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DALY: It’s no snap going from QB to head coach in NFL
Question of the Day
Quarterbacks watch so much game tape that it makes their eyeballs bleed. They're often the first players on the practice field, the last to leave. They're smart, for the most part, and they're leaders — let's not forget that. Leaders of large men in times of crisis.
So why haven't more NFL quarterbacks made good NFL coaches? Better yet, why haven't more good NFL quarterbacks made good NFL coaches?
The question is being raised because the San Francisco 49ers are in town Sunday to swap forearms with the Washington Redskins, and the 49ers, of course, are led by Jim Harbaugh, who quarterbacked 14 seasons in the league and went to the Pro Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 1995. Harbaugh, in his first season as an NFL head man, has the Niners running away in the NFC West at 6-1. This wouldn't be so noteworthy if, as previously stated, NFL quarterbacks didn't have such a poor track record in these jobs.
Part of the reason may be that NFL QBs don't have to become coaches when their playing days are over. They're recognizable names, many of them, and can trade on that in the business and media worlds. Why stand on the sideline, hearing the boos, when you can sit in a nice, comfy broadcast booth and do the booing yourself — or hang out in a luxury box with a client and drink the booze?
Sonny Jurgensen, you'll notice, was too intelligent to become an NFL coach. Same with John Elway, who would rather run the Denver Broncos' football operations than wear a headset. Joe Montana? Get thee to a winery.
Of course, star quarterbacks can have lengthy careers; so if they decide to go into coaching, they get an awfully late start. Most of the head coaches today who are former NFL quarterbacks — Gary Kubiak in Houston, Jason Garrett in Dallas and, if we must, Sean Payton in New Orleans (a strike-team QB with the Chicago Bears in 1987) were mostly clipboard holders. Kubiak backed up Elway in Denver. Garrett subbed for Troy Aikman in Dallas. Interesting, no? They weren't great quarterbacks themselves, but they were around great quarterbacks.
(It doesn't stop there, either. Steve Spurrier, who spent a couple of interesting seasons in Washington, was the No. 2 in San Francisco behind John Brodie, a near Hall of Famer. And Sam Wyche, who guided the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl, was the No. 3 on the Redskins behind Sonny and Billy Kilmer. There are other examples, too.)
But anyway, back to my original point: Good NFL quarterbacks haven't tended to make good NFL coaches. Here are the five Hall of Fame QBs in modern times who have gone on to be head coaches — and the records they've compiled:
• Sammy Baugh, 18-24, .429 winning percentage (1960-61 New York Titans, 1964 Houston Oilers).
• Bob Waterfield, 9-24-1, .279 (1960-62 Los Angeles Rams).
• Norm Van Brocklin, 66-100-7, .402 (1961-66 Minnesota Vikings, 1968-74 Atlanta Falcons).
• Otto Graham, 17-22-3, .440 (1966-68 Redskins).
• Bart Starr, 52-76-3, .408 (1975-83 Green Bay Packers).
Only one of the five, by the way, ever took a club to the playoffs: Starr - once (in the 1982 strike season). All in all, a pretty sorry lot.
Indeed, the only quarterback who had a decent pro career and went on to be a successful NFL head coach was ... (drum roll, please) Tom Flores. Flores — like Harbaugh, a one-time Pro Bowler — had a few nice seasons with Oakland in the early years of the AFL before coaching the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins. (Unless, that is, Al Davis did. But let's not go there. It'll just slow down the column.)
Seems strange, doesn't it, that Flores would stand alone? Maybe the problem was that none of these coaches had a quarterback who was as great as they were. (Still, Van Brocklin had a young Fran Tarkenton in Minnesota, and Graham had Jurgensen in Washington. That's not too bad.)
At any rate, the bar hasn't been set terribly high for Harbaugh. And, looking over his numbers again, he really did have his moments as an NFL quarterback. He started for three playoff teams — one with the Bears, two with the Colts — and in 1995, the season his Colts made it to the AFC title game, he led the league in passer rating (100.7). He also had excellent mobility, rushing for more yards in his career (2,787) than Elway, among others.
And so far, he's the NFL coach of the year. The 49ers already have as many victories as they did all of last season; they've won at Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Detroit — all three might make the playoffs — and, under Harbaugh's direction, perennial disappointment Alex Smith has turned into a functional quarterback (95.7 rating, just two interceptions in seven games).
But then, it's in Harbaugh's DNA. His father, Jack, was a longtime college coach, and his brother, John, is boss of the Baltimore Ravens. Other NFL quarterbacks have options. With Jim, the X's-and-O's life might have been preordained.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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