8 NFL Coaches I Wish I Had Played for

Stephen WhiteFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2012

8 NFL Coaches I Wish I Had Played for

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    There are plenty of reasons to wish you had played for a certain coach. I'm actually quite happy with the fact that I was able to play for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy for six out of my seven years in the NFL because he taught me so much about the game. But there are eight other coaches throughout the history of the NFL that I also wish I had played for.

    The common thread with these coaches is that I believe I could have learned a lot from all of them as well.

    For a good part of my life I thought I would end up coaching after football, and firsthand experience with these coaches would have been invaluable. Even though I haven't followed through on those plans, I still appreciate all that I did learn from my time in the league and I always want to acquire more knowledge.

    So here, in no particular order, are the eight other head coaches I wish I had played for and what I thought I could have learned from them.

Bill Belichick

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    New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of the NFL.

    One of the things I most admire about him as a coach is that he never gets hardheaded about his game plans.

    While many coaches are married to their schemes no matter what, Belichick has no problem changing up midstream. Year after year he adjusts his approach to fit the talent he has on the team. Even during the season, when some starters are lost to injury, he finds ways to scheme up his opponents so that those players being out don't have an overtly negative effect. 

    That approach has helped him earn three Super Bowl rings and two other appearances in the Super Bowl in the last 15 years. That's a feat few NFL coaches ever achieve, and it's another reason I would have wanted to play for him. The overriding attraction, however, would have been learning how to adjust my game plans to fit different personnel.

Bill Walsh

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    Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh was an offensive genius whose legacy still lives on. The father of the West Coast offense, Walsh found a way to attack defenses quickly and efficiently throwing the ball while still finding ways to be successful with the running game.

    To this day, many teams are still running his scheme, or variations of it, on offense because it's so hard to defend. 

    I believe that it would be hard, if not impossible, to play on one of his teams and not learn some great principles on offense, no matter what position you played. Seeing it every day from the defensive side of the ball would also have allowed me to get a picture of how to stop his scheme as well.

    That would have been invaluable preparation for a career after I was done playing ball, and I would have loved every minute.

Bum Phillips

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    The one thing about former Houston Oilers head coach Bum Phillips that stands out to me is that, almost to a man, his former players loved him.

    Even in a business as cutthroat as the NFL, he found a way to create a family atmosphere around his team. That engendered the kind of loyalty from his players that no amount of money can purchase, and it motivated them to go out every week and lay it all on the line for Phillips.

    He found a way to allow guys to still have fun playing the game of football while pushing them to be the best that they could be. Along with just wanting to experience the feeling of a Bum Phillips locker room, I would also have loved to observe how he went about his business. What were the things he did to keep guys motivated to play hard while allowing them to be themselves?

    That's the question I would likely have the answer to had I been a player on one of his teams. That knowledge would also help shape the way I ran my own team so that I could try to create the same kind of family atmosphere around the players.  

Jimmy Johnson

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    Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson was just a larger-than-life figure while coaching that team. He was the type of guy that could both be considered a disciplinarian and a players' coach, which is usually impossible to pull off. 

    On the field he demanded attention to detail and all-out effort. Off the field he tended to let the players do their thing. That might not have been the best idea all of the time, but it helped him lead the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl wins. 

    The biggest thing I would have wanted to learn from Coach Johnson is how he went about making big calls during crucial moments of the game. His preparation for any given decision during crunch time was amazing, and you rarely saw him make the wrong call. That had to come from the way he prepared for every game, which is at least as important as the players' preparation.

    That's one of the keys to any coach's success, and as a player I would have been able to see just how it all went down firsthand. It wouldn't have guaranteed me success, but it's very likely that I would at least have a good idea of what to do in those same situations.

Buddy Ryan

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    Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan was a coach after my own heart.

    Even though his tenure was marked by some disappointing playoff losses, he found a way to always be confident in his coaching ability. That attitude trickled down to his players and made them believe they could beat any team in the NFL.

    I would have loved to hear some of the speeches he gave before he led those players onto the field. Whatever it was he said worked on most Sundays, especially with the guys on defense. 

    He coached aggressively and demanded that his players play the same way. He was never going to be the guy to play it safe at any point in a game—he wanted to go for the jugular at every turn. That kind of coaching really appeals to me, even if it isn't always successful. I would rather throw everything at a team and lose that way than play it safe and just hope they don't beat me.

    I don't know that Ryan would have ever won a Super Bowl as a head coach even if he wasn't fired somewhat prematurely by the Eagles. Every year would have been a lot of fun, however, watching and learning as he continued to try to find ways to dominate other teams. 

John McKay

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    Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay never seemed to lose his cool.

    In the face of horrendous losses, he would crack jokes after games rather than blowing his top, even though I'm sure he wanted to do the latter a time or two. It was that calm demeanor that helped him build the Bucs up from nothing and lead them to 10 wins within the first five years of the team's existence.

    That's the primary reason I would have wanted to play for McKay—to see how he was able to build that team from the ground up.

    Even though he didn't ultimately have a lot of long-term success, he was still able to build a solid foundation that helped get that team to where it is today. That kind of knowledge would come in handy for any coach, but especially one that comes into a situation where the team hasn't been winning. 

Chuck Noll

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    Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll believed in playing great defense, running the ball downhill and taking shots down the field for big plays. That is the kind of football that I love even to this day, so I would have been in heaven as a player on one of his teams.

    It says a lot that the recipe for winning in Pittsburgh hasn't change much since Noll left the team after the 1991 season.

    He realized that playing in that city, his team would have to be prepared for a lot of bad-weather games. Instead of relying on finesse plays on offense or tricky defenses, he decided that being physical on both sides of the ball was the better way to go. It may not have been pretty, but he did win four Super Bowls with that approach, so it definitely was effective.

    The rings would have been nice, but the real reason I would have loved to play for Noll is to get a feeling for how he maintained his consistent level of success.

    His teams won less than eight games only eight times in his 23-year career as head coach, with three of those eight times coming in the first three years of his tenure. Another season with less than eight wins was 1982, which was a shortened season, but they still went 6-3.

    That was a remarkable run of consistency that will be hard to duplicate. I don't know if it was some magical approach Noll had that led to that amount of seasons of at least breaking even, but I would have a much better idea if I had been fortunate enough to play on one of his teams.

Vince Lombardi

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    When they name the trophy they give the team that wins the Super Bowl after you, then you know you must have done a lot of things right.

    Such is the case with former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, who won three NFL championships before the merger with the AFL and won two Super Bowls after it.

    In nine years as head coach in Green Bay and one at the end of his career with the Washington Redskins, Lombardi never had a losing season. No matter how much talent he had back in those days, that's still an astounding accomplishment.

    Most of us football fans have seen the "a seal here and a seal here and try to run this play in the alley" clip a million times where Lombardi explains one of his team's running plays. It's precisely the fact that he was so big on running the football that makes me wish I had played for him back then.

    Even today I believe that his approach to running the football would work, even though most teams no longer try to do it that way. I still have this old-school mentality that says running the ball effectively continues to be the key to consistent success in the NFL. 

    Learning how Lombardi taught those schemes and the emphasis he put into practicing them every day would have put me in great position to have success as a head coach after playing on his team.