Exclusive Interview: Former Bears first-round pick Michael Haynes talks everything football, including his NFL career

Exclusive Interview: Former Bears first-round pick Michael Haynes talks everything football, including his NFL career

In 2003, the Chicago Bears had two first-round picks to their disposal.

They used the No. 14 selection on defensive lineman Michael Haynes and then picked quarterback Rex Grossman at No. 22.

Haynes, a Brooklyn native played college football at Penn State, where he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2002.

He is currently at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where he is making his name known serving as the USA Football’s Heads Up Manager, a position he earned this past year. Haynes started his own consulting company in 2008, Haynes Consulting, where he handles various services for his clients.

At Penn State, Haynes compiled 25.5 sacks, which included 15.5 in his 2002 standout season. Also, he recorded 80 tackles, recovered one fumble, made four pass breakups and made at least one tackle for loss in every game for the Nittany Lions.

The 6’3″ defensive lineman spent time at both defensive end and defensive tackle in his time with the Bears (2003-05) making four starts in 43 games. He generated 49 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble for the Monsters of the Midway.

Haynes says that “there is always pressure” to succeed in the NFL, but specifically as a first-round pick he felt that added pressure everyday.

“With the constant changes on the staff and as a result defensive scheme, I was constantly trying to meet ever changing expectations,” Haynes said. “I was drafted weighing 286 lbs as a run-stopping defensive end, but when Lovie came in he wanted me to be a speed-rushing defensive end.”

Haynes dropped down to 260 lbs in his first training camp, but then bulked back up to 285 lbs in order to play defensive tackle on pass downs and defensive end on run downs.

Unfortunately a back injury shortened Haynes’ career as he was released by the Bears after the 2005 season. He signed with the New York Jets that off-season before being cut and then signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2007, but was cut once again.

Haynes is upset that he had to retire at 27, but says that “if you play long enough you will eventually get hurt.”

“When I got hurt I realized that life goes on,” he said. “The team and the NFL moves on. So why should I continue to put my body in harms way?”

He follows the NFL very closely still and keeps a close eye on the Bears. Haynes says he “loves the Bears, the city of Chicago and its fans.” “The excitement of playing in December in soldier field is an indescribable feeling.”

Haynes says the biggest difference since he stopped playing is “the money.”

“Seriously when you retire from the NFL there is no severance package,” he said after chuckling about stating the obvious answer. “So I had to make the adjustment. Many players get in trouble because they keep spending money like they are getting NFL paychecks.

He continues: “I reached out to other retired NFL players for advice. They told me that I needed to “reset” my life. Get a normal job as quickly as possible and use that money to “reset” myself. I was able to do that and I was able to adjust.”

Haynes grew up as the middle child of three brothers, whose parents served in both the Air Force and Army, so he was constantly moving. He says that made it tough to make friends, but college served as his time to make lifelong friends.

“I realized the NFL was a possibility during my junior year,” the agricultural sciences major said.” But I decided to stay in school and finish my degree. The following year I was successful and became a first-round pick.”

At Penn State, Haynes had a “great relationship” with the late Joe Paterno, who served as the head coach there from 1966-2011.

“He helped me understand how to be a complete player by understanding the full concept of the defense: Its strengths, weaknesses, adjustments and more importantly its rules,” Haynes said.

The latest NFL injuries, specifically concussions are something that every fan or NFL employee worries about. Haynes follows the concussion very closely as the manager of Heads Up Football.

Haynes has a wise tip for future athletes and their parents.

“If you play sports long enough you will eventually get hurt. The trick is to know when to stop playing,” he said. “Many parents try to push their kids to early and put them in a dangerous situation. For example: football players need to be strong so parents push their kids towards lifting heavy weights to early. If a kid can’t do 40 pushups and run a mile he should not be lifting weights.”

He continues: “Parents also need to understand that scholarships are not given to middle school or youth players. If athletes are pushed too early to soon they will burn out. Since I have retired I have witnessed it in too many players in multiple sports.”

After watching a Bears’ defense allow a record high 478 points and 6,313 total yards, Haynes believes the “all teams will start to refocus on defense.”

“It seemed that the trend was shifted to the offensive side for awhile. The best thing about the NFL is that you can re-shift a teams make up in a short period of time,” he said. “It’s a matter of finding a direction. You can’t do everything well. Stop the Run or Stop the pass. Every good defense falls into one of those simple categories.”

With injuries becoming a more noticeable issue as of late in the NFL, Haynes believes that players are simply “bigger, faster and stronger” than year’s past.

“There is not much you can do to avoid all of the injuries,”Haynes said. “Compare linemen of today to 10 years ago. Today’s linemen are faster and stronger. Football is really the only sport that has that issue.”

Another main issue that is seen way too often is the problems young naive players find themselves in after cashing in on big paydays in the NFL. Haynes believes the NFL does a good job with player development, but “if the players continue to dumb things there is little the NFL can do about it.”

“If you give a person a lot of money they will make a few big mistakes. The question is can they recover from it,” he said. “I don’t think the average fan cares about a player making a legal mistake, ex: buying 300k worth of jewelry. I think they care when a player buy illegal drugs or gets a DWI.”

He continues: “There are a lot of resources NFL players can use. The NFL has contacts at limo services throughout the country. So there is never a reason to get a DWI. I think teams need to be careful when picking a player development person. They need to be sure that they don’t want to get into coaching or the front office, but instead they really want to help players.”

Haynes served as the varsity football coach for three years (2009-12) in Crowley, Texas and as the varsity soccer coach for two (10-12). He enjoyed his time doing that and enjoys working with coaches now with USA Football.

“My goal is to help keep kids safe and help coaches understand that every kid that wants to play football should have the opportunity,” he said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has talked about expanding the league, which would possibly includem a team in Los Angeles and a team in London. Haynes believes that could be a good idea, specifically in England.

“I think London would be a good fit for NFL. Eventually then NFL will expand internationally,” Haynes said. “But with NCAA players trying to form a union they may need to re-look at the idea of a minor league system.”

We’d like to thanks Michael for all his insight and work with football, specifically the youth side with USA Football. He is a real role model for football players of all ages.


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