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NFL: 8 Best Player-Coaches in League History

Bryn SwartzSenior Writer IIIJanuary 13, 2017

NFL: 8 Best Player-Coaches in League History

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    It's interesting when a former NFL great, or even an NFL player, becomes a head coach. Sometimes it's a total disaster. 

    But sometimes it's a match made in heaven. After all, who better to teach the game than a former player?

    The following slides highlight eight examples of dominant players who went on to become dominant coaches in the National Football League. 

8. Norm Van Brocklin

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    Van Brocklin is the only quarterback in NFL history to win a championship with two different teams (Rams and Eagles). He earned NFL MVP honors in 1960, his final season.

    As a coach, he had the misfortune of coaching the expansion Minnesota Vikings. They won just five games in their first two seasons, but posted a winning record by Van Brocklin's fourth season. Van Brocklin coached for 13 seasons, winning just 66 games, and never appeared in the postseason. 

7. Art Shell

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    Shell was a phenomenal offensive lineman during the 1970s and 1980s, leading the Raiders to the postseason 13 times in 15 seasons. In 1976 and 1980, the Raiders won the Super Bowl. The eight-time Pro Bowler retired at the age of 36.

    Shell coached the Raiders for six seasons, averaging nine victories per year. The Raiders appeared in the postseason three times.

    We'll do Shell a favor and forget about the pathetic 2-14 season the Raiders had in 2006. After all, he came out of retirement to coach the team. 

6. Joe Schmidt

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    Schmidt, number 56 pictured above, is one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. He was selected to the Pro Bowl ten times and helped lead the Detroit Lions to championships in 1953 and 1957.

    Following his playing career, he stayed with the Lions as a head coach, where he won 43 games in six seasons. The Lions never finished first during his tenure but they compiled winning seasons four times. 

5. Forrest Gregg

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    Gregg is one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history. A nine-time Pro Bowl guard with the Green Bay Packers, Gregg went more than 12 years without missing a game. He blocked for Hall of Famers bart Starr, Jim Taylor, and Paul Hornung, and helped the Packers win five NFL championships in a seven-year span.

    After his playing days, he became a head coach, where he won 75 games and helped lead the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl after the 1981 season. 

4. Raymond Berry

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    Berry teamed with quarterback Johnny Unitas to form one of the greatest quarterback-to-wide receiver duos in league history. He led the NFL in receiving yards three times in a four-year span, including 1298 yards in 12 games in 1960. He caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown in the famous 1958 NFL championship game.

    After his playing career, he coached the New England Patriots for six seasons, where he led the team to four winning seasons. In 1985, the Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XX, where they faced the Chicago Bears, who were led by the greatest player-coach in NFL history. 

3. Dick LeBeau

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    Dick LeBeau is one of the more underrated defensive backs to play the game, ranking fifth in NFL history with 62 interceptions. 

    As a head coach, he was, well, that's not why anybody remembers Dick LeBeau. He is the single greatest defensive coordinator in NFL history, and he helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl appearances and two titles.

    In all, LeBeau has coached in the NFL for 38 seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.  

2. Curly Lambeau

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    Lambeau was the primary runner and passer for the Packers during the early days of the NFL. He threw the first pass, the first touchdown, and kicked the first field goal in team history.

    As a player-coach, and later a coach, he led the Packers to an incredible six NFL championships. He won 226 games and boasted a .631 winning percentage. 

    Curly Lambeau was to the Green Bay Packers as Babe Ruth was to the New York Yankees. 

1. Mike Ditka

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    Ditka is the greatest combination of a player and a coach in NFL history.

    As a player, he revolutionized the position of tight end, earning a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first five seasons in the NFL. He retired with 427 catches, 5,812 yards, 43 touchdowns and a phenomenal 13.6 yards-per-catch average.

    As a coach, Ditka had 11 successful seasons with the Chicago Bears. He led the team to an incredible 15-1 record and a Super Bowl title in 1985, as well as five consecutive division titles.

    Let's just forget about his stint with the New Orleans Saints (when he traded away the world for running back Ricky Williams). 

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