Clint Sintim arrived at his first college football coaching job in the summer of 2013 with a suitcase, a used Lincoln LS he bought off Craig’s List and an open mind. If he was going to understand life as a college football coach, he had to start somewhere unfamiliar with only the bare necessities.
Sintim had the choice of beginning his coaching career closer to his Northern Virginia home. But the University of West Alabama provided the perfect classroom for someone looking to shed the national spotlight and test his resolve outside of his comfort zone.
This was not the University of Virginia, where he became an all-American linebacker. Nor was it the New York Giants, who selected the Gar-Field High School graduate in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. This was a Division II program tucked away in a city of 3,000 next to the Mississippi state line where Sintim paid $300 a month to rent an apartment.
In other words the perfect setting for boot camp.
“It served its purpose,” Sintim said.
Although his NFL pedigree impressed the community, Sintim did not expect star treatment. As a National Football League Players Association intern, he got his wish.
His time at West Alabama included coaching the outside linebackers and helping with special teams, working with among others Malcolm Butler, whose goal-line interception sealed the New England Patriots’ win in Super Bowl XLIX.
But Sintim also undertook menial tasks like putting playbooks together. And it was those experiences that impacted him the most in determining whether this profession was for him or not.
“You need humility to coach and sacrifice,” Sintim said.
When Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall called Sintim and asked if he was interested in the defensive line coach position after Vic S’oto left to take the same job at USC, Sintim was flattered, but not surprised. Mendenhall knew Sintim wanted to return to Virginia someday.
In fact, Sintim had been working toward this point after leaving West Alabama and quickly moving up the coaching ladder. His time at West Alabama didn’t answer all his questions about college coaching but gave him enough information to keep going.
After serving as a graduate assistant at Virginia, Sintim became the linebackers/defensive ends coach at Richmond and Delaware before returning in February to his alma mater.
Sintim never openly campaigned for a job on Mendenhall’s staff, but stayed connected him over the years through informal conversations.
Sintim liked how Mendenhall had rebuilt the Cavaliers from a 2-10 team into an Orange Bowl participant this past season. If Sintim could add another piece to the foundation, he was willing to do so.
“When we elevated Vic S’oto several years ago to be defensive line coach, I thought he was a rising star,” Mendenhall said in a release announcing Sintim’s hire. “In naming Clint Sintim to that same position, I think we have identified another rising star in our profession and certainly someone who Virginia football fans are well-acquainted with.”
Sintim's desire to return to Charlottesville made sense.
Up until his marriage last May to Angie Knight and now the impending arrival of their first child May 7, Sintim said his undergraduate years at Virginia were the best time of his life.
An all-state defensive end at Gar-Field, Sintim chose Virginia in large part because of then-head coach Al Groh. Groh coached Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor in the NFL and said Sintim reminded him of Banks. The Cavaliers were the second school to offer Sintim after Maryland, but the only one who wanted him to play in a 3-4 scheme as an edge linebacker instead of a defensive end.
“That intrigued me,” said Sintim, who became a force in that alignment, leading the nation’s linebackers with 11 sacks as a senior in 2008.
But beyond his success on the field, Sintim also formed friendships with people at Virginia who are still central to his life today. Four of his former Virginia teammates were in his wedding party: best man Maurice Covington and groomsmen picks Chris Long, John Phillips and Ras-I Dowling.
“It had always been a dream,” Sintim said of coming back to Virginia.
Not every coach can relate to the highs and lows of competing both in college and the pros. But Sintim's time at Virginia coupled with his NFL career gives him a unique perspective in trying to connect with current players or high school prospects.
“I think that’s the best way to have an impact are those experiences,” said Sintim, who recruits the Washington D.C.-Maryland-Virginia territory for Virginia. “I like to tell my story.”
After the Giants drafted him, Sintim’s playing days came to a premature close courtesy of two torn ACL’s in his right knee. The first injury occurred in 2010 against the Minnesota Vikings. The last one occurred in 2011 during a preseason game against the New England Patriots.
As he rehabbed his knee following the second torn ACL, Sintim had time to begin processing his future. It was lonely at times. And while he felt no bitterness over his plight, he expressed sadness and frustration.
He missed the entire 2011 season before the Giants released him in August of 2012. In the spring of 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles brought Sintim in. But Philadelphia declined to work Sintim out after reviewing his knee.
On the way back home on the train, Sintim began thinking seriously about retirement. He made the decision without any fanfare. His inner circle knew he was done. But the outside world was still in the dark.
After realizing he’d never made a public announcement, Sintim informed everyone on his Facebook page in May of 2013 he was done playing football without any regrets.
“I received overwhelming support,” Sintim said. “I was at peace.”
Although he was unable to play in the game, Sintim did receive a Super Bowl ring after the Giants won the title for the 2011 season. Sintim has the memento locked away ready for special occasions to share with his kids.
“So they can say, ‘Daddy you didn’t always look like you do now. You used to be a big time player,’ ” Sintim said.
The next step was a mystery. Sintim refused to give up football after he retired. But he was unclear what lay ahead.
He’d moved back to Northern Virginia and bought a condo to use as a rental property. During the transaction, Sintim realized he could save money if he became a real estate agent himself and eliminated the middle man. He took the test and passed even though a real estate career wasn’t the long-term answer either.
Thinking he’d might like to pursue coaching, Sintim reached out to his college and NFL contacts to see what was available.
Fontel Mines, a former Virginia teammate, recommended Sintim look into the NFLPA’s internship program. Mines had participated in it and enjoyed the experience. Sintim was accepted and off to West Alabama he went.
Sintim has never been back to West Alabama and has no desire to, but he’s grateful for the opportunity. Without it, he would not be where he is today.
Football took a different turn after injuries cut short his career. But as he takes stock of his surroundings, Sintim only sees God's blessings.
Coaching at Virginia. Being settled in Charlottesville before the coronavirus upended people’s lives. His family being less than two hours away. His marriage and the soon-to-be arrival of their daughter, something Sintim plans on being in the delivery room for even though for now the coronavirus has limited how much time he can spend with his wife when she goes in for checkups.
Sintim isn’t sure where his coaching career will take him. He might stay in college or perhaps go the NFL. Those discussions, however, are for a later time.
At the moment, he’s in the perfect spot.
“My life is where it should be,” Sintim said.