From undrafted free agent to multiple Pro Bowls, Everson Walls' career is a story of how one man was determined to prove the experts wrong. According to pro scouts, he was too small to play in the NFL, but Walls took advantage of the chances he saw before him and forged a career that ultimately brought him some of the highest awards in the game. Recently, I had the honor to sit down with Mr. Walls for a brief conversation about his time in the NFL and his thoughts on the current state of the Dallas Cowboys.
You had the opportunity to play for four legendary head coaches (Landry, Parcells, Belichick and Eddie Robinson). If you don’t mind, tell me about the impact they had on you as a player?
They all showed me something different, allowing me to develop and mature throughout my career. Each coach was also known for being great at particular things.
Eddie Robinson, at that point in my life, I was still developing as a human being. Coach Rob had a sense of consciousness that was above football. He was all about showing young men how to be respectable Americans. He always thought the football side was secondary.
His focus was always on education and how you carry yourself off the football field. He always thought that the athletic prowess you had would be positive in an effective way as long as those previous traits were addressed. If you take care of yourself as a man, an American, and as a student, football will fall into place.
With Landry, it was all about how you performed on the football field. He was able to be the disciplinarian that I needed, especially as a rookie coming into the NFL. He was so organized in all facets of the game. He had his hands in everything and that discipline was evident in the way he coached.
Parcells wanted individuals and ballplayers that didn’t need to be taught anything. He wanted you to bring your toughness, your heart and your dedication to the game and your teammates. He never wanted to go back to the basics because as a professional, he considered you a finished product.
Belichick was one of the smartest, most detailed coaches I have ever been around. He would prepare you for the opposition better than anyone else. He makes sure his teams are ready for whatever could happen in a given situation, a given moment.
After growing up in nearby Richardson, you started your professional career by signing with the hometown Cowboys. What did it mean for you to come home and play pro football in front of the hometown fans?
The comfort zone was there. I also had a chance to go to Buffalo or New Orleans coming out of New Orleans, but it was really a no-brainer. Buffalo was way too cold for me and the Saints were the ‘Aints at the time. I needed to go into a situation where, as a free agent, I had as much of an advantage as possible.
I knew the Cowboys team, I knew the dynamics of the organization and how it worked. And most importantly, I knew they had some of the worst corners the NFL had to offer. After leading the nation in interceptions at Grambling, I knew I could come into the situation with a leg up, I knew they were looking for a player like me.
You were selected to four Pro Bowls, named an All-Pro three times and won a Super Bowl. What do you consider to be your crowning achievement as a football player to be and why?
It’s easy to say that it was the Super Bowl, but it’s deeper than that.
Most athletes have a lot of pride. When you are cut from a team that only had one win the previous year and you have a coach like Jimmy Johnson, whose arrogance was up there with his coaching ability. I wanted to show, not just to the Cowboys, but the entire NFL that I was not just a Dallas Cowboy. I wanted to show them that I was one of the best DB’s to ever step on the football field.
To go to an entirely different city, with different surroundings and a different system and impress them, not only to the point of making the team, but that I was the man for the job. For me to go back and do that, be one of the leaders and help them win a Super Bowl in the fashion that we did. It was the ability to change minds along the way and forge new paths for myself that I’m most proud of.
The game has evolved since your days on the gridiron to become more pass friendly. What are your impressions of how those changes have impacted the way defensive backs play the game now?
The changes have really come from the fact that quarterbacks are the focus of the NFL. That’s the marketing position for the league right now. Back when I played, running backs were also extremely valuable from that standpoint with faces like Dorsett and Walter Payton. Now the QB has been pushed to the forefront and teams will hang their hat on whatever they can do. That’s why you have so many passers right now, the system is set up for it.
I would have loved to play in today’s game. In 1981, I had 11 interceptions. Nobody’s had that many since, which is mind-boggling to me with all of the passing that goes on. I would have had so many picks. I would have had so many new footballs around my house that I could have given them to all of the kids in the neighborhood.
I am very surprised that defensive backs haven’t improved and adjusted with the game. You’d think that with more passing, they’d have more interceptions. The routes have not changed. The pass patterns have not changed. I’m very disappointed that the DB’s and secondary have not been able to take advantage.
As someone who’s played the position, assess the current state of the Cowboys secondary?
I have always said that NFL scouts are some of the laziest people in the NFL. If they would just take their time and look at some of the immense talent in college football, they would be able to sign some great players. They let the media do their work for them. They look at big players from big schools and most of the time, these are just great college players who don’t adjust to the transition. There are so many players out there who aren’t getting a chance to show what they can do because they’ve been pushed aside due to a bigger name or a bigger school.
When you look at the Cowboys, what they need to do is go back to the basics. The fundamentals aren’t there, like the basics of pursuing a player, or using the wrong shoulder when they engage. These are things we learned in junior high school and could improve the individual and team performance. Again, things like using the sideline to your advantage when pursuing an offensive player, or using the wrong shoulder when they engage. It’s sorely lacking with some of those great individuals they have.
You’ve been a member of the Cowboys during the good times and the bad. What do you see as the short and long term outlook for the current edition of the team?
Short term: They are, as Denny Green said, ‘what we thought they were,’ an average team that is still looking for their identity. They haven’t gotten any grasp of defense at this point and given up more yards in nine games than any other Cowboys team in franchise history. I was on a 1-15 team, so that really boggles the mind.
Coaches like Parcells and Belichick were great at making you understand the gravity of the moment. I don’t think the Cowboys at this point, are able to prepare for other teams and what they do best. They seem to go out there and play with no idea of what they prepared to do.
Until they are able to change their approach for that particular team or game, they will always be a team without a comfort zone. They are never comfortable with a game plan, or carrying out a game plan. They are particularly inept for what they are trying to do. It hurts me to say that as a Cowboys fan.
What have you been up to lately off-the-field?
I have always been a decent public speaker and enjoy talking to groups large and small, whether it be dinner, or in a lecture hall. I’m working with a company called Thuzio (Check out Everson Walls' Thuzio profile here), where fans can book me for those opportunities, attend a game experiences, even golf outings. I really like interacting with people who have a particular cause or interest that they are passionate about.
I also started a business called Genesis Worldwide that works with a number of different charter schools throughout the area. Our mission is to implement character programs into the curriculum by leveraging the power of athletes and celebrities, many of whom, like myself, were once in their position.
In addition Everson has also written a book detailing the relationship with his friend and teammate Ron Springs, A Gift For Ron. From the inside flap of the book:
In A Gift for Ron, Walls tells the moving story of how he witnessed the suffering of Ron and his family. He also recounts their years of friendship against the backdrop of their football careers. Ron had always been willing, never afraid, to take up someone else’s cause. Regardless of the consequences. Walls was to remember this life lesson on the day he heard that a potential kidney donor had fallen through for his friend—and also learned that he and Ron shared something truly precious: a blood type. Bolstered by his faith, Walls finally understood his only option—to donate a kidney to save his friend’s life.
If you enjoy reading about the Cowboys and the men who once wore the star, check out Walls' book. It provides the fan a rare look at football from a prospective few have ever seen. It is a touching and inspiring story that takes us well beyond the gridiron.