College Football Coaches Who Were Great Players Too

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterApril 4, 2014

College Football Coaches Who Were Great Players Too

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    Rainier Ehrhardt

    When consuming a lot of football, it can be easy—far too easy—to forget just how difficult the sport really is, both as a player and coach. 

    Very few end up being good players in major college football. Even fewer end up being good coaches afterward.  

    Indeed, being a successful player and coach at the highest level of college football is a unique fraternity to which only a small number belong. 

    Which coaches also had distinguished playing careers? The answers, as always, are in the following slides. 

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

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    Jeff Haynes

    Northwestern's jaw-dropping collapse in 2013, in which the Wildcats started 4-0 and lost their next seven games, shouldn't overshadow what head Pat Fitzgerald has done there. 

    In eight seasons, Fitzgerald has put together a 55-46 record at Northwestern. From 2008 to 2012, he guided the Wildcats to five straight bowl appearances. History shows that that's not easy to do in Evanston.

    What's more, he has had continuity on his coaching staff that's practically unheard of in today's game. 

    Northwestern is also Fitzgerald's alma mater. As a former linebacker, he was a key part of the Wildcats' 10-win team that made it to the 1996 Rose Bowl. Northwestern led the nation in scoring defense that year.

    Fitzgerald is a two-time recipient of the Nagurski and Bednarik awards and is a two-time first-team All-American. In 2008, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

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    Brandon Wade

    Today, Mike Gundy is the head coach of his alma mater, Oklahoma State, where he's compiled a 77-38 record over nine seasons. From his first season in 2005 until 2011, when the Cowboys won the Big 12 title, Oklahoma State never regressed in the win-loss columns. 

    Gundy also has a growing coaching tree, from North Carolina's Larry Fedora to West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, and he's considered one of the best offensive minds in the game. 

    As a four-year starting quarterback at Oklahoma State (1986 to 1989), he played in a pair of bowl wins (1987 Sun Bowl over West Virginia and 1988 Holiday Bowl over Wyoming). In his final two seasons, the Pokes lost just four games. 

    Gundy is mainly known as the guy who handed the ball off to Heisman-winning running Barry Sanders, but he was also an accomplished passer. At the time of his graduation, he ended his career as the Big Eight Conference's all-time leader in passing yards (7,997) and total offense (7,749). 


Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

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    eric gay

    Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury makes it three players in a row who have come back to coach their alma mater. Kingsbury is less established than Fitzgerald or Gundy, having only been a head coach one year. Still, he pulled off an 8-5 record with a Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State.

    Prior to his return to Lubbock, Kingsbury was an assistant under Kevin Sumlin at Houston and Texas A&M. As a quarterbacks coach, and later offensive coordinator, his pupils included Case Keenum at Houston and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. 

    As a player for the Red Raiders from 1999 to 2002, Kingsbury was a three-year starter under former Tech coach Mike Leach. In all, he threw for 11,867 yards and 91 touchdowns. In 2001, he was an All-Big 12 Second Team selection. 

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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    Patric Schneider

    Speaking of Kevin Sumlin, he was pretty decent college player in his own right. 

    A linebacker at Purdue from 1983 to 1986, Sumlin was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten as a senior. His 114 tackles that year ranked him fifth in the conference. 

    As a coach, Sumlin has had success just about everywhere he's been. In 2002, then an assistant at Texas A&M, he was promoted to offensive coordinator midseason. He then went on to a brief stint at Oklahoma before being named Houston's head coach in 2008. Sumlin led the Cougars to a 36-17 record from 2008 to 2011 and nearly busted the BCS in his final year with a 13-1 record.

    In his first year as Texas A&M's head coach in 2012, he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record and quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman. 

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

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    John Raoux

    There may not be any coach on this list who is more famous than South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. Probably because no one else on this list has a Heisman Trophy—or a national championship as a head coach. 

    Spurrier has both, and chances are that he'll find a subtle but not so subtle way of letting you know that. 

    He has an astounding 219-79-2 record in 24 seasons as the head coach at Duke, Florida and South Carolina. He's also orchestrated three straight 11-win seasons with the Gamecocks. In 1996, the Gators were crowned national champions in both the Associated Press and coaches polls. 

    That year, he coached Heisman-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel. Thirty years before that, Spurrier won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback for the Gators. 

Steve Sarkisian, USC

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    Jae C. Hong

    USC is where Steve Sarkisian considers home. He served two stints as an assistant for the Trojans and actually began his college career there. 

    However, Sarkisian is better known for his two years as BYU's quarterback in 1995 and '96. In 25 games, he threw for an astounding 7,755 yards and 55 touchdowns. Sarkisian was named the WAC Offensive Player of the Year in 1996 and an All-American Second Team member. 

    In five years as Washington's head coach, he posted a 34–29 record after taking over a winless program. The Huskies' nine victories last season (eight with Sarkisian) were the most for the program since 2000.

    Now at USC, the program hopes Sarkisian can return the Trojans to the glory days of the Pete Carroll era. 


    Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of