The web of coaching connections in the NFL is nearly endless. “When you’re an assistant and you’ve been on a few staffs, you’re on all kinds of trees,” former 49ers and Lions head coach Steve Mariucci said. “It’s a forest.” But through the branches, every coach can point to one head coach who’s most responsible for helping him land one of the league’s 32 coveted positions. Here’s a look at the connections of the NFL’s current head coaches, as well as the main branches from which they came.
(161-111; Green Bay Packers, 1992-98; Seattle Seahawks, 1999-2008)
Holmgren became the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterbacks coach in 1986, which made him one of the most prominent disciples of Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense. His first major college job was coaching quarterbacks at BYU in 1982, when the staff also included a graduate assistant named Andy Reid.
(188-120-1; Philadelphia Eagles, 1999-2012; Kansas City Chiefs, 2013-present)
Reid’s coaching career started to take off as he worked under Dirk Koetter, who hired him at UTEP in the late 1980s as an offensive line coach and brought him to Missouri when he became the Tigers’ offensive coordinator in 1989. But Reid’s main influence was Mike Holmgren, under whom he worked for seven years as a tight ends and quarterbacks coach.
(11-28; Cleveland Browns, 2011-12; Philadelphia Eagles, interim, 2015; New York Giants, 2018-present)
Shurmur was on Andy Reid’s first staff in 1999, and he stayed in Philadelphia for 10 seasons, most of them as a quarterbacks coach.
(97-68; Baltimore Ravens, 2008-present)
For his first NFL job, Harbaugh joined the Eagles as a special teams coordinator in 1998. the year before Andy Reid arrived. Reid retained him, and he didn’t leave until he took over the Ravens.
(11-10; Buffalo Bills, 2017-present)
McDermott was a defensive coordinator under Ron Rivera in Carolina for six years, but his most important apprenticeship happened under Andy Reid in Philadelphia, where he worked his way up from a scouting assistant to defensive coordinator over 12 years.
(67-48-1; Carolina Panthers, 2011-present)
A former Bears linebacker, Rivera started as a low-level defensive assistant in Chicago before coaching linebackers in Philadelphia under Andy Reid for five years. He was one of six future head coaches on Reid’s first Eagles staff in 1999.
(1-4; Arizona Cardinals, 2018-present)
Wilks took a long road to his first head coaching job, working under Lovie Smith and Norv Turner along the way. No coach shaped him more than Ron Rivera in Carolina, where Wilks spent six years as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator.
(23-15; Philadelphia Eagles, 2016-present)
Pederson was a backup quarterback under Andy Reid. After a brief stretch at the high school level, he hitched his NFL coaching career to Reid, too. He coached quarterbacks in Reid’s final seasons in Philadelphia, then followed him to Kansas City, where he became his offensive coordinator.
(1-4; Indianapolis Colts, 2018-present)
Reich broke into the NFL as a low-level assistant for Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, where Bill Polian, the general manager who drafted him as a quarterback in Buffalo, ran the organization. Reich also worked for Jim Caldwell and Ken Whisenhunt, but his greatest influence was Doug Pederson, whom he worked for as an offensive coordinator in Philadelphia for two years.
(3-1; Chicago Bears, 2018-present)
Nagy started his career as an intern for Andy Reid, and he didn’t leave Reid’s side until he became a head coach this year. Reid brought Nagy with him from Philadelphia to Kansas City, where Nagy worked as Reid’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
(96-85; Oakland Raiders, 1998-2001; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002-08; Oakland Raiders, 2018-present)
Gruden entered the NFL as a low-level offensive assistant with the 49ers in 1990, placing him at the fore of his generation’s clan of West Coast offense adherents. He worked under Mike Holmgren with the Packers from 1992-94.
(16-5; Los Angeles Rams, 2017-present)
McVay’s grandfather John coached the Giants before helping direct the 49ers during their dynastic run. His family became close friends with the Grudens, and Sean McVay started in professional coaching as a low-level assistant on Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay staff. McVay typifies the overlapping Shanahan-Gruden connections: He served as a tight ends coach under Mike Shanahan and an offensive coordinator under Jay Gruden, both with Washington.
(7-14; San Francisco 49ers, 2017-present)
The Grudens and Shanahans have plenty of overlap. Shanahan’s biggest influence is his father, Mike, for whom he worked for four seasons in Washington. But his first NFL opportunity came in 2004 as a quality control coach under Jon Gruden with Tampa Bay. Shanahan also coordinated offenses for Gary Kubiak, a disciple of his dad, in Houston and Dan Quinn in Atlanta.
(30-37-1; Washington Redskins, 2014-present)
Gruden was Marvin Lewis’s offensive coordinator for three years in Cincinnati before joining Washington, but his primary influence is obvious: He worked as an assistant for his brother, Jon, for seven seasons in Tampa Bay.
(172-130-1; New York Giants, 1983-90; New England Patriots, 1993-96; New York Jets, 1997-99; Dallas Cowboys, 2003-06)
Parcells employed 16 assistants who at one point worked as NFL head coaches. His primary NFL influence was Ray Perkins, the innovator behind the Erhardt-Perkins offense.
(24-32; Miami Dolphins, interim, 2011; New York Jets, 2015-present)
Bowles is one of seven current head coaches who once worked for Andy Reid. But his main influence was Bill Parcells, for whom he was a secondary coach for two seasons. He also was a Dolphins assistant while Parcells oversaw football operations in Miami.
(253-120; Cleveland Browns, 1991-95; New England Patriots, 2000-present)
Belichick’s greatest influence is his late father, late longtime Navy assistant and scout Steve Belichick. But he came to prominence as defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells, with whom he shares a complicated relationship.
(15-17; Miami Dolphins, 2005-06)
Given his success at Alabama, Saban is known as a college coach, but he also spent several years as an NFL assistant, most crucially as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the early-1990s Browns.
(69-56; Dallas Cowboys, 2010-present)
Garrett’s most important connection is Jerry Jones, the owner he impressed as a career backup quarterback with the Cowboys. Garrett’s lone non-Dallas coaching experience came as Nick Saban’s quarterbacks coach during his two-year stint in Miami.
(19-18; Miami Dolphins, 2016-present)
From 2011 through 2015, Gase coached under John Fox in Denver and Chicago. But Gase’s career began when Nick Saban hired him as an assistant at LSU, and Gase still credits Saban as his primary guide.
(33-36; Houston Texans, 2014-present)
O’Brien spent 14 years as a college assistant, which included a stint on the same Georgia Tech staff as Doug Marrone under George O’Leary, before Bill Belichick hired him as an offensive assistant in 2007. He spent five seasons with New England, eventually becoming offensive coordinator.
(3-2; Tennessee Titans, 2018-present)
Vrabel played eight seasons under Bill Belichick, but his biggest NFL coaching mentor was Belichick disciple Bill O’Brien, for whom Vrabel coached four seasons in Houston. Earlier, Vrabel was on the staff of Urban Meyer, a Belichick confidante, at Ohio State, Vrabel’s alma mater.
(2-3; Detroit Lions, 2018-present)
Patricia, famously a rocket scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before he got into coaching, joined the Patriots as a grunt in 2004. He remained under Bill Belichick’s watch until last year, by which time he had been defensive coordinator for six years.
(109-72; New Orleans Saints, 2006-present)
Payton worked for three years in Dallas under Bill Parcells, who nicknamed Payton “Dennis the Menace” because of his boyish face and penchant for disagreeing with him. Payton has called Parcells a “father figure.”
(29-26; Buffalo Bills, 2013-14; Jacksonville Jaguars, 2016-present)
Marrone was Sean Payton’s first offensive coordinator with the Saints, from 2006 to 2008.
(41-27-1; Minnesota Vikings, 2014-present)
Zimmer worked under Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati for six seasons before Minnesota gave him his first head coaching shot. But his biggest influence was Bill Parcells, for whom he worked as defensive coordinator for four years in Dallas.
(12-10; Buffalo Bills, 2016; Los Angeles Chargers, 2016-present)
Lynn considers Rex Ryan one of his mentors, and he coached under Ryan for eight years in both New York and Buffalo. But his earliest influence is Bill Parcells, under whom he coached in 2005 and 2006 in Dallas.
(200-126-1; Cleveland Browns, 1984-88; Kansas City Chiefs, 1989-98; Washington Redskins, 2001; San Diego Chargers, 2002-06)
Schottenheimer employed 16 eventual NFL head coaches, including current coaches Hue Jackson and Mike McCarthy. Schottenheimer also once worked for John McVay, the grandfather of Rams Coach Sean McVay.
(123-72-2; Green Bay Packers, 2006-present)
McCarthy worked as an offensive coordinator for Jim Haslett and Mike Nolan with the Saints and 49ers, but he spent the first six years of his NFL career as an offensive assistant for Marty Schottenheimer’s Chiefs.
(149-90-1; Pittsburgh Steelers, 1992-2006)
From 1985 to 1991, spanning tenures with Cleveland and Kansas City, Cowher worked for only one head coach: Marty Schottenheimer.
(129-113-3; Cincinnati Bengals, 2003-present)
Lewis became a rising star as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator under Brian Billick, but his main NFL influence was Bill Cowher, who hired him as the Steelers’ linebackers coach in 1992.
(11-41-1; Oakland Raiders, 2011; Cleveland Browns, 2016-present)
The first NFL coaches Jackson worked for were Marty Schottenheimer and then Steve Spurrier during his ill-fated Washington tenure. For seven years, in multiple stints, Jackson learned under Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, including two years as offensive coordinator.
(7-14; Denver Broncos, 2017-present)
Before he became a head coach, Joseph was Adam Gase’s defensive coordinator in Miami. And before that, he spent two years on Marvin Lewis’s staff as the Bengals’ defensive backs coach.
(139-69; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1996-2001; Indianapolis Colts, 2002-08)
Dungy was groomed by Chuck Noll and Dennis Green, but between his first and last stint as an assistant, he came of age under Marty Schottenheimer as a Chiefs assistant from 1989 to 1991.
Kiffin has never been an NFL head coach, but he has been so influential that it’s hard to tell the story of NFL coaching without him. He was a mentor for Pete Carroll, whom he hired at N.C. State in the early 1980s. As a longtime defensive coordinator, including from 1996 to 2008 with Tampa Bay, he developed the Cover 2 defense, which Tony Dungy helped perfect – and reshaped as the Tampa 2 defense – as the Buccaneers’ head coach.
(114-82-1; New York Jets, 1994; New England Patriots, 1997-99; Seattle Seahawks, 2010-present)
Carroll, considered one of the best defensive backs coaches ever, has a unique trajectory. He has bounced around during a four-plus-decade career, but his mentor is Monte Kiffin, a progenitor of the Cover 2 defense; he worked for Kiffin at N.C. State in the early 1980s.
(30-23; Atlanta Falcons, 2015-present)
Quinn apprenticed under several NFL coaches, including Steve Mariucci and Nick Saban, but he learned the most from Pete Carroll, for whom he coordinated Seattle’s defense in 2013 and 2014.
(118-62-1; Pittsburgh Steelers, 2007-present)
Tomlin is one of many head coaches who started on Tony Dungy’s staff. He coached defensive backs in Tampa Bay under Dungy before becoming a defensive coordinator under Brad Childress in Minnesota.
(16-20; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2016-present)
Koetter is maybe the biggest coaching vagabond in the NFL. He helped start Boise State’s ascension to a collegiate power, spending more than 20 years in the college ranks before he came to the NFL in 2007. In the pros, he only worked as an offensive coordinator under a defensive head coach – Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, Mike Smith in Atlanta and Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. Accurately placing him in the NFL’s coaching web is a challenge.
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Photos by Associated Press. Design by Virginia Singarayar.