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NFL Coaching Trees – Pt. 2 – The College Years

Posted by Andrew McKillop on July 20, 2011

Post Highlights

  • Lovie Smith is the only current NFL head coach who was an official assistant in the high school ranks.
  • Both of the schools that Pete Carroll played college football at no longer have programs (College of Marin & Pacific).
  • The University of Pittsburgh once had four current NFL head coaches (J. Fox, Jo. Harbaugh, M. Lewis, & M. McCarthy) as assistants.

 

In part two of my series on NFL coaching trees, I’ll breakdown the connections current NFL head coaches made as assistant coaches/graduate assistants in the college ranks.

Six of the current head coaches in the NFL have never spent time as assistants in the college ranks.  The group includes Bill Belichick, Jack Del Rio, Jason Garrett, Todd Haley, Mike Munchak, and Ron Rivera.  Bill Belichick and Todd Haley are the only coaches in the group to have no NFL playing experience.  Jim Harbaugh was never a paid assistant in college.  From 1994-2001 while still playing in the NFL, Harbaugh was a certified volunteer assistant coach for his dad (Jack) at Western Kentucky.

Current NFL head coaches spent most of their days as assistants in college at the FBS/I-A level. Check out the chart below which breaks down the level of schools current NFL head coaches were assistants at.

Level Coached At Pct
FBS/I-A 68 69.4%
FCS/I-AA 20 20.4%
Division 2 5 5.1%
NAIA 2 2.0%
HS 2 2.0%
Division 3 1 1.0%



Andy Reid is the only current NFL head coach that was an assistant at the division three level.  He was an assistant at San Francisco State from 1983-85.  See if you can spot Andy Reid on the San Francisco State sidelines in this video.

Lovie Smith is the only current NFL head coach who was an official assistant in the high school ranks.  Smith was an assistant at Big Sandy (TX) HS (1980), and Cascia Hall Prep in Tulsa Oklahoma (1981-82).  Rex Ryan and Mike McCarthy were both assistants at the NAIA level.  Ryan was an assistant at New Mexico Highlands (1989), and McCarthy was a graduate assistant at Fort Hays State (1987-88).

Colleges Where Current NFL Head Coaches Were Assistants At

The University of Pittsburgh once had four current NFL head coaches (John Fox, John Harbaugh, Marvin Lewis, & Mike McCarthy)  as assistants/graduate assistants.  The most by any school.  Followed by Cincinnati, Morehead State, and San Diego State who all once had three current NFL head coaches as assistants.  From Cincinnati came John Harbaugh, Rex Ryan, and Mike Tomlin.  From Morehead State John Harbaugh, Rex Ryan, and Mike Smith.  From San Diego State John Fox, Sean Payton, and Mike Smith.  All of those coaches mentioned above have found success in the NFL.

Despite never becoming NFL head coaches themselves, as college head coaches Mike Gottfried, Paul Hackett, and Rick Minter all had three current NFL head coaches on their staff’s as assistants.

Norv Turner (John Robinson), and Tony Sparano (Chris Palmer) received their first NFL assistant jobs from head coaches they worked for at the collegiate level.

John Fox was an assistant/graduate assistant at seven different colleges, the most by any current NFL head coach.  In chronological order, San Diego St, Boise St, Long Beach St, Utah, Kansas, Iowa St, and Pittsburgh.

Fifteen current NFL head coaches spent time as assistants at their alma maters.


There have been five current NFL head coaches that have won national championships as assistants in the college ranks.

Current NFL Head Coaches Who Won National Titles as Assistants

Coach Coached Under Year Level School
Mike Shanahan Barry Switzer 1975 FBS Oklahoma
Mike Shanahan Dan Mudra 1978 Div 2 Eastern Illinois
Norv Turner John Robinson 1978 FBS USC
John Fox Jim Criner 1980 FCS Boise St
Marvin Lewis Dave Kragthorpe 1981 FCS Idaho St
Jim Caldwell Joe Paterno 1986 FBS Penn St



Reference: College Football Data Warehouse, Pro-Football-Reference.com, WikipediaClick here for a list of additional resources.

2 Responses to “NFL Coaching Trees – Pt. 2 – The College Years”

  1. […] newest series of posts. In Part 1 he looks at coaches’ experience levels as players, and in Part 2 he breaks down the connections current NFL head coaches made as assistant coaches/graduate […]

  2. […] NFL Coaching Trees – Pt. 2 – The College Years « SportsDelve.com (tags: coaches Coaching_Trees) […]

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