There are nine current head coaches with NFL playing experience, including career backups (like Gary Kubiak), serviceable starters (Jim Harbaugh) and a Hall of Famer (Mike Munchak). Looking across the league right now, which current player would make the best coach down the line?
Donte Whitner reminds me of Mike Tomlin, Jeff FisherSan Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner would be a great head coach. Of all the players I've interviewed over the years, Whitner is one of the smartest. He is honest and a straight shooter. He also seems to have a toughness barometer, which I think is vital when coaches are assembling a roster of players they want to coach a certain way.
As a darn good player who gets overlooked on a stacked defense, Whitner has learned to share glory, check his ego and acknowledge those who rightfully deserve credit. I think he would hire a great staff and be a great coach for a long time, should he choose to get into the profession. Whitner, to me, already has a lot of Mike Tomlin and Jeff Fisher in him; he could be a similar type of head coach.
James Harrison could be a terror on the sidelinesMy vote is for James Harrison! Man of few words, like Bill Belichick. Icy stare, like Mike Singletary. Intimidating, like Bill Cowher. All the makings of a great NFL coach, if you ask me.
Oh, and don't forget -- a known hatred for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Harrison's snide offseason remarks about the commish would give us something good to talk about in June and July.
Drew Brees has the drive to succeed with a headsetA lot of players come to mind. Wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker are both students of the game -- that is usually a good indicator that a player can become a quality coach. One could say that Peyton Manning is already a coach, based on how his offenses have run in Denver and Indianapolis.
The player I am going to focus on, though, is Drew Brees. He is not the most gifted player to play QB in the NFL, but he has worked extremely hard -- both on and off the field -- to become a star. He has the qualities you look for in a prospective coach. He is smart, has a strong work ethic, can communicate well and is a leader. What you want to see in a player to make you think he can be a successful coach is someone who has had to work hard and develop his game. Also, Brees has overcome injury adversity. I think this gives him a good perspective on how things don't always come easily.
Jim Leonhard has the perfect makeup for coaching; Matt Ryan has potential, if interestedA good NFL head coach has to know which buttons to push and how to communicate with players, and he has to know one side of the ball well enough that he could step in and call plays in said area.
Jim Leonhard would be a natural. He's a smart football player who's made the most out of his ability. He was a defensive leader while with New York Jets -- but he maintains the small-town attitude that would enable him to be ego-less when dealing with players. He understands the game and can tell guys where to line up defensively, much like a Darren Woodson or Brian Dawkins could -- even though Leonhard is not the same caliber of player as those two were in their day. Bottom line: You don't have to be a star player to be a star coach. Look no further than Jim Harbaugh.
While thinking of Leonhard, a younger player came to mind. Matt Ryan is a guy who's smart, has worked in multiple offenses and became a leader early on for the Atlanta Falcons when that football team needed it. Very seldom does a star quarterback get into coaching. Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin is the most notable example. Ironically, he coached the Falcons in the late '60s. Maybe stardom and a long playing career would get in the way of joining the coaching fray for someone like Ryan, but I certainly see the potential.
Forget about the broadcast booth, Philip Rivers -- the sideline is where you belongPhilip Rivers is the son of a football coach, so it seems natural for him to go into coaching when his playing days are over.
A lot of quarterbacks like the broadcast booth after they hang up the cleats, but we need Rivers on the sideline. As somebody who has enjoyed Rivers' battles with Colts fans, Jay Cutler, et al., I would love to see him do something similar as a head coach.
Alex Smith has everything you want in a coachAlex Smith has all the traits you would want of someone who can be groomed to become a head coach -- and it probably wouldn't take that long after his playing days are over. First of all, his background is incredible. He graduated from high school a semester early, then took just two years to earn a degree in economics at Utah -- which means, hey, he'll be good at salary-cap stuff! Smith plays the most important position, and as a result, has the best understanding of every other position on the field. His NFL journey has taken him through numerous offensive systems and head coaches. While this stunted his growth on the field, it's invaluable experience if he wants to make the jump from player to coach.
How about leadership? His teammates have always said glowing things about him. More importantly, they gave off the impression they were rooting for him to succeed, which showcases his likeability. Now he's beginning the next chapter of his career under the tutelage of Andy Reid, one of the most successful head coaches in the game. Not a bad place to round out your NFL player education.