After middle linebacker George
Koonce tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against
the San Francisco 49ers during the Divisional Playoff game in January,
1997, he took on a different role with the Packers three weeks later in
Super Bowl XXXI.
"I was a coach/player," Koonce said. "When guys came to the sideline, I
kind of gave them a little bit of insight of what I was seeing from a
Koonce, 37, continues to guide Packers players in his new job as
Packers' director of player development. In March 2006, Koonce
succeeded Turner Gill in helping players and their families prepare for
life after football. He develops their ability to adjust to their next
career through internships, continuing education, family assistance and
"Their playing days are going to come to an end one day," Koonce said.
"And I just want those guys to be prepared so that when they take that
jersey off, it's a smooth transition."
Koonce has experience aiding athletes and advancing in the academic and
career world. One year after beginning his master's degree in sports
management at East Carolina, he accepted a job as assistant athletic
director/program development at his alma mater. He raised money,
recruited, took prospective student-athletes on tours and offered
Before working for East Carolina, Koonce took advantage of the
knowledge he gained there. After leaving the NFL for good in 2001, the
former industrial technology construction management major developed
Koonce Properties -- a real estate holding designed for New Bern, N.C.,
multi-families. Over the years, he expanded it from 48 to 160 units.
His wife Tunisia (who has a UNC-Charlotte business major) and mother
Lina oversee the properties with Koonce now preoccupied with his
As Koonce readies Packers players for their eventual career transition,
he underwent quite a conversion himself before the 1996 season. To make
room for emerging outside linebacker Brian Williams, Koonce switched
from right outside linebacker to middle linebacker with only a week
left in the preseason. Koonce, who played that middle position for two
years at Chowan Junior College in Murfreesboro, N.C., adjusted
seamlessly. The former undrafted free agent led the team in total
tackles that year with 97.
"When I first broke in to the Packers, I played whatever position I
could play just to get on the field." Koonce said. "I felt at home. I
felt very comfortable."
Adding to his comfort zone, Koonce played behind a stout defensive
line, arguably the strength of the Super Bowl winning-team. Gilbert
Brown, Santana Dotson, Reggie White and Sean Jones occupied blockers,
allowing Koonce to pursue the ballcarrier unimpeded.
"I knew they weren't going to let a whole lot of guys get on me,"
Koonce said. "I was able to run around and make some plays."
After performing so well that year, Koonce's knee injury, which forced
him to miss the season's ultimate game, was disappointing. But Koonce
looks back at that situation from a pragmatic standpoint. Contributing
in the 16 regular season games to help rack up a 13-3 record and
homefield advantage throughout the playoffs in frigid Lambeau Field
carried greater significance for the Packers.
"If I had to pick when I would get hurt, I would say playoffs," he
said. "We know the most important time of the year are those 16 games."
For Koonce the enduring memory from that game was his friend and
defensive leader, Reggie White, holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy as
high as he could. That celebration capped the comeback from the
previous year's disappointing loss, a third consecutive playoff defeat
at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.
"That whole year was kind of magical because we came so close the year
before," Koonce said. "Everybody kind of thought 1996 was going to be
our year, but we had to put forth the time and the energy."
Now his career has come full circle. After playing eight years with the
Packers, he returns to Green Bay for good.
"I'm never leaving. I'm going to retire in Green Bay," he said. "The
Packers gave me a great opportunity to just come here and try to make
the team in '92. Now I have a chance to come back and help give to the
players and the organization that gave me so much."