By Jonathan Adler
Former Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson was frustrated with his head coach, Todd Haley, and decided to vent via his Twitter account. The former Chief announced to the online community that, “my father got more credentials than most of these pro coaches. … google my father!!!!!!!”
Unfortunately, my Google search of “Mr. Johnson” returned over 43 million results, so I’m still looking for information on Larry’s father.
But in the meantime, I decided to examine one aspect of a coach’s “credentials” that is generally overlooked: playing experience. At the start of the 2009 season, the NFL coaching ranks boasted a diverse field of former players – from a Hall of Fame linebacker to a Division III sack artist.
I compiled information for each of this season’s 32 coaches (Including the freshly canned ex-Yalie Dick Jauron) and marked each coach’s highest playing level. Of the 32, only 9 played in the NFL (And 2 of them were scabs during player strikes, Sean Payton and Tom Cable) while 11 played D-I ball in college. Another 11 played at a level below D-I in college, and Todd Haley played golf.
I also noted each coach’s on-field position during their playing days. Precisely half (16) of current coaches played offense, while 15 lined up on defense. Todd Haley was known for his short game
With these categorizations in mind, we can take a look at whether a coach’s playing history says anything about his coaching success. First, it’s important to keep in mind that only the most successful coaches remain in the league (survivor bias), so their pasts weigh more heavily on this data (i.e. all of Jeff Fisher’s wins make the “NFL” veteran coaches appear more successful).
Coaches who suited up in the NFL have performed slightly worse than those who only made it to college ball. And there appears to be a minor edge for coaches that topped out in D-1 ball compared to those who ended their playing careers in lesser divisions. It appears that coaches with a playing background on offense have had more success than those who played defense, but this discrepancy doesn’t hold any significant statistical value. And 10 weeks into the season, it’s just too soon to say whether college golf is the best route for aspiring coaches.
There is much, much more to explore with this information, and with coach backgrounds in general. In the coming weeks, I hope to post more detailed analyses on this subject, delving deeper into the past and including historical coaches in my research.