Top 10 NFL Head Coaches From College
10. Dennis Green
Three of the 12 NFL head coaches who guided their teams to the playoffs this year came from the college ranks, and others could make the move to Sundays this offseason. With that, we rank the Top 10 NFL Head Coaches From College. (Editor’s Note: List is limited to those who were college head coaches.)
Green was actually a flop as a college coach. In eight combined seasons at Northwestern and Stanford, he went 26-63. That reputation changed considerably upon being hired by the Minnesota Vikings prior to the 1992 season.
In ten seasons in the Twin Cities, Green went 97-62 and guided Minnesota to eight playoff berths, including a pair of NFC title games. Vikings fans these days would pay for that kind of consistency in a heartbeat.
9. Barry Switzer
Despite having been out of coaching for six years when the Dallas Cowboys hired him in 1994, Switzer - a three-time, national title-winning head coach at Oklahoma - proved to be an adept leader of America’s Team.
Switzer went 40-24 during his four seasons in Big D, guiding the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XXX win in 1996 and winning three NFC East titles. Granted, Switzer was partially riding Jimmy Johnson’s coattails after the Team of the ‘90s had already been built. After a disappointing 6-10 campaign in 1997, Switzer sensed that the organization was on the decline and resigned.
8. Pete Carroll
Many people thought Pete Carroll returning to the NFL from USC would be a bomb after largely unsuccessful stints with both the New York Jets and New England Patriots in the 1990s.
Boy, has he proved those skeptics wrong. Carroll has led the Seahawks to three playoff appearances in four seasons. Currently the top overall seed in the NFC and with a team full of young talent like QB Russell Wilson, CBs Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor and S Earl Thomas, Carroll’s Seahawks could be a Lombardi Trophy factor for years to come.
7. Jim Harbaugh
Having watched Harbaugh turn around the programs at FCS San Diego and then Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers brought him on board prior to the 2011 season with the hopes that he’d duplicate it a third time. So far, so good.
Including the playoffs, Harbaugh has gone 40-13-1 through three-plus seasons with the Niners, who have a chance to defend their NFC title from a year ago. If Harbaugh continues to win at this rate, he’ll soon be a fixture in the pantheon of wildly successful 49ers coaches, along with Bill Walsh and George Seifert.
6. Dick Vermeil
Vermeil’s tenure at the helm of UCLA (1974-1975) was short and sweet: A 15-3-3 record, the Bruins’ first conference title in 10 years and a 1976 Rose Bowl upset of previously undefeated and top-ranked Ohio State.
That paved the way for a fruitful NFL head coaching career, starting with a seven-year run (1976-1982) with the Philadelphia Eagles that included a berth in Super Bowl XV. After a 15-year break from the game, Vermeil returned in 1997, leading the Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV title and the Kansas City Chiefs to a 44-36 record over five seasons.
5. Tom Coughlin
Coughlin spent over 20 years as an assistant at both the college and NFL levels before taking his first head coaching job at Boston College. Following a ’93 season during which his Eagles upset top-ranked Notre Dame on the road, he was hired by the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, whom he guided to a 68-60 record from 1995-2002 and led to four AFC South titles and two conference championship games.
His ten-year tenure with the New York Giants has been even more successful. Coaching in perhaps the nation’s most unforgiving sports media market, Coughlin has led the G-Men to two Super Bowl titles since 2008.
4. Jimmy Johnson
Johnson was largely responsible for turning Miami (FL) into a 1980s powerhouse, leading the Hurricanes to a 52-9 record and the 1987 national championship. He very well might have spent the rest of his coaching career in Coral Gables had ex-Arkansas teammate Jerry Jones not come calling after buying the down-on-their-luck Cowboys in the late 1980s.
After an ignominious 1-15 debut season in 1989, Johnson returned the Cowboys to prominence through both his coaching and player personnel acumen. A falling out with Jones following a second consecutive Super Bowl victory in ’94 led him to resign. He later hooked on with the Miami Dolphins, who he guided to three playoff berths in four seasons.
3. Bill Parcells
“The Big Tuna” spent his first 15 years as a coach in the college ranks, at seven different schools. The New York Giants hired Parcells as their defensive coordinator on the heels of his lone season as the head coach at Air Force (during which he went 3-8).
Four years later, the G-Men made him their head coach. He won two Super Bowls in New York before successful stints with the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, guiding the former most team to a berth in Super Bowl XXXI.
2. Paul Brown
It’s often forgotten that one of the godfathers of NFL head coaching was the head man at Ohio State for three seasons, leading the Buckeyes to the 1942 national title. He actually left following the 1943 season to be the head coach at … Great Lakes Naval Training Station.
By 1946, Brown was (appropriately enough) the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, leading them to the AAFC title in his first season. He later led Cleveland to three NFL titles, compiled a 166-100-6 mark and was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1. Bill Walsh
Universally regarded as one of the best and most influential coaches in NFL history, Walsh is also a clear-cut choice for the best one among former college head coaches.
After spending his first 11 seasons in the business as an NFL assistant (during which time he developed his famed West Coast Offense), Walsh went 17-7 in two seasons as the head coach at Stanford. In 1979. He then moved up the Bay to the San Francisco 49ers, whom he led to three Super Bowl titles during the 1980s.
How great of an NFL coach was Walsh? ESPN ranked him the second-best ever behind only a guy named Vince Lombardi.
What’s more, many former and current NFL coaches trace their lineage back to Walsh on his sizable coaching tree.