February 2019, when things, in Jordan's words, "got dumb."
"I was training Rashan," said Jordan, who at this point had started his own company, Trench Performance. "And I had also been working with Ed Oliver, Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby. And all during this time I'm posting videos of their workouts."
Three of those guys were among the top 12 picks the 2019 NFL Draft -- Ferrell at No. 4, Oliver No. 9 and Gary No. 12 -- plus a fourth-rounder in Crosby who outplayed his draft position. In fact, Crosby became the first of the group to sign a new contract, a four-year, $94 million deal with the Raiders that included $53 million in guarantees.
Gary, who was drafted by the Packers and will be in line for a new contract next offseason, became a full-time starter in 2021 and racked up 9.5 sacks, nearly doubling his previous high. It's no surprise that he credits Jordan for helping him elevate his game.
"Day by day and year by year, I've been getting better and better," Gary told CBS Sports. "And B's been getting better at finding ways to improve my game. It's crazy because the repetition and the work that you put in [training with Jordan], you see it on Sundays. There would be times where I had seen a pass set so many times through film study and training with B, and then the offensive lineman would give me the exact same pass sets in the game."
Lead by Example! @joe_tryon @SavageSevv @RashanAGary @M_Danna4 @Haason7Reddick @TheSupremeTaco @tj_bchillen @king_hamilton2 pic.twitter.com/uwkoxzXolB— Coach Brandon Jordan (@CoachBTJordan) March 26, 2022
'The Aaron Donald of D-line training'
It's how Jordan sees the game that separates him from others in this line of work. He has a voracious appetite for learning and improving, but perhaps one of his best qualities is that he's humble, something that's sometimes hard to find on a football field.
"It's just his coaching IQ and his ability to break down pass sets and what you should be looking for from an offensive lineman," Gary said. "It's great. And I can't lie, I'm going into my fourth year in the NFL, I've gotten better each year coming back and training with him."
Gary's sentiments aren't unique; talk to any player and you hear something similar. That includes guys in their mid-20s destined for eight-figure deals as well as veterans looking to prolong their careers by gaining any advantage they can. It ranges from players who have been with Jordan for five or six years to those who have only been working with him a few months.
"To see somebody who wants to learn and wants to keep improving his craft as a coach, especially in a profession where coaches are never wrong -- he's just not like that," Jets defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers told CBS Sports. "He wants to be better. He wants to do better."
Franklin-Myers, a fourth-round pick out of Stephen F. Austin in 2018, had his best season in 2021. He started 16 games for the Jets and had six sacks, and he credits a lot of that success to Jordan.
"Honestly, I'd say it's at least 60% Brandon," Franklin-Myers said. "You're obviously born with God-given ability and that's one thing, but to understand football the way he sees it, you have to be taught that.
"What we're doing in games, it's all movement. And Brandon does a good job of breaking down the offensive line and he'll ask, 'What are we looking for right here? What do you want to do right here?' We do that in film. We do that out here (on the practice field). We work movement, we work footwork -- everything that translates to the game."
Franklin-Myers added: "He's the Aaron Donald of D-line training."
Texans defensive tackle Maliek Collins saw Jordan three times a week during the 2021 season, often working pass rush drills in his Houston apartment.
"It's clear he still wants to grow," Collins told CBS Sports. "And when you have somebody who has the same drive as you, just from a different point of view, that's what breeds greatness. I'm trying to be great so I work with him, I work with a bunch of other guys who are trying to be great, and we rub off on each other. That's how you grow your game."
Breaking back into coaching
Haason Reddick was the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he didn't start working with Jordan until last offseason when the defensive line coach with the Arizona Cardinals at the time, Brentson Buckner, put the two men in touch.
"I've been doing my pass rush work with him ever since," Reddick told CBS Sports. He signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the Eagles in March.
Buckner, meanwhile, played for four NFL teams over 12 seasons and is now the Jaguars defensive line coach. He is an integral part of Jordan's story. And like many people who have found their way into Jordan's orbit, it started with a video he saw on Twitter. Buckner's son was in high school and he would show Buckner some of Jordan's work with NFL pass rushers. Not long after, Buckner would put his son through some of the same drills and then post the video online.
Jordan noticed that Buckner had noticed him, the two exchanged messages, and that's how their relationship began. When Jordan was in Arizona, he would train Buckner's son, and the two would spend time talking.
"He was always curious," Buckner told CBS Sports. "He would say, 'I do the pass rush training, but I really want to coach.'"
That's when it clicked for Buckner, who told Jordan that the Cardinals had a minority internship program, and that he was going to bring his name up as a candidate. Buckner showed Jordan's resume to Kenny Bell, who headed up the program, and explained that Jordan was a pass rush coach who wanted to learn the day-to-day nuances of coaching defensive line.
"In return, we got the best pass rush coach who's going to be in camp and can work with our guys," Buckner said. "He had something to offer us that we needed, and in turn, I could offer him something that he wanted. It was a blessed match."
Jordan got the internship and spent the 2021 training camp with the Cardinals.
"The first day I get there and it's rookie camp. Coach Buckner comes up to me and says, 'I'm just going to let you run individual drills today.' I'm like, this is great, I'm about to run 'indy' for an NFL team," Jordan said. "I come in the building the next morning and (defensive coordinator) Vance Joseph stopped me and said, 'Man, you did a real good job. I really enjoyed watching you, keep doing what you're doing.'"
That seems like a lot to put on an intern, especially one who never coached in the NFL and hadn't been a college coach in six years. But it's how Buckner was introduced to the job when he was a coaching intern back in 2010 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Longtime Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell brought Buckner in and told him he wasn't going to let him stand around and hold a tackling dummy all day and call that an internship.
"Mitchell said to me, 'The only way I know how you get better at doing something is to do it. I want you to learn from your mistakes. And I want to see you adapt as you go,'" Buckner said. "It pushed me into a natural mode of sink or swim."
When Jordan came in, Buckner knew what he had to do.
"I told him, I trust you, I'm going to throw you out there and let you go. I don't want you to think I'm standing over your shoulder babysitting, because when you get your own (defensive line) room, you're going to do it your way."
Jordan's first session went well.
"So at the next practice, Buck and Joseph told me, here's what we're going to do: Any time any position works pass rush, you coach the drill. So now I'm in there working with Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Rashard Lawrence. And I'm starting to get that itch to coach again -- this is what I've been missing. I'm watching film. I get to watch what our guys are doing, breaking down the offensive tackles they're going against. And we were dominating. Then they had me start working with the safeties -- Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson -- on their pass
By the end of preseason, as his internship was winding down, Jordan's responsibilities had expanded as the staff's trust in him continued to grow. And through it all he couldn't believe his good fortune.
"It was like, man, for an NFL organization to let me do all this, that's probably unheard of, right? They just let the intern just run drills by himself."
'He's everything I want'
Jordan hoped to remain with the team after the internship ended. It didn't happen. Still, a smile crossed his face as he recounted his time in Arizona. That period with the Cardinals showed how far he had come, but it was also a glimpse of his future -- even if he didn't know it yet.
While Jordan waited for his next coaching opportunity, he returned to in-season training with his NFL clients. Then in mid-December, out of the blue, he got a call from Buckner.
At the time, Michigan State was looking for a pass rush specialist. As it turned out, Buckner had known Spartans head coach Mel Tucker since they were both teenagers. But it was a former Spartans player, Curtis Daniel III, who owns Patchwerk Studios in Atlanta, that brought everyone together.
"Curtis is big in the football program and he and Mel are close," Buckner said. "And Curtis called me and he said, 'Mel's putting together a great staff and he's looking for a pass rush specialist.'" Buckner asked Daniel to call Tucker to see if he just wanted someone to run players through drills, or did he want someone that could "get your guys going."
Daniel promised he'd have Tucker call.
The two men got on the phone and Tucker explained to Buckner that wanted to help his young men grow, teach them the craft of pass rushing, and help them understand the game on another level.
"I said, 'Mel, I got the guy for you,'" Buckner recounted.
Tucker asked where Jordan was coaching and Buckner said that he wasn't coaching anywhere at the moment but added, "He's the only guy who can come into your facility and teach a technique, then pick up the phone and call over 100 NFL guys -- with 10 being some of the best pass rushers in the game -- and them explain that the drills work."
Buckner then sent Tucker clips of Maxx Crosby doing Jordan's drills spliced with the Raiders pass rusher using those very same techniques in a game on his way to another quarterback sack or pressure. Jordan did this for all his players, and Buckner flooded Tucker with clip after clip. Tucker was blown away, but it also left him to wonder: if Jordan was so great, why wasn't he coaching anywhere?
"Mel, you know how it is," Buckner said. "It's who you know, not what you know. But you look at all these guys that go to Brandon -- these guys are millionaires who could go to anybody in the world. They're going to this little guy out of New Orleans by way of Houston. But more than that, look at his talent pipeline; he's coaching the next great pass rushers in high school, even middle school. This is his life."
So back to that mid-December out-of-the-blue phone call. Buckner told Jordan that he had given his name to Tucker about the Michigan State job.
"Tucker might have you in for an interview, he might not, but be ready for it," Buckner said. "Just be yourself and just tell him what you do."
The call came and Jordan was ready -- or so he thought. His first flight to East Lansing was canceled -- the flight with his checked bags that included the suit he planned to wear. Jordan caught another flight, but his bags never showed up, so he had to make a mad dash to Walmart where he bought a pair of shoes, some pants and a zip-up jacket.
"Man, I had on these high-water pants and I'm thinking, 'This is going to be my first impression,'" Jordan said, laughing.
Still, the interview went well. Jordan showed Tucker the drills he used in training as well as his NFL clients going through those drills. At the time, Michigan State was preparing for its Peach Bowl matchup with Pittsburgh. Jordan didn't hear anything for a few weeks.
Meanwhile, Tucker was impressed.
"They met," Buckner said, "and Mel said, 'I love him. He's everything I want. Brandon's humble and he's about working with the kids. He didn't come in bragging. He said he tries to help the kids get better, to teach them and educate them on the game.'"
Jordan said he wasn't nervous -- not in the interview or waiting to hear if he got the job -- in part because the business he had built by himself kept him plenty busy. In fact, he was traveling between Florida and Arizona, training clients ahead of the NFL Draft when he found out the Michigan State job was his.
Jordan has been in East Lansing since January, working as the Spartans Pass Rush Specialist. He also continues to train players individually, whether in high school, college or the NFL. It's not in his nature to brag -- he's more comfortable letting his work speak for itself -- but it's hard to miss the eagerness with which he wants to help others.
"I'm blessed," Jordan said. "You get blessed when you bless others. If you bless others without any attention, your blessings will happen. That's why, to this day, if somebody comes to me and they don't have money to train, I'm still going to train them. Because I'm not going to block my blessing, trying to search for money. Because it's going to come."
Jordan has been a blessing to a lot of people. And those blessings have come back to him throughout a journey where sometimes, as Buckner told Tucker, it's not what you know, but who's willing to give you a chance.
"I always told myself, John Mitchell gave me an opportunity when other people wouldn't," Buckner said. "Now it's my job to reach out and give the next guy an opportunity. Seeing what Brandon was doing -- I'm watching him work out Von Miller and Chandler Jones. These guys are multimillionaires at the top of their craft and they're still going to him, he's commanding their attention. There's no way that I, as a coach, was going to let that talent stay outside of coaching. I would be less of a coach.
"If I see a guy with a skill set that can help people the way he does, how could I not open the door for him? And that's what I told him: if I get a chance to open the door for you, I'm going to do it. The only thing I ask is that when you get your foot in the door, you can't just live there. Open it for the next guy by being successful at what you do."