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Where do NFL head coaches come from?

There was much concern over Vance Joseph being a one year coordinator, but is that really all that uncommon?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In a discussion in the MHR staff chatroom I asked the question about how many NFL head coaches were NOT previously NFL OCs, DCs or HCs before they got their NFL HC jobs. I was unable to find a good answer (and neither was Laurie) so I decided to do the research. What you are about to see is the listing of NFL HC by franchise by year with a designation about the highest NFL position that each HC had in the NFL prior to their NFL HC job.

I’m only going to deal with this century.You are more than welcome to extend this to the 90s and prior if you wish. HCs whose tenure extends from one time block into another will only have their highest position listed after their first year in their new HC job. Note that Vance Joseph was only a coordinator in the NFL for one season, but that is not uncommon.

2000-2005

Franchise 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
ARI Tobin - DC McGinnis - DC McGinnis McGinnis Green - HC Green
ATL Reeves - HC Reeves Reeves Reeves Mora - HC Mora
BAL Billick - OC Billick Billick Billick Billick Billick
BUF Phillips - HC Greg Williams - DC Williams Williams Mularkey - OC Mularkey
CAR Seifert - HC Seifert Fox - DC Fox Fox Fox
CHI Jauron - DC Jauron Jauron Jauron Lovie Smith - DC Smith
CIN LaBeau - DC LaBeau LaBeau Lewis - DC Lewis Lewis
CLE Palmer - OC Davis - DC Davis Davis Davis Crennel - DC
DAL Campo - DC Campo Campo Parcells - HC Parcells Parcells
DEN Shanahan - HC Shanahan Shanahan Shanahan Shanahan Shanahan
DET Ross - HC Mornhinweg - OC Mornhinweg Mariucci - HC Mariucci Mariucci
GB Sherman - OC Sherman Sherman Sherman Sherman Sherman
HOU no team no team Capers - HC Capers Capers Capers
IND Mora - HC Mora Dungy - HC Dungy Dungy Dungy
JAX Coughlin - WR Coughlin Coughlin Del Rio - DC Del Rio Del Rio
KAN Cunningham - DC Vermeil - HC Vermeil Vermeil Vermeil Vermeil
LAR Martz - OC Martz Martz Martz Martz Martz
MIA Wannstedt - HC Wannstedt Wannstedt Wannstedt Wannstedt Saban - DC
MIN Green - WR Green Tice - OL Tice Tice Tice
NEW Belichick - HC Belichick Belichick Belichick Belichick Belichick
NOR Haslett- DC Haslett Haslett Haslett Haslett Haslett
NYG Fassel - OC Fassel Fassel Fassel Coughlin - HC Coughlin
NYJ Groh - DC Edwards - AHC/DB Edwards Edwards Edwards Edwards
OAK Gruden - OC Gruden Callahan - OC Callahan Turner - HC Turner
PHI Reid - QC Reid Reid Reid Reid Reid
PIT Cowher - DC Cowher Cowher Cowher Cowher Cowher
SD Riley - none Riley Schottenheimer - HC Schottenheimer Schottenheimer Schottenheimer
SEA Holmgren - HC Holmgren Holmgren Holmgren Holmgren Holmgren
SF Mariucci - QB Mariucci Mariucci Erickson - HC Erickson Nolan - DC
TAM Dungy - DC Dungy John Gruden - HC Gruden Gruden Gruden
TEN Fisher - DC Fisher Fisher Fisher Fisher Fisher
WAS Turner - OC Schottenheimer - HC Spurrier - none Spurrier Gibbs - HC Gibbs

This century began with a bunch of guys as HC who had not been NFL coordinators prior to their HC gigs: Tom Coughlin, Dennis Green, Andy Reid, Mike Riley, Steve Spurrier and Steve Mariucci. Coughlin, Green, and Reid were/are all successful long-term HCs in the NFL. Mike Riley had no coaching experience prior to taking the Chargers HC job. Mariucci was given a shot as a HC because he was the QB guru in SF. Spurrier had been wildly successful in college, but that did not translate to the NFL. It’s also interesting to note that two of the first time NFL HC’s during this era had only spent one year as a DC or OC prior to their ascension to HC jobs: Jack Del Rio and Mike Martz.

2006-2010

Franchise 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
ARI Green Whisenhunt - OC Whisenhunt Whisenhunt Whisenhunt
ATL Mora Petrino - OC Mike Smith - DC Smith Smith
BAL Billick Billick John Harbaugh - ST/DB Harbaugh Harbaugh
BUF Jauron - HC Jauron Jauron Jauron Gailey - HC
CAR Fox Fox Fox Fox Fox
CHI Smith Smith Smith Smith Smith
CIN Lewis Lewis Lewis Lewis Lewis
CLE Crennel Crennel Crennel Mangini - HC Mangini
DAL Parcells Phillips - HC Phillips Phillips Garrett - OC
DEN Shanahan Shanahan Shanahan McDaniels - OC McDaniels
DET Marinelli - AHC/DL Marinelli Marinelli Schwartz - DC Schwartz
GB McCarthy - OC McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy
HOU Kubiak - OC Kubiak Kubiak Kubiak Kubiak
IND Dungy Dungy Dungy Caldwell - AHC/QB Caldwell
JAX Del Rio Del Rio Del Rio Del Rio Del Rio
KAN Edwards - HC Edwards Edwards Haley - OC Haley
LAR Martz Linehan - OC Linehan Linehan Spagnuolo - DC
MIA Saban Cameron - OC Sparano - AHC/OL Sparano Sparano
MIN Childress - OC Childress Childress Childress Childress
NEW Belichick Belichick Belichick Belichick Belichick
NOR Payton - OC Payton Payton Payton Payton
NYG Coughlin Coughlin Coughlin Coughlin Coughlin
NYJ Mangini - DC Mangini Mangini Ryan - DC Ryan
OAK Shell - HC Kiffin - DQC Kiffin Cable - OL Cable
PHI Reid Reid Reid Reid Reid
PIT Cowher Tomlin - DC Tomlin Tomlin Tomlin
SD Schottenheimer Turner - HC Turner Turner Turner
SEA Holmgren Holmgren Holmgren Mora - HC Carroll - HC
SF Nolan Nolan Singletary - AHC/LB Singletary Singletary
TAM Gruden Gruden Gruden Morris - DB Morris
TEN Fisher Fisher Fisher Fisher Fisher
WAS Gibbs Gibbs Zorn - QB Zorn Shanahan - HC

We only had hhree first-time HCs who had not been NFL OCs or DCs prior during this time period: Lane Kiffin, Jim Zorn and Tom Cable. Lane Kiffin had one year as the defensive quality control person in Jacksonville as his only NFL coaching experience. Kiffin lasted two years with the Faiders. Zorn lasted two seasons with WAS and Cable lasted two seasons in Joakland. There were two guys who got HC gigs after only spending one year as a coordinator in the NFL during this time-frame: Eric Mangini (one year as DC in NE) and Mike Tomlin (one year as DC in MIN).

2011-2016

Franchise 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
ARI Whisenhunt Whisenhunt Arians - OC IHC Arians Arians Arians
ATL Smith Smith Smith Smith Quinn - DC Quinn
BAL Harbaugh Harbaugh Harbaugh Harbaugh Harbaugh Harbaugh
BUF Gailey Gailey Marrone - OC Marrone Rex Ryan- DC Ryan
CAR Riviera - DC Riviera Riviera Riviera Riviera Riviera
CHI Smith Smith Smith Smith Fox - HC Fox
CIN Lewis Lewis Lewis Lewis Lewis Lewis
CLE Shurmur - OC Shurmur Chudzinski - OC Pettine - DC Pettine Hue Jackson - HC
DAL Garrett Garrett Garrett Garrett Garrett Garrett
DEN Fox - HC Fox Fox Fox Kubiak - HC Kubiak
DET Schwartz Schwartz Schwartz Caldwell - HC Caldwell Caldwell
GB McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy
HOU Kubiak Kubiak Kubiak Kubiak O'Brien - OC O'Brien
IND Caldwell Pagano - DC Pagano Pagano Pagano Pagano
JAX Del Rio Mularkey - HC Bradley - DC Bradley Bradley Bradley
KAN Haley Crennel - HC Reid - HC Reid Reid Reid
LAR Spagnuolo Spagnuolo Fisher - HC Fisher Fisher Fisher
MIA Sparano Sparano Philbin - OC Philbin Philbin Gase - OC
MIN Frazier - DC Frazier Frazier Zimmer - DC Zimmer Zimmer
NEW Belichick Belichick Belichick Belichick Belichick Belichick
NOR Payton Payton* (susp) Payton Payton Payton Payton
NYG Coughlin Coughlin Coughlin Coughlin Coughlin McAdoo - OC
NYJ Ryan Ryan Ryan Ryan Bowles - DC Bowles
OAK Jackson - OC Allen - DC Allen Allen Del Rio - HC Del Rio
PHI Reid Reid Kelly - no NFL Kelly Kelly Pederson - OC
PIT Tomlin Tomlin Tomlin Tomlin Tomlin Tomlin
SD Turner Turner McCoy - OC McCoy McCoy McCoy
SEA Carroll Carroll Carroll Carroll Carroll Carroll
SF Jim Harbaugh - QB Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Tomsula - DL Kelly - HC
TAM Morris Schiano - DB Schiano Lovie Smith - HC Smith Koetter - OC
TEN Munchak - OL Munchak Munchak Whisenhunt - HC Whisenhunt Mularkey - HC
WAS Shanahan Shanahan Shanahan Jay Gruden - OC Jay Gruden Jay Gruden

This time-frame saw four guys get first-time HC jobs without OC or DC experience in the NFL. Mike Munchak in TEN (had been an OL coach), Greg Schiano in TB (had been an DB coach in the NFL), Chip Kelly in PHI (had NO NFL coaching experience) and Jim Tomsula in SF (he had been the DL coach in SF). Muchak was the most successful of these four and he only lasted three years as the HC in TEN.

Three men got their first HC job after one year as a coordinator in the NFL during this time period. Chuck Pagano in IND (one year as DC for the Giants - 2011), Dennis Allen (one year as the DC in DEN - 2011) and Bill O’Brien (one year as OC in NE - 2011). 2011 was a strange year in many ways in the NFL.

Conclusions

The vast majority of NFL HCs were either a DC, OC, HC or assistant head coach (AHC) prior to their HC jobs. Those who had no NFL coaching experience prior to taking an NFL HC gig all failed miserably. There are some successes among the guys who weren’t an OC, DC, AHC or HC in the NFL prior to getting their HC gig, but there are also plenty of failures.