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The Role of an NFL Quality Control Coach

The path to become an NFL head coach can be rigorous. An education along with a football background helps. Being able to teach and communicate is an asset as well. However, even if you were born into the middle of a coaching tree (see Kyle Shanahan), you still have to pay your dues to get there. You can take the road through the High school and college ranks in order to gain the background experience necessary, but in many instances you will need to do an internship as a Quality Control Coach.

Contemporary coaches are always searching for an edge over their opponents. Now that the Computer Age is upon us, the analyzing has become more technical. Many of those coaches have assistants called the "Quality Control Coach." However, the QCC doesn't really do much coaching at all. They spend all day multitasking, breaking down film up to five weeks in advance and analyzing data. They work all hours, in hotel lobbies, on airplanes and at their team's headquarters producing reports for their Head Coach. They do get to do some coaching though. The QC coaches often run the "Scout" team in practices. From their extensive film work and breaking down plays, the QCC can be a great help preparing their team because they know the tendencies of their opponents. They make sure the Scout teams give the starters an accurate look at what they'll face on Sunday in practice during game weeks.

Denver Broncos Head Coach John Fox knows just what to do more with the data from his QC Coaches. In addition to being able to call up any game on video, he can pull up any statistic to match that play. "What you do is chart the tendency of that (opposing) coach, so that you can tell your team that 'in this situation it'll always be a run or always be a pass,'" says Fox. "So your team knows what to expect."

Quality-control coaches also learn N.F.L. systems from the long hours spent watching film. In no time they absorb the ins and outs of the chess match known as football and the ingenious distinctions between wins and losses. They also pickup how Pro teams organize their practices and their off-season, weight training and conditioning programs. Having access to the scouting, all the video, the personnel departments and the front office, the Quality Control Coach might be the best on the job training for anyone aspiring to become an NFL Head Coach.

Todd Haley called it:

"The greatest job in football as far as learning."

Tony Sparano added:

"That job was the most valuable experience I had. That was my first piece of work in this league. Quality control rounded me, made me a better coach."

The position as we know it in modern day football was created by Mike Holmgren in 1990 when he was the Offensive Coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Mike needed someone to transcribe the Niners Playbook and copy it to a computer. That someone was Jon Gruden. The job also included analyzing opponents, breaking down statistics, tracking and charting plays during games and fetching coffee. Gruden earned a salary of $500 a month, turned 18 hour days and often spent his nights on a cot in the office drawing up plays on his computer. Burning the midnight oil allowed him to pick up the necessary seasoning for his jobs as Head Coach with Oakland and Tampa Bay.


"I was one of the first guys in the 49ers organization to put the game plan on a computer and store the information so that it was accessible next week, next  year and later on down the road for future games. Over the years, all of my computer files became outdated because the software improved. We had to hire a couple of guys – we called them the ‘sweatshop’ – to go in there and really do nothing but re-draw all of the plays and re-type all of the information. That’s not a lot of fun, but when you’re doing that you learn the offense. You learn what ‘Zoom’ is and what ‘Slot’ is, and what the difference is. You learn the different protections and blocking schemes and calls that are made."

The list of NFL coaches that have completed an "Apprenticeship" as the QC Coach include Todd Haley, Eric Mangini, Steve Spagnuolo, Brad Childress, Tony Sparano and Raheem Morris. Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan's son Kyle did a QCC stint under Jon Gruden with Tampa Bay in 2004 and is now the Offensive Coordinator for the Houston Texans. Don't be surprised if Kyle isn't a Head Coach sometime in the near future. Other NFL sons that are currently employed as QC Coaches are Tony Sparano, Jr., Kevin Gilbride, Jr., Sam Mills III, Bobby April, Jr., Chad Grimm and Ryan Slowik. The Offensive Quality Control Coach for the Denver Broncos is Brian Callahan, son of former head coach Bill Callahan. On Defense, that distinction belongs to Jay Rodgers. Hopefully, the next step up for these QC coaches will be as a position coach.

Tim Berbenich spent his first two seasons (2006-07) as an offensive quality control coach with Tampa Bay. He is entering his fifth season with the Buccaneers in 2010 and second as assistant wide receivers coach.

"Our number one responsibility is to get the coaches prepared to start studying the game plans," Berbenich said. "At the end of the day, I have to draw the plays, and if I don’t know them I can’t draw them. If you don’t know what they’re doing on defense you can’t break the film down. You can’t just know what one guy does, you have to know what all 11 players are doing. As far as drawing the plays and learning the playbook, I learned it all. I had no choice."

That $500 a month salary is roughly $22,000 per year these days. The QC job has become so important that even Special-Teams coordinators are asking for their own Quality-Control coaches, and QC coaches now have agents.

If Quality is Job One as the Ford Motor Company claims, The Quality Control Coach is an essential element to any NFL team.

Go Broncos!