Former Saints defensive back and New Orleans resident J.J. McCleskey will join Tulane as an assistant football coach, the school announced Friday.
McCleskey, 47, will start Jan. 9, the first day schools are allowed to add a 10th on-field assistant, and help out defensive coordinator Jack Curtis defensive backs coach Chris Hampton in the secondary. The NCAA approved the extra coach in April.
After playing for the Saints from 1994-96, McCleskey returned to New Orleans when his NFL career ended with the Arizona Cardinals in 2000. He has not coached before, but he has been involved in player development since 2012, when he founded ME Sports (Mental Edge). Based in Madisonville, the company trains athletes to excel in all sports and has prepared former Tulane players for the NFL draft.
McCleskey's college and NFL career were testaments to hard work and perseverance. He walked on to Tennessee in 1988 after playing at 5-foot-6, 135 pounds as a high school senior. He played offense, defense and special teams with the Volunteers, becoming a team captain as a senior and leaving with 39 career catches.
Undrafted, he hooked up with the Saints as a receiver before moving to defensive back, starting one game while playing primarily on special teams. In three seasons at Arizona, he made 43 tackles.
McCleskey brings a New Orleans connection third-year coach Willie Fritz’s staff lacked. The Green Wave signed two players from the metro area last February and three this week, although it increased its Louisiana haul significantly to eight players.
McCleskey’s son, Jalen, is a junior wide receiver at Oklahoma State. He has 151 career catches entering the Cowboys Camping World Bowl date with Virginia Tech on Dec. 28.
“It’s been a dream of mine to go into college coaching,” McCleskey said. “I was waiting for my son to finish at Oklahoma State, but this was just a great opportunity for me.”
Tulane also has promoted assistant head coach and offensive line coach Alex Atkins to running game coordinator.