Hall of Fame players as NFL coaches a rare breed

Hall of Fame football players are more likely to have second careers in television than as head coaches in the game that made them famous. Turn on any of the networks any day and you're bound to come across a former great analyzing the game.

Finding Hall of Famers on an NFL sideline is far more difficult.

Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak is the only current NFL head coach to have a Hall of Fame playing career and is only one of 18 Hall of Famers to make the transition to head coach in the NFL or AFL.

Rarely have those players enjoyed successful coaching careers. Those 18 Hall of Fame players have combined to coach parts of all of 101 seasons and combined for 31 winning seasons.

Only four Hall of Fame players finished their head coaching careers with winning records. Two of those four played football in the WPIAL and at Pitt before moving onto the NFL.

Mike Ditka is the only Hall of Fame player to win a Super Bowl as a head coach. Ditka, an Aliquippa native who played at Pitt from 1958-60, won Super Bowl XX as the Chicago Bears coach against the New England Patriots, who were coached by Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry. Ditka was 121-95 as a head coach with the Bears and New Orleans Saints.

Joe Schmidt, who played at Brentwood High School and at Pitt from 1950-52, had a Hall of Fame playing career with the Detroit Lions and coached them from 1967-72. He was 43-34-7 in his six seasons as coach.

Berry (48-39 in six seasons with the Patriots) and Art Shell (56-52 in seven seasons with the Oakland Raiders) are the other Hall of Famers with winning records as head coaches.

Some notable Hall of Famers who flamed out as head coaches include:

• Bart Starr, the MVP of the first two Super Bowls as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, was 52-76-3 in nine seasons as head coach of the Packers from 1975-83.

• Norm Van Brocklin, the famed quarterback of the then Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, was 66-100-7 in 13 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons.

• Mike Singletary, a Chicago Bears linebacker from 1981-92, had an 18-22 record in three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.

• Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can be included on this list, although he was not yet a member of the Hall of Fame when he was the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2000-02. LeBeau, enshrined in 2010, had a 12-33 record in three seasons with the Bengals.

LeBeau had the unique experience of working with four head coaches who also were Hall of Fame players. In addition to playing for Schmidt, LeBeau worked as assistants for Starr, Forrest Gregg and Mike McCormack. While on Gregg's staff in Cincinnati, LeBeau coached in Super Bowl XVI, the first of his six trips to the Super Bowl.

"I went to Pro Bowls with Lombardi and Tom Landry. I played for Don Shula. Paul Brown drafted me and Woody Hayes coached me in college," Lebeau said. "I can't complain about the type of people I got to study under. I always knew I was going to be a coach. All those names have helped me, and I'm grateful for that opportunity."

LeBeau doesn't have the same connection with Munchak, but they do have something in common. They are football lifers.

While many players take a few years off after their playing careers end, LeBeau and Munchak jumped right into coaching. LeBeau is entering his 55th consecutive season in the NFL as a player and coach. Munchak is in his 32nd consecutive season, all with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise.

Unlike LeBeau, Munchak never envisioned himself becoming a coach when he played.

"It's something as players you see what the coach's life is all about and you're not real excited about what you see a lot of times," Munchak said. "I thought if I got into coaching it would be more on the high-school level or something in management or the front office.

"When I retired I kind of went that direction and thought I'd be moved toward the front office, but that didn't quite work out."

Munchak instead took a job as a quality control coach under former Titans coach Jeff Fisher.

He was promoted to offensive line coach, and, after 14 years in that position, succeeded Fisher in 2011. In that time, he came to understand that being a Hall of Fame player meant little in terms of coaching.

"Just because you're a good player doesn't mean you're a good football coach," said Munchak, who was 15-17 in his first two seasons.

"There are a lot of great coaches who never played a down in the league. That doesn't correlate."


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published September 6, 2013 4:00 AM


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