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Playoff Coaches Come From Divergent Backgrounds

Posted Jan 4, 2016

Of the 12 teams heading to the playoffs, eight are led by first-time NFL head coaches and four who took over after previously leading another team.

As the Dolphins dive into their search for a new head coach following their 20-10 season-ending victory against the New England Patriots, the upcoming NFL playoffs are serving as a great illustration that worthy candidates can come from all types of career backgrounds.

Of the 12 teams heading to the playoffs, eight are led by first-time NFL head coaches and four who took over after previously leading another team.

Denver’s Gary Kubiak previously was head coach of the Houston Texans; New England’s Bill Belichick previously coached the Cleveland Browns; Kansas City’s Andy Reid previously coached the Philadelphia Eagles; and Seattle’s Pete Carroll previously had coached the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.

Bruce Arians had interim head-coaching experience when he took over in Arizona in 2013, having replaced Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis the previous year when Pagano was sidelined with a health issue.

Washington’s Jay Gruden had previous experience as a pro football head coach, but that came in both the Arena Football League and the UFL.

Of the eight first-time NFL head coaches, including Arians, only two served as head coaches in college: Arians at Temple, O’Brien at Penn State.

When it comes to offensive or defensive backgrounds, the 12 playoff head coaches are split evenly down the middle.

Kubiak, Reid, Arians, Gruden, O’Brien and Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy all were offensive assistants. Belichick, Carroll, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Carolina’s Ron Rivera and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer all are defensive coaches.

The one thing that is almost universal is that is all of them, except for Reid, served as an offensive or defensive coordinator in the NFL at one point.

Reid was quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers before he was hired as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999.

Reid also has the distinction of being the only coach in this year’s playoffs who got his job immediately after coaching another team. Reid took over in Kansas City in 2013 right after ending his 13-year (1999-2012) tenure with the Eagles.

When it comes to Super Bowl-winning coaches, the last decade also shows that previous experience isn’t a prerequisite.

Five of the last 10 Super Bowl champions were coached by teams with a first-time NFL head coach: Pittsburgh with Bill Cowher; Pittsburgh with Tomlin; New Orleans with Sean Payton; Green Bay with Mike McCarthy; and Baltimore with John Harbaugh.

That means five of the past 10 Super Bowls were won by teams with a coach with prior NFL experience: the Giants with Tom Coughlin twice; the Colts with Tony Dungy; the Seahawks with Carroll; and the Patriots with Belichick.


First-time NFL head coaches: Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati; Bill O’Brien, Houston; Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh; Ron Rivera, Carolina; Mike McCarthy, Green Bay; Mike Zimmer, Minnesota; Jay Gruden, Washington; Bruce Arians, Arizona (served as interim head coach for Indianapolis in 2012).

Head coaches with prior NFL experience (with previous team in parentheses): Gary Kubiak, Denver (Houston); Bill Belichick, New England (Cleveland); Andy Reid, Kansas City (Philadelphia); Pete Carroll, Seattle (N.Y. Jets, New England)

Coaches with offensive backgrounds: O’Brien, Kubiak, Reid, Arians, McCarthy, Gruden

Coaches with defensive backgrounds: Lewis, Belichick, Tomlin, Rivera, Carroll, Zimmer
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