"While I was playing the game, I always was like, 'I'm not coaching, I don't want to coach,' " Buckhalter said. "But when you're away from the game, you kind of narrow down the things you want to do. . . . The thing that was closest to me was football."
Buckhalter debated between coaching and broadcasting. He thought the pool might be too deep in broadcasting and figured he would need speech classes to erase a Southern drawl. So he decided to go into coaching. His best asset was having played in the NFL for 10 years. But aside from community work during his pro career and a scattering of accolades, little else could be included on the resume.
So Buckhalter needed to start somewhere. And that somewhere is akin to what college students do to gain necessary experience: a summer internship. Buckhalter applied for and secured a spot with the Eagles as one of the six coaching interns employed during training camp - part of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship.
Buckhalter, William Fuller, Greg Lewis, Don Holmes, Corey Peoples, and Montae Reagor formed this year's group. All but Holmes played with the Eagles. Wide receivers coach David Colley, who has been in charge of the internship since joining the Eagles in 1999, hires the candidates. Quality control coach Duce Staley and linebackers coach Mike Caldwell are products of the internship.
The program uses training camp and the preseason to provide experience to minority coaches, and it becomes a valuable entry point for many former players trying to break into the NFL or college coaching ranks. Culley said any minority coach in college football or a former NFL player who is interested in coaching is eligible for program, but he tries to gauge a prospective candidate's work ethic. A player's workday during the season often concludes by 5 p.m. A coach starts a new shift at that hour.
"The program allows them to come into training camp . . . to kind of get an idea of how this process goes and to learn and see the hours that we work, the process that we go through," Culley said. "What they find out, especially ex-players, is they have no idea when they were playing of what goes on behind the scenes."
For Buckhalter, the most striking part of the three-week experience was the organization of camp. From the way practice is conducted to the way personnel are evaluated, there is an entire layer to the game that Buckhalter never witnessed.
"For instance, practice consists of 9-on-7, 7-on-7, team. The coaches on offense all split that up," Buckhalter said. "If there's anything I can take back, it's knowing how you have to work together cohesively."
Buckhalter spent camp working under veteran running backs coach Ted Williams, who was Buckhalter's position coach for five of the players' seven healthy seasons. But Buckhalter can offer a different voice to the players. He doesn't have Williams' experience, but he was able to connect because of his playing career.
When LeSean McCoy arrived at camp, he sought out Buckhalter and gave his new coach a hug. On the practice field, players referred to Buckhalter as "Coach" - still a startling occurrence for the 33-year-old, considering he's not much older than many on the team. But Buckhalter has noticed respect from the players even though he has no experience as a coach, and that's specifically because of his playing career.
"They see guys that play this game and played here, and that kind of gives them a sense of, 'They know what they're talking about,' " Buckhalter said.
Culley said the Eagles' internships have been attractive around the league because of the number of position coaches who are hired to become coordinators elsewhere and the coordinators who become head coaches. Andy Reid's stability in Philadelphia and developing coaching tree means he almost annually needs to hire new coaches. The experience Caldwell and Staley gained during the internship enhanced their candidacy.
"With our interns, we put them to work," Reid said. "When they come here, we give them something to be responsible for in whatever phase of the game it is, and we expect them to jump in and do it."
That's exactly what Buckhalter did during training camp. But now he must decide what's next. He wants to coach at a Division I school or in the NFL, with his ultimate desire to settle into the NFL.
It helps that he spent 10 years in the league, a distinguishing quality on the resume. It hurts that the resume is bare of coaching experience elsewhere, which is why Buckhalter realizes after spending a decade in the NFL's meritocracy that he might need to climb a coaching ladder.
"Anything in life, you have to climb a ladder," he said. "What good is it if someone gives it to you?"
Contact Zach Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.