Professional football has quickly become one of the world’s most complex sports. It is becoming harder to find cerebral coaches who can put in place effective game plans as well as lead players on the field of play. It takes unique individuals to coach in the NFL. Passion and a love of the game that borderlines insanity are both a must, but often playing experience is just as important.
Intricate formations, critical play calls and constant substitutions often make the primary job of managing players seem secondary. Players often have an easier time responding to former players who have the experience playing in the NFL that every player covets. This experience commands respect from players and makes the job of managing them much easier.
At the same time, this experience makes it easier for former players turned coaches to put together effective gameplans and prepare the team on a weekly basis. Coaches at this level have to break down tons of film, be effective teachers and communicate. This makes ex-players the ideal candidates for coaching.
The following 20 players have the passion and experience necessary to give them the potential to become successful coaches. Whether it is the potential for installing the perfect offense, calling the right defensive plays or even maximizing the abilities of the players, the following current NFL players all have something to offer as coaches.
20. Larry Fitzgerald
There are not many wide receivers who go on to become coaches, but Larry Fitzgerald is not just any receiver. His charitable work and leadership awards are both prime examples of his ability to connect with people. Fitzgerald enjoys contributing to the success of young people, so coaching would seem to be in his blood. Fitzgerald has patience from working with many different quarterbacks who have often struggled to get him the ball.
Fitzgerald has spent his whole career on one team, the Arizona Cardinals, and lacks the experience of working with several different coaches and systems. He does, however, line up against one of the best defenses in the league whenever he practices. Fitzgerald has a commanding appearance for a receiver and could be a little like his coach, Bruce Arians.
19. Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers came into the league as a highly regarded prospect and continues to play as a highly regarded veteran. Peppers has 123.5 career sacks, 67 passes defended and 11 interceptions from his defensive end position giving him plenty of experience in breaking down opposing offenses. He has been an effective leader on three different teams and has the added experience of having to play many games against the likes of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
Peppers is well-liked and his play commands plenty of respect. This has made it easier for him to be a leader and his long productive career gives him plenty of experience to carry over to coaching. Peppers would be a little more fiery than Lovie Smith and a little calmer than Bill Cowher.
18. Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer has played for his share of offensive coordinators, getting his first experience under the tutelage of respected offensive coaches Hue Jackson and Norm Chow at USC. Palmer has played for the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals, providing him experience in three different divisions. He is a vocal leader on the field and has even won the Ed Block Courage Award as well.
Palmer had some issues with management in Cincinnati, that he probably could have handled differently, but has been a respected leader from a player’s standpoint everywhere he has played. He could be the next Sean Payton.
17. J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt has been having an MVP type of year in 2014 for the Houston Texans and has gone from a young star to the leader of the defense. Watt is a terrific athlete who can make incredible plays, but his ability to diagnose plays and sniff out screens is uncanny. This understanding of where quarterbacks want to throw the ball has led to many pass deflections and makes him possess a good understanding of the game.
Watt is a nice guy who likes to keep things low key, but there is no questioning his competitiveness. It would be interesting to see if he would be able to get his team to prepare and play as hard as he does. Watt would probably be a little like Jim Haslett or Jack Del Rio and certainly would have enough respect to be an effective leader.
16. Alex Mack
Alex Mack has already been recognized for his intelligence as the recipient of the Draddy Trophy, or “Academic Heisman”, as a member of the California Bears in 2008. The big athletic center is currently on injured reserve, missing the first games of his professional career. His leadership, preparation and ability to make protection calls at the line of scrimmage provide evidence that he can diagnose defenses and handle making some quick decisions.
Mack is smart and still has a lot to learn about the NFL game, but he seems to have the tools that would enable him to be a capable leader. Given a little more NFL experience, and maybe even some time spent playing in a more effective offense, and Mack could have all the tools to be like Ken Wisenhunt, Art Shell or even Dave Wannstedt.
15. Steve Smith
Talk about a fiery leader and relentless competitor. Steve Smith plays the game of football like every game is being played in a contract year and every play counts. He is vocal, is always willing to accept a challenge as well as challenge others to raise their level of play and is more than willing to lead by example. Smith has all the intangibles and leadership skills you would want in a head coach.
Not many wideouts have made the jump into NFL coaching, but Smith is a football player first and foremost, which many players consider to be the highest compliment one can get. If he could teach his players to have half his tenacity, responsibility and dedication, he would have a team of winners. Smith could be like Dennis Green with Mike Ditka and a little Herman Edwards thrown in for good measure.
14. Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson might be quiet and composed, but he has a fire inside that makes him never give up on a play. Wilson plays like Brett Favre, but is as cool on the field and in the huddle as Joe Montana. As cerebral as he is athletic, Wilson has all the tools to be a great coach and leader and knows how to face adversity, doubters and even the media.
Wilson has the work ethic and study habits that are essential to coach and prepare a team to play in the NFL. His biggest test would probably come from the players themselves and his ability to control the locker room and impart his will and determination on his players. Wilson could be that kind of coach with a low-key approach and quiet, yet confident, demeanor.
13. Charles Tillman
Charles Tillman is used to being overlooked as a member of the Chicago Bears unheralded secondary. Despite operating in relative obscurity, Tillman has been a difference maker throughout his career with 42 forced fumbles, 119 passes defended and 36 interceptions in his 12 years with the Chicago Bears. He has been out with a triceps injury this season and his contributions and leadership have been sorely missed.
Tillman has organized and run many charitable events and foundations, making him no stranger to unifying people for a common cause and leading a charge. His only NFL experience has been with the Bears, but he has spent plenty of time facing the potent Packers and Lions offenses. Tillman could be a combination of Gus Bradley and Jeff Fisher.
12. DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware is relentless as a pass rusher off the edge and is able to use his speed and explosiveness to make big plays in the running game as well. Ware comes from little Troy University and has used his talent, work ethic and determination to become one of the best defensive ends to play the game. He certainly knows how to pressure an opponent’s quarterback with 127 career sacks, and force the opposition to make mistakes with 34 forced fumbles, so he is not lacking in experience when it come to shutting down offenses.
Ware is well-liked and his proven leadership skills were a big reason the Denver Broncos were so excited when they were able to sign him before this season. Ware could be the next Lovie Smith or Mike Smith, two coaches known to have great rapport with their players.
11. Drew Brees
Drew Brees is the consummate professional and knows how to prepare for an upcoming game as well as an upcoming season. Brees keeps himself in phenomenal shape during the offseason, is a football geek and has a great feel of the game. He is good at checking out of plays, getting multiple receivers into the flow of a game and attacking an opponent’s weakness. He is a good leader who always seems to keep his composure.
Brees has been playing for Sean Payton for most of his career, providing him with a great example of how coaches need to prepare their teams to win big games. Brees has the wisdom, tenacity and positive attitude necessary to become the next Mike Shanahan or John Harbaugh.
10. Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck has had a phenomenal start to his career. Seldom do rookie quarterbacks step in and replace a legend only to lead the team to the playoffs and earn a Pro Bowl nomination at the same time. Luck is one of those special individuals who simply has a strong will to succeed. He has all the football I.Q. and leadership characteristics that make him special, but his positive attitude, patience and strong will could make him an unbelievable coach.
Luck still has to prove he can teach and delegate some responsibilities to others, but he sure would seem to have a great combination of attributes to be a successful coach. It might seem like this is an obvious choice, but Luck could be a little like Jim Harbaugh, who ironically was a Colts quarterback himself and Luck’s coach at Stanford.
9. Wes Welker
Wes Welker does have the innate ability to read his quarterback’s thoughts, but it is his work with both Denver and New England that would give him enough experience to be an offensive guru. Welker has had an incredible NFL career, playing at a high level despite lacking elite size and speed. Translating this experience to guide an underperforming blue collar team could be right up his alley.
Welker would have to make sure he doesn’t have a soft spot for the wily veteran who works his tail off while the more talented youngster sits. Welker does things with an old-school mentality and could end up being a little like current San Diego Chargers coach, Mike McCoy.
8. Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan might have a reputation for coming up a little bit short in big games, but his leadership skills and command of the Atlanta Falcon’s offense is unquestioned. He is a fiery leader on the field and works hard to improve himself each year he has been in the league. Ryan is still young, but already has plenty of big game experience and has learned how small the difference can be between winning and losing in the NFL.
Ryan has a fire that burns inside the cool exterior that has earned him the nickname “Matty Ice”. He is smart and has all the intangibles to be a good NFL coach, but will need to be able to overcome the pressure to win the big games. Even if he had a coaching career like Marty Shottenheimer, Mike Smith or Andy Reid, he would have quite a career.
7. Eric Weddle
Eric Weddle is one of those players who just seems to know what is happening on the field at all times. Weddle is not blessed with blazing speed and doesn’t possess a linebacker’s body, but he has great football instincts the help him diagnose plays and get in position to make plays. These traits combined with his leadership skills would serve him well in a coaching capacity. Weddle also has tons of great experience facing the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and even Phillip Rivers in practice.
Weddle might be all over the place as a player on the field, but coaching others to see the same things on the field could be his biggest challenge. Weddle could be like former NFL coach Herman Edwards or even better, Tony Dungy.
6. Tom Brady
Tom Brady has played for one of the great NFL coaches, Bill Belichick, for his entire 15-year NFL career. If Brady could institute a similar culture on a team he elected to coach, he would stand a good chance of being pretty successful. Brady is a fiery leader, has a great football mind and certainly knows what it takes to be a winner. He knows how to exploit favorable matchups and also has developed the confidence to trust that rookies and backups will be able to step up when the opportunity presents itself.
Brady is more of a private person, despite having high-profile relationships with women in the public eye. It would not be a stretch to see him hold private practices, keep information from the media or take a chance on risky players who could help the team. It might be no coincidence that similarities to Bill Belichick come to mind. The main difference would be that Brady would be a lot more lively on the sidelines and perhaps dressed a little better than Belichick.
5. Charles Woodson
Charles Woodson has lined up against many opponents during his 17-year NFL career. The former University of Michigan Heisman Trophy winner has had a stellar NFL career. He is intelligent, has a great work ethic, and knows how to play the game while also staying in great shape. Woodson has played for the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, providing him with the experience of playing for two storied franchises.
Woodson would have plenty of NFL game experience to apply to coaching. He is a good guy, works hard and is a quiet leader who leads more by example. He’d hold his players to a high standard. He could be a lot like a combination of Jeff Fisher and John Fox.
4. Luke Kuechly
Although he is young and doesn’t have a ton of NFL experience, Luke Kuechly is one of the surprising bright young defensive leaders in the NFL. Kuechly is athletic and explosive, but he also has a knack of diagnosing plays and reading offenses despite having little NFL experience. He is intelligent, is passionate and has no problem being a leader, despite his youth. These attributes would help make him develop into a good coach.
Kuechly is still young, making it hard to imagine him coaching, but some good attributes are in place to make him an ideal candidate. He could be like John Fox or Bill Parcells, two former collegiate defensive players who have excelled at coaching.
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick is in his 10th NFL season and has already played on five different teams. The Harvard graduate was reported to have scored a 48 on the Wonderlic Test at the NFL Combine, giving him the highest recorded Wonderlic score for a quarterback. Fitzpatrick would have the intelligence, leadership skills from playing the quarterback position for so many different teams and the experience of playing in several different systems to help him succeed.
Fitzpatrick is more of a quiet leader and he would still have to prove he would be able to teach and communicate effectively. He probably was able to absorb quite a bit with his experience on five NFL teams and might he like Mike Holmgren or the legendary Bill Walsh.
2. Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers is the feisty leader of the San Diego Chargers who is right up there with Peyton Manning when it comes to reading defenses and preparing for a game. Rivers has plenty of experience and is always willing to correct players who make a mistake. On one hand he appears more than willing to fire up his team and light a spark when needed, but he is also very cerebral and a great communicator with teammates and the media.
Rivers is a football player first and quarterback second. His frustrations would probably come from players who act like prima donnas or players who have trouble playing with minor injuries. Philip Rivers would be like Pete Carroll with a similar level of enthusiasm and similar demeanor.
1. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning is easily one of the best coaches on the field on any given Sunday. His 17 years of NFL experience coupled with his unparalleled preparation, extensive use of film study and leadership skills make him an easy candidate to be successful at the next stage. Any team coached by Peyton Manning would be meticulously prepared, not accept losing, have disdain for penalties and make very few mistakes.
The only issue might be with Manning’s level of patience and willingness to accept growth or play that doesn’t necessarily happen at his pace or meet his level of expectations. Also, could Manning teach any quarterback to truly see what he sees on every play? Manning could adopt coaching aspects from the likes of Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Chip Kelly.
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