When the Indianapolis Colts fired Frank Reich as head coach, they immediately named Jeff Saturday as interim head coach – making him one of the latest NFL players turned coaches. It was a hasty decision that was met with a lot of criticism, even from inside the organization, but that didn’t stop owner Jim Irsay.
Last weekend, we saw Jeff Saturday make his debut against the Las Vegas Raiders – a road game that had the Colts listed as heavy underdogs. Despite the entire NFL community writing them off, Saturday (with the help of his coaching staff) led Indianapolis to a thrilling 25-20 victory, improving to 4-5-1.
The Colts got off to an early 10-0 start and while the Raiders kept battling back, the Colts always had an answer. Las Vegas took the lead twice in the second half, but Indy responded with a TD both times – the second of which was a 35-yard game-winning TD from Matt Ryan to Parris Campbell with 5 minutes left.
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20 Other Notable NFL Players Turned Coaches
It’s common for NFL players-turned-coaches to receive a mix of criticism and support once hired – some people will love the hire, while others are going to hate it. That’s certainly the case with Jeff Saturday, who has only coached 36 games (20-16) at the high school level – no college or NFL coaching experience.
On one hand, Colts’ owner Jim Irsay defended his decision, citing a familiarity with the team culture and familiarity with winning inside the building – Saturday spent 13 seasons with the Colts and won a Super Bowl in 2007. On the other hand, many believed there were other – more qualified – coaches available.
Whether or not you agree with the decision, Saturday is one of the latest NFL players-turned-coaches and there’s nothing we can do about it. Not only that, but he’s 1-0 as head coach and will look to prove all the doubters wrong. Meanwhile, let’s take a closer look at some other notable NFL players turned coaches.
20. Jim Haslett
Jim Haslett was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the 51st overall pick (2nd round) in 1979. The linebacker spent eight years in the NFL and recorded 7.5 sacks, 6 interceptions, and 12 fumble recoveries in 94 games. He was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1979 with two interceptions and one sack.
Haslett began his coaching career in 1988 as an assistant coach with the University at Buffalo. His first NFL coaching job was as linebackers coach for the Los Angeles Raiders. Between 2000 and 2005, he led the Saints to a 45-51 record as head coach and led the Rams to a 2-10 record in 2008 as head coach.
19. Bill Cowher
Bill Cowher went undrafted in the 1979 draft, but signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and made his NFL debut with the Cleveland Browns in 1980. The linebacker only played in 45 games in four seasons – he once tackled a young Jeff Fisher (another future coach), who suffered a career-ending injury as a result.
Cowher made the transition to coaching in 1985 when he joined the Cleveland Browns as a special teams coach. By 1992, he was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers – a role he held until 2006. During that time, he led them to a 149-90-1 record – including two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl win.
18. Herm Edwards
Herm Edwards went undrafted in the 1977 NFL Draft, but eventually signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL – nine of which with the Eagles. He finished his career with 33 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries, and 2 defensive TDs. He had 13 interceptions in his first two seasons.
Edwards began his coaching career at San Jose State in 1987. He returned to the NFL in 1992, this time as a defensive backs coach for the Chiefs. He was head coach of the Jets (39-41 record) between 2001 and 2005, and head coach of the Chiefs (15-33) between 2006 and 2008. He’s now working with ESPN.
17. Leslie Frazier
Leslie Frazier went undrafted out of Alcorn State in the 1981 NFL Draft, but it didn’t take long for the Chicago Bears to snag him as a free agent. He spent five years in the NFL, all with the Bears – recording 20 interceptions and 2 touchdowns before retiring. He won a Super Bowl with Chicago in his final season.
Frazier was named head coach at Trinity International University between 1988 and 1996. After a brief college stint, he made his return to the NFL as a defensive backs coach. He has excelled as a defensive coordinator (currently in Buffalo), but also has a 21-32-1 record as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
16. Don Shula
Don Shula was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the 110th overall pick (9th round) in 1951. He spent seven seasons in the NFL and had 21 interceptions in 73 games (60 starts). He had back-to-back seasons with five interceptions in 1954 and 1955, and also grabbed four interceptions as a rookie.
Shula started his coaching career at the college level, but eventually returned to the NFL – going 71-23-4 as head coach of the Ravens between 1963 and 1969. He then had a legendary stint with Miami, going 257-133-2 between 1975 and 1995. They won back-to-back Super Bowls, including a perfect season.
15. Jack Del Rio
Jack Del Rio was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the 68th overall pick (3rd round) in 1985. The linebacker spent 11 years in the NFL, retiring with 1,005 tackles, 13.0 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries, 13 interceptions, and 3 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1994.
Del Rio made the transition to coach in 1997 as an assistant strength coach. He worked his way up to LB coach, defensive coordinator, and eventually head coach of various teams. He led the Jaguars to a 68-71 record as head coach in 2003-2011, and then the Raiders to a 25-23 record as head coach in 2015-2017.
14. Marty Schottenheimer
Marty Schottenheimer was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the 56th overall pick (7th round) in 1965. The linebacker spent six seasons in the NFL – four with the Bills and two with the Patriots. He retired with 3.0 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 6 interceptions, and one defensive touchdown in 79 games played (11 starts).
Schottenheimer joined the WFL, Schottenheimer returned to the NFL as a linebackers coach in 1975. He was head coach of the Browns, Chiefs, Commanders, and Chargers between 1984 and 2006 – leading his teams to a combined 200-126-1 record (5-13 in the playoffs), but never made it to the Super Bowl.
13. Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the 26th overall pick (1st round) in 1987. He spent 14 seasons in the NFL and had a 66-74-0 record as starting quarterback. He threw for 26,288 yards, 129 touchdowns, and 117 interceptions. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1995 with a career-high 17 TDs.
Harbaugh has spent time as head coach in both college and professional football. He has a 129-51 record in college and a 44-19-1 record in the NFL. In four seasons with the 49ers, he made three NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance. He’s now 71-24 with Michigan since 2015.
12. Jim Ringo
Jim Ringo was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the 80th overall pick (7th round) in 1953. He spent 15 seasons in the NFL – 11 with the Packers and four with the Eagles. He was one of the premier centers throughout the 50s and 60s. The Hall of Famer was a 10-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL champion.
Ringo was hired as an offensive line coach by the Chicago Bears in 1969. He had one short stint as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, leading the team to a tumultuous 3-20 record between 1976 and 1977. He later returned to coaching the offensive line and also had a few stints as offensive coordinator in the AFC East.
11. Otto Graham
Otto Graham was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the No. 4 overall pick (1st round) in 1944, but his NFL debut was delayed due to the war. He went on to have a 10-year career, throwing for 23,584 yards, 174 touchdowns, and 135 interceptions. The Bears went 57-13-1 with him as QB between 1950 and 1955.
Graham didn’t have a long coaching career, but it was a coaching career nonetheless. He was hired as head coach of the Coast Guard Bears in 1959 and later returned to the NFL in 1966 to serve as head coach and GM of the Washington Redskins (Commanders). The team went 17-22-3 under his leadership.
10. Norm Van Brocklin
Norm Van Brocklin was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams with the 37th overall pick (4th round) in 1960. He spent 12 seasons in the NFL – 9 with the Rams and 3 with the Eagles. In 101 games as starting QB, he had a 61-36-4 record and threw for 23,611 yards, 173 TDs, and 178 interceptions (140 games total).
Van Brocklin was named head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 1961, the year after he retired. He led the team to a 29-51-4 record in six seasons before being named head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in 1968. In seven seasons with Atlanta, he had a 37-49-3 record. He never made it to the postseason.
9. Sammy Baugh
Sammy Baugh was drafted by the Washington Redskins with the No. 6 overall pick (1st round) in 1937. He spent 16 seasons in the NFL – all of which with Washington. In 167 games played and 84 games started, he threw for 21,886 yards and 187 TDs. The Hall of Fame QB won two NFL championships.
Baugh had a short coaching career that began at the college level in 1955 when he was named head coach of Hardin-Simmons University. He then coached the New York Titans in 1960 and 1961, and the Houston Oilers in 1964 – leading his teams to an 18-24 record – before retiring for good in 1965.
8. Mike Singletary
Mike Singletary was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the 38th overall pick (2nd round) in 1981. He spent 12 seasons in the league – all of which with the Bears. He retired with 19.0 sacks, 12 fumble recoveries, and 7 interceptions. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and one-time champ.
Singletary began his coaching career as a linebackers coach with the Baltimore Ravens in 2003. He was head coach of the San Francisco 49ers between 2008 and 2010, leading the team to an 18-22 record. He was most recently the defensive coordinator for the TSL Generals in 2020, a spring football league.
7. Forrest Gregg
Forrest Gregg was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the 20th overall pick (2nd round) in 1956. He spent 15 seasons in the league – 14 of which with the Packers. The Hall of Famer was one of the premier offensive lineman throughout the 50s and 60s, winning 3 Super Bowls and 5 NFL Championships.
Gregg was hired as an offensive line coach by the San Diego Chargers in 1972, a year after he retired. He spent 11 seasons as head coach in the NFL – going 75-85-1 with the Browns, Bengals, and Packers between 1975 and 1987. He led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance in 1981, but failed to win it.
6. Curly Lambeau
Curly Lambeau is the co-founder of the Packers. He spent 10 years with the team as a player between 1919 and 1929. He was a player-captain for the first year, but was promoted to player-coach in 1920 – the Packers joined the NFL a year later. He was the team’s primary runner and passer throughout the 1920s.
Lambeau ended up coaching the Packers for 29 years between 1921 and 1949. He led the team to a 209-104-21 record, including six NFL championships. He also coached the Chicago Cardinals and Washington Redskins between 1950 and 1953, but didn’t have much success with either team.
5. Raymond Berry
Raymond Berry was drafted by the Baltimore Colts with the 232nd overall pick (20th round) in 1954. He spent 13 seasons in the NFL – all of which with Baltimore. In 154 games, he retired with 631 catches for 9,275 yards and 68 touchdowns. He won two NFL Championships and was a six-time Pro Bowler.
Berry transitioned to coaching in 1968 when he was hired as wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys. He was the head coach of the New England Patriots between 1984 and 1989, leading the team to a 48-39-0 record and one Super Bowl appearance in 1986. He was fired after a 5-11 record in 1989.
4. Art Shell
Art Shell was drafted by the Oakland Raiders with the 80th overall pick (3rd round) in 1968. He spent 15 seasons in the NFL – all of which with the Raiders. He was one of the premier offensive tackles in the league throughout the 1970s. He won two Super Bowls and was an eight-time Pro Bowl tackle.
Shell was hired as an offensive line coach for the Raiders in 1983, a year after he retired as a player. He was named head coach of the team in 1989 and led them to a 54-38 record over the next six seasons. The Raiders fired him after the 1994 season, but returned in 2006 – just to lead them to a 2-14 record.
3. Dick LeBeau
Dick LeBeau was drafted by the Browns with the 58th overall pick (5th round) in 1959, but was quickly cut and signed by the Lions. He spent his entire 14-year career with Detroit, totaling 62 interceptions and four touchdowns. The three-time Pro Bowler was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 2010.
LeBeau was hired by the Eagles as a special teams coach in 1973. He held various defensive coaching positions with various teams until joining the Cincinnati Bengals as head coach in 2000. He led the team to a 12-33 record in three seasons – the team failed to make the playoffs each year he was head coach.
2. Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 86th overall pick (7th round) in 1960. He spent his entire 13-year career with the team, retiring with 17 fumble recoveries, 24 interceptions, and 3 defensive touchdowns. He was a 10-time Pro Bowl player, two-time NFL Champion, and Hall of Fame linebacker.
Two years after retiring, Schmidt was hired to be the new head coach of the Lions – the only team he ever played or coached for. Between 1967 and 1972, he led the team to a respectable 43-34-7 record. And while they made the playoffs during the 1970 season, he couldn’t lead the team to a playoff victory.
1. Mike Ditka
Mike Ditka was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the No. 5 overall pick (1st round) in 1961. He spent 12 years as an NFL tight end, having one of the best rookie seasons of any tight end in NFL history. He recorded 427 catches, 5,812 yards, and 43 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.
After retiring, Ditka was hired by the Dallas Cowboys as an assistant coach between 1973 and 1981. He made his return to the Bears’ organization in 1982 when he was hired as head coach. He led the team to a 106-62 record over 11 seasons – including a Super Bowl win in 1986. He also coached the Saints.
Potential Future NFL Players Turned Coaches
Most NFL players-turned-coaches have a few things in common – they have a high football IQ, they’re known as a leader in the locker room, and they’re good-hearted people. They have a passion not just for playing football, but teaching football and helping evolve the game for future generations to enjoy.
Today, there are several players – current and former – that I would be interested to see as a head coach. Some of those players include Ryan Fitzpatrick, Luke Kuechly, Ray Lewis, Jason Witten, J.J. Watt, Nick Mangold, Larry Fitzgerald, Alex Smith, and more. Can you imagine any of them as head coach?
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At the end of the day, we’re unlikely to see any of them make a run at head coach anytime soon. That’s okay, we get to watch Jeff Saturday fulfill that role for the rest of the season as he attempts to earn a full-time role as Colts’ head coach. In order for that to happen, he’s going to have to keep winning games.
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