The Brooklyn Nets' hiring of Jason Kidd fresh off of his retirement begs the question: Which active NFL players could also make the jump from player to coach after retirement?
As you glance at the active list of head coaches in the NFL and contrast them with those in the NBA, you notice that ex-players struggle to obtain head coaching gigs.
Of the 32 NFL teams, only eight feature ex-NFL players as their head coach: Doug Marrone, Ron Rivera, Jason Garrett, Gary Kubiak, Leslie Frazier, Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher and Mike Munchak.
In the NBA, only seven head coaches didn’t play professionally.
But why is it so difficult for ex-players to become NFL head coaches?
One significant reason is the loss of experience they surrender while playing professionally. The traditional route for a coach is to become a graduate assistant immediately after his collegiate playing comes to end. Being a graduate assistant is equivalent to being an intern in the business world, but in football, the mailroom is the film room.
After one or two years as a graduate assistant, a to-be coach will land his first actual job, typically as a positional coach at an obscure college program, and then endure a moderate duration of time where he climbs the coaching ladder.
However, a player spends his post-college days grinding on the field. Come retirement he is at a significant disadvantage by way of experience.
So for a player to successfully transition from player to coach, he must demonstrate an elevated cerebral understanding of his position, or the game of football overall, to compensate for his lack of coaching experience.
Here are five active players uniquely qualified to receive consideration as coaching candidates once their careers end.
When you stand just 5’9” and weigh 185 pounds, yet amass 8,500 receiving yards, you clearly have a expansive volume of positional knowledge.
When you factor in that Wes Welker only runs a 4.65 40-yard dash, his accomplishments become even more impressive.
Overachievers such as Wes Welker make for the best coaches. Welker could transfer his insider information to his pupils without them questioning Welker’s validity.
No matter the player’s skill set, Welker’s advice would be beneficial to his game. A tall, athletic receiver could look to Welker for route-running form, and an undersized receiver could draw from Welker’s instruction to find the openings in a zone defense.
A coach that possessed incredible athleticism and size—for argument's sake, let’s say Calvin Johnson—would have a more difficult time relating to lesser players.
Welker's rapid improvement over his career is indicative of his strong work ethic, something he could put to good use as a coach.
It’s easy to see Welker retiring directly into a job as a wide receivers coach once his illustrious career comes to an end.
There are many ways for a player to lead a team.
Some players, such as Ray Lewis, lead their teammates through their enchanting speeches and enduring energy. Some players, such as Joe Montana, lead through their late-game serenity; they are unencumbered by the crippling nerves that complement close games.
Then there are players that lead through example, like London Fletcher.
London Fletcher’s battle-tested leadership makes him a natural candidate to become a coach after retirement.
Unlike Wes Welker, who may be limited to coaching wide receivers, Fletcher’s career of calling plays makes him qualified for greater coaching responsibilities. He could manage an entire defense and script the week-to-week strategy.
The way he led his teammates during his career translates to how he could lead his coaching staff and players as a coach.
Fletcher’s coaching ceiling is high. After a stint as a defensive coordinator, it’s conceivable he could become a head coach.
Given the number of commercials Troy Polamalu has appeared in, it’s possible the All-Pro safety looks to the media for life after football. But given the passion Polamalu has for the game of football, I’m not sure wearing a suit and talking about football will quench his football thirst.
Coaching up safeties, on the other hand, would accomplish just that.
An NFL team could implement Polamalu as a secondary coach immediately after his retirement and reap the benefits. Every instruction emitted from Polamalu’s mouth is validated through his achievements and longevity.
Polamalu has also had the luxury of playing under coaching greats Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau, which is a priceless education for a future coach.
His excellent reputation as one of the league’s nicest players certainly doesn’t hurt his candidacy, as every coaching staff needs a softer voice to comfort players after they are berated by the head coach.
In the opening slide, I detailed that one detractor for players becoming coaches is the experience they surrender by playing professionally.
Peyton Manning is the exception to that rule, as he has essentially been an offensive coordinator throughout his career.
Manning has more pre-snap responsibilities than any other quarterback in NFL history. With that level of intellect, it is very easy to foresee No. 18 exchanging his cleats for a headset post-retirement.
Manning is notorious for his excessive film study and preparation, which would only increase as a coach considering he would be able to commit more time in lieu of the physical training he does as a player.
In fact, the greatest obstruction to Manning becoming a formidable offensive coordinator is his attraction to the spotlight, which might lead him into an analyst's chair and/or the broadcast booth.
Philip Rivers may be the next Jim Harbaugh.
Like Harbaugh, Rivers was the son of a football coach and carries the gene in his DNA. Both Harbaugh and Rivers endured successful collegiate and professional careers as quarterbacks but have failed to take that next step into quarterback greatness.
The last and most important shared trait between Rivers and Harbaugh is that they are both completely and utterly crazy.
Crazy, in this sense, is not meant to be pejorative but instead an admirable attribute.
Clearly in San Francisco the 49ers locker room has responded to the fiery nature of Harbaugh. They love his near post-game brawl with Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and his catatonic reactions to officiating.
In San Diego Philip Rivers' teammates have also responded positively to his craziness. Whether it’s his ongoing beef with Jay Cutler or his league-wide reputation as a vociferous trash talker, Rivers is able to earn the admiration of his teammates.
Don’t be surprised in 15 years if Rivers is roaming the sidelines berating refs, smack-talking opposing players and energizing his teammates as a head coach.