Richard Hightower was honored and grateful to be chosen to participate in the NFL's Coach Accelerator program Sunday through Tuesday at the Spring League Meeting in Minneapolis.
The Bears special teams coordinator was among 40 attendees who were selected based on their high potential to be considered for an NFL head-coaching position in the future.
"It was an unbelievable experience," Hightower told ChicagoBears.com. "I was very fortunate to have a chance to go to it. There was really a lot of great information. It was a tremendous honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
The Coach Accelerator was part of the NFL's continuing commitment to promote greater diversity across the league. It was the third event of its kind, following a Coach and Front Office Accelerator and a Front Office Accelerator hosted at league meetings in 2022.
The Coach Accelerator strived to increase exposure between owners, executives and diverse coaching talent, providing a chance to develop and build their relationships. Hightower revealed that Bears chairman George H. McCaskey was gracious in introducing him to several NFL owners and executives.
In addition to networking, the participants listened to speakers that included former McDonald's CEO Don Thompson, former NFL executive Scott Pioli and executive coaching expert and best-selling author Joe Sweeney.
"They do a phenomenal job of giving you insight to the hiring process about becoming a head coach and just professional development in general," Hightower said. "They teach you about networking, teach you about the new generation of kids that we're dealing with, and teach you about management styles and ways to run teams. It was really beneficial."
Hightower is in his second stint with the Bears. He's entering his second season as special teams coordinator after serving as assistant special teams coordinator in 2016 under coach John Fox.
Hightower boasts 16 years of NFL coaching experience, including five seasons as 49ers special teams coordinator from 2017-21. He started his NFL career with the Texans as a coaching assistant (2006-07) and special teams assistant (2008). The Texas native then served as receivers coach at the University of Minnesota in 2009 before returning to the NFL with Washington as an assistant special teams coach from 2010-13, doubling as an assistant defensive backs coach in 2012-13.
Hightower was hired by the Browns as an offensive quality control coach in 2014. He worked with the 49ers as an assistant special teams coach in 2015 before joining the Bears in 2016.
As a player, Hightower was a special teams standout and three-year letterman at the University of Texas, where he earned a bachelor's degree in marketing. He enrolled at the school with an academic scholarship and later was awarded a football scholarship as a senior.
Like the other participants at the Coach Accelerator program, Hightower aspires to eventually becoming a head coach and was thrilled to be selected to attend the three-day event.
"It was an unbelievable opportunity that had a huge impact that I'll definitely take things away from, being able to talk to those people and learn things from them," he said. "I feel very fortunate. It's not every day you get a chance to be around all those influential people in the NFL, both in the league office and ownership. I think Commissioner [Roger] Goodell and the league have done a great job with this initiative."