The unexpected announcement by Urban Meyer that he was stepping down as the head coach of the University of Florida Gators started all kinds of speculation about whether or not a deal was in the works to bring Meyer to Denver to be reunited with Tim Tebow. One of the more interesting (at least to me) aspects of the discussion revolved around the point/counterpoint about whether or not college head coaches could come into the NFL and find success.
Names like Jimmy Johnson (80-64-0 regular season, 9-4 playoffs, 2 Super Bowls), Barry Switzer (40-24-0, 5-2, 1 SB), and Tom Couglin (131-105-0, 8-7, 1 Super Bowl) are cited as examples of successful college to NFL jumps. Names like Pete Carroll (39-37-0, 1-1), Steve Spurrier (12-20-0, 0-0) and Dennis Erickson (40-56-0, 0-0) are often tossed out as examples of how hard it is to make the jump.
This discussion created some curiosity on my part as to the path the current NFL head coaches took to reach their current jobs. After the jump, we'll take a look at each one.
Second note: in the tables I have listed some coaching experience as either "college assistant" or "NFL assistant." I am not making a distinction between assistant roles such as quarterbacks coach and coordinators such as defensive coordinator. When a college or team is listed by name, this means that the coach served that team as it's head coach.
|Buffalo Bills||Chan Gailey||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|1991-92||WLAF head coach|
|Overall NFL Record||20-24-0||2||0-2|
Gailey served two different colleges as their head coach and served as a head coach in the now defunct World League of American Football, before becoming an NFL head coach.
|Miami Dolphins||Tony Sparano||Regular Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|1994-98||New Haven University|
Sparano followed what would seem to be a logical path to his head coaching position -- time served as a college assistant coach, then college head coach, time as an NFL assistant coach, then finally, an NFL head coach.
|New England Patriots||Bill Belichick||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|2000-present||New England Patriots||122-50-0||7||14-4|
|Overall NFL Record||158-94-0||8||15-5|
Belichick never served as a college coach. He has led the Patriots to four AFC championships and three Super Bowl victories.
|New York Jets||Rex Ryan||Reg Season Record||Playoff||Playoff Record|
|2009-present||New York Jets||18-10-0||1||2-1|
Ryan never served as a college head coach.
|Baltimore Ravens||John Harbaugh||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Harbaugh never served as a college head coach.
|Cincinnati Bengals||Marvin Lewis||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Lewis never served as a college head coach.
|Cleveland Browns||Eric Mangini||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|2006-08||New York Jets||23-25-0||1||0-1|
|Overall NFL Record||33-43-0||1||0-1|
Mangini never coached at the college level.
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Mike Tomlin||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Tomlin never served as a college head coach. Tomlin has led the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship.
|Houston Texans||Gary Kubiak||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Kubiak never served as a college head coach.
|Indianapolis Colts||Jim Caldwell||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
As with Sparano, Caldwell moved from college assistant, to college head coach to NFL assistant, to NFL head coach. Caldwell has led the Colts to an AFC championship.
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Jack Del Rio||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Del Rio never coached at the college level.
|Tennessee Titans||Jeff Fisher||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Fisher never coached at the collegiate level. Fisher has led the Titans to one AFC championship.
|Kansas City Chief||Todd Haley||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|2009-present||Kansas City Chiefs||12-16-0||0||0-0|
Haley never coached at the collegiate level.
|Oakland Raiders||Tom Cable||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Cable spent time as a college assistant, college head coach, and NFL assistant before becoming an NFL head coach.
|San Diego Chargers||Norv Turner||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|2007-present||San Diego Chargers||38-22-0||3||3-3|
|Overall NFL Record||96-104-1||4||4-4|
Turner never served as a college head coach though he did work as a college assistant.
|Dallas Cowboys||Jason Garrett||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Garrett never coached at the collegiate level.
|New York Giants||Tom Coughlin||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|1970-73||Rochester Inst. of Tech.|
|2004-present||New York Giants||63-45-0||4||4-3|
|Overall NFL Record||131-105-0||8||8-7|
Coughlin has served as both an assistant and a head coach at the collegiate level, as well as an NFL assistant before becoming an NFL head coach. Coughlin has led the Giants to one Super Bowl championship.
|Philadelphia Eagles||Andy Reid||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Reid never served as a college head coach. Reid has led the Eagles to one NFC championship.
|Washington Redskins||Mike Shanahan||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|Overall NFL Record||151-105-0||7||8-5|
Shanahan never served as a college head coach. Shanahan led the Broncos to two Super Bowl championships.
|Chicago Bears||Lovie Smith||Reg Season Schedule||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|1980-82||High School assistant|
Smith has coached at every level, high school, college, and NFL. Smith has led the Bears to one NFC championship.
|Detroit Lions||Jim Schwartz||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Schwartz never served as a college head coach.
|Green Bay Packers||Mike McCarthy||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|2006-present||Green Bay Packers||46-30-0||2||1-2|
McCarthy never served as a college head coach.
|Minnesota Vikings||Leslie Frazier||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Frazier's first coaching position was as the head coach of Trinity College.
|Atlanta Falcons||Mike Smith||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Smith never coached at the collegiate level.
|Carolina Panthers||John Fox||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Fox never served as a college head coach. Fox has led the Panthers to one NFC championship.
|New Orleans Saints||Sean Payton||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|2006-present||New Orleans Saints||47-29-0||2||4-1|
Payton never served as a college head coach. Payton has led the Saints to one Super Bowl championship.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Raheem Morris||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|2009-present||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||10-18-0||0||0-0|
Morris never served as a college head coach.
|Arizona Cardinals||Ken Whisenhunt||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
Whisenhunt never served as a college head coach. Whisenhunt has led the Cardinals to one NFC championship.
|St. Louis Rams||Steve Spagnuolo||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|1992||NFL Europe assistant|
|1998||NFL Europe assistant|
|2009-present||St. Louis Rams||7-21-0||0||0-0|
Spagnuolo never served as a college head coach.
|San Francisco 49ers||Mike Singletary||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|2008-present||San Francisco 49ers||17-20-0||0||0-0|
SIngletary never coached at the collegiate level.
|Seattle Seahawks||Pete Carroll||Reg Season Record||Playoffs||Playoff Record|
|1994||New York Jets||6-10-0||0||0-0|
|1997-99||New England Patriots||27-21-0||2||1-2|
|Overall NFL Record||39-37-0||2||1-2|
Carroll served as an NFL head coach before becoming a college head coach. He has now returned to being an NFL head coach.
Of the thirty-one current coaches surveyed in this article, eight never coached at the collegiate level. Twenty-three coaches served as collegiate assistant coaches/coordinators. Seven coaches served as a college head coach. All thirty-one spent some time as an assistant coach/coordinator in the NFL before becoming an NFL head coach. Thus, we see in our current crop of NFL coaches that we do not have anyone who simply jumped from being a college head coach into an NFL head coaching position.
This makes me wonder if current NFL team managements have decided that the best way for a college coach to grow into an effective NFL coach is to provide him with the chance to "pay his dues" by learning the ins and outs of the NFL by serving as an assistant first. Certainly, the track record of coaches making the jump directly from college head coaching positions to NFL head coaching positions has been less than stellar in their first year. Erickson -- Miami 1994 to Seattle 1995, 8-8, Jimmy Johnson -- Miami 1988 to Dallas 1989, 1-15, and Spurrier -- Florida 2001 to Washington 2002, 7-9, are examples of coaches who struggled with the transition.
The jury is also still out, IMHO, on coaches whose coaching experience is exclusively at the NFL level. Belichick (158-94-0, 15-3, 4 AFC championships, 3 Super Bowl championships) and Fisher (141-117-0, 5-6, 1 AFC championships) are arguments in favor of it being a good idea. Mangini (33-43-0, 0-1) and Singletary (17-20-0, 0-0) are arguments against that approach. I would suggest that the data is inconclusive for Haley (12-16-0, 0-0), Garrett (3-1-0, 0-0), Smith (30-14-0, 0-1) and Del Rio (64-60-0, 1-2).
I'm inclined to believe at this point, that the Broncos will choose to seek out their new coach from among the ranks of those who has spent time rising through the ranks of college coaching and who has "paid his dues" as an NFL assistant and/or coordinator.