As I watched the pre-game show on the NFL Network last night an intriguing subject came up for debate. The question asked, do former Hall of Fame players make good NFL coaches, certainly the percentages are not in their favor, but that number is small as there have only been 4 of them. The broader question was, do former players in general make good coaches. Former head coach Steve Marriuchi chimed in with his belief that most ex-players do not want to pay their dues to move up through the ranks, they will not commit to the 18 hour days necessary to be a good coach, and lastly he felt as though they may not be equipped to lead 53 men and a staff of coaches. Marshall Faulk a for sure first ballot Hall of Famer and Deion Sanders another future Hall of Famer had some interesting insights. Marshall interjected with the thought, why should I have to be someones do boy, go get coffee and draw up practice cards when I have paid my dues on the field. Deion echoed some of the same sentiments, “I paid my dues in game time experience,” often time coaches know that some of these former players have the ability to coach, but will never receive the opportunity because they refuse to go through the process.
As a former player my sentiments are in line with Marshall’s and Deion’s, after playing for defensive minds like Buddy Ryan, Bud Carson and Fritz Shurmur there isn’t much about defensive schemes, blitzes and coverages that I don’t know. Granted not all former players can be coaches, coaching is so much more than the X’s and O’s of the game. With repetition someone with a great memory could learn a defense or offense, a great coach also has to be a great teacher though, able to teach in a variety of ways given the fact that some people are visual learners, while others may learn verbally and others still kinetically. Experience plays a role, while I will concede that there have been some great coaches that have never played the game and had great success, they were smart enough to surround themselves with coaches with playing experience. It is hard to teach others something you have never done or experienced, and one must alway s consider the level of coaching as well, many things are learned by trial and error and successes and failures. I have always felt as though the “Process” so to speak or the paying of your dues was used more as a deterrent, than a means to earn your way up the coaching ladder, challenging ones commitment to the rigors of coaching. Is it a tough job with long hours, absolutely, as a former player I put in the hours, sometimes 8 AM-8 PM and the coaches were almost always there before I got there and after I left. Whether those kinds of hours were and are necessary are still up for debate, modern technology has cut down on the work load that coaches have had to do manually.
In basketball you see a lot of former players coaching and most of the successful ones are former players, out of 30 head coaches only 6 do not have any NBA playing experience. In major league baseball all 28 coaches have some playing experience, most on the major league level and a few on the minor. Upon a study of Soccer the most popular sport on the world level, a major portion of the team owners are turning to former top-level players to coach their teams, with great success. In the NFL out of the 32 head coaches there are only 7 with professional playing experience, while the majority have only college playing experience, division III at that. Once again I reiterate, I have seen and experienced some good coaches who have never played at the top-level, but at some point once I understand the X’s and O’s, the scheme of things and trust me as a student of the game it was my intent to gain such knowledge, what was left for a coach with little or no NFL experience to teach me?
In pro sports we have ushered in a new athlete and culture, with more money than pro sports have ever seen. I’m of the opinion that it takes a different type of coach to get the job done. Someone who can look at the situation from an angle familiarity, someone who’s been there and done that, and can motivate this new age player. There have been documented instances where players haven’t respected a coach because that coach brought no real life experience to the table. Young players don’t know what they don’t know, veteran players can clearly see what’s window dressing and what’s truth. There’s too much at stake, head coaches will begin to realize the necessity for former players who want to coach, and have experience, their input will not only help them win, but will make them look like geniuses in the process. This will undoubtedly open opportunities for these position coaches as well, in coordinator and head coaching positions. I’ve paid my dues with 13 years of service, 6 surgeries, 3 pro bowls and a Super Bowl Championship. That is a lot of information and wisdom to be sown into a young player just coming into the game, Deion stated last night, ”there are plenty of former players that would jump at the chance to pass their wisdom on, if the opportunity was presented the right way.”