Former Saints defensive back J.J. McCleskey named Tulane assistant coach

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NEW ORLEANS – Tulane football head coach Willie Fritz announced today the addition of former NFL defensive back J.J. McCleskey to the Green Wave coaching staff.

McCleskey officially begins his duties Jan. 9, the first date in which FBS teams may add a 10th on-field assistant coach. He will work with the Tulane secondary alongside defensive coordinator Jack Curtis and defensive backs coach Chris Hampton.

“I’m very excited to add J.J. to our staff,” Fritz said. “Obviously he has a background in New Orleans, and I’m excited about the addition of someone with eight years of NFL experience. Many of our student-athletes aspire to play professional football, and I think he brings a unique perspective to transitioning to college football to the NFL. J.J. is a hard worker, which is evident by the fact that he was initially a walk-on at Tennessee, obtained a scholarship, playing both sides of the football, entered the NFL as a free agent and played eight seasons, which is very difficult to do.”

McCleskey played eight years in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals from 1994-99. A versatile athlete, he spent time on offense, defense and special teams in both college and professional football. McCleskey has trained and mentored athletes on and off the field through and Mental Edge Sports, which he founded in 2012.

“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. Coach Fritz is a great guy, and anytime you can come into your first coaching job and it’s a program like Tulane, it is definitely an honor and a privilege. Now it’s time for me to perform.”

McCleskey joined the Saints in 1994 as an undrafted free agent, and played wide receiver his first season, before moving to defensive back. In his career, he totaled 44 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries, contributing on defense and special teams.

A native of Knoxville, Tenn., McCleskey attended the University of Tennessee as a walk-on athlete, and was eventually elected a team captain by his teammates as a senior. He played cornerback, safety and receiver, helping lead the Volunteers to SEC Championships in 1989 and 1990, and four bowl appearances, including the Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. He holds the distinction as being the first ever Tennessee football walk-on to be named a team captain.

A resident of Louisiana for 25 years, McCleskey founded ME Sports to train and support athletes. He has coached and mentored more than 70 athletes that have moved on to play at the collegiate level. He also served as head coach of the Louisiana Bootleggers 7-on-7 squad from 2015-17. He led the Bootleggers to a second-place finish at the 7-on-7 national championship in 2015, and was a part of the program’s 2014 national championship.

In 2017, McCleskey was elected into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.

McCleskey received his bachelor’s degree political science from Tennessee in 1992. His wife, Susan, received her MBA from the Tulane A.B. Freeman School of Business in 1993. McCleskey and his wife have two sons – Jalen, a wide receiver at Oklahoma State, and Justin.

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