Deion Branch will soon be back in New England, just not because of his former team. The ex-New England Patriots wide receiver will lead the Louisville Cardinals into their final game of the season against the Cincinnati Bearcats — a game played at Boston’s Fenway Park on Dec. 17.
The first ever Fenway Bowl will therefore have some unexpected Patriots touch to it. Unexpected, because Branch just took over as the Cardinals’ interim head coach this week.
The 43-year-old was announced as such on Monday, following the departure of previous head coach Scott Satterfield to Cincinnati of all teams. He had previously served as the school’s director of player development, and will now coach his first ever game in a prominent setting.
“I’m super grateful and super thankful for the opportunity to represent the University of Louisville, my university,” Branch said during his introductory press conference. “This means so much to me.”
Branch noted that he would not be seeking the role as full-time head coach, though.
“I am not going to be the head coach,” he said. “This is more about me wanting to lead these young men on the field. We have a bowl game and we want to win that bowl game.”
Branch played for the Cardinals between 2000 and 2001, catching 143 passes for 2,204 yards and 18 touchdowns and establishing himself as one of the best wide receivers in the country. He would then go on to join the Patriots as a second-round selection in the 2002 draft.
Branch would go on to spend seven total seasons over two stints in New England. During his time as a Patriot, he became one of quarterback Tom Brady’s go-to-guys as well as one of the most productive wide receivers in franchise history: he ended his Patriots career with a combined 384 regular season and playoff catches for 5,149 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also helped the team win two championships and was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.
He briefly returned to the Patriots in 2019 as a coaching assistant under the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship program, but did not join the team’s staff. Earlier this year, he returned to his alma mater and now has been named its new head coach — if only for one game.