When Bruce Arians singled out former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich as a future NFL head coach, it got me thinking ...
Who in the league today has the potential to run a team down the road?
Former players have a record of significant success at the head-coaching level. Consider that seven of the 10 winningest coaches in NFL history are also former players, including No. 1, Don Shula. Consider also that 10 of the current 32 head coaches -- Jack Del Rio, Doug Pederson, Todd Bowles, Sean Payton, Mike Mularkey, Vance Joseph, Anthony Lynn, Jason Garrett, Ron Rivera and Doug Marrone -- have experience as NFL players. And at least one former player, ex-Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, is on track to join their ranks someday.
I talked to three current coaches in the NFL, one of whom is a former head coach, and all three singled out a player's ability to teach as an essential indicator of potential future head-coaching success. For this reason, players who aren't as naturally gifted -- who require the teaching of others to succeed on the field -- are often more promising coaching prospects than great players, who often don't really need help from anyone to thrive. As someone who watched Tom Landry -- who played for the Giants -- rack up wins and trophies while prioritizing teaching as coach of the Cowboys, I can personally testify to the importance of tutelage. There's another reason you don't see a lot of elite players become head coaches these days: They tend to earn so much money during their playing careers that they aren't necessarily motivated to work long, hard hours after hanging up the cleats.
Below, in no particular order, are 11 players who would make strong head-coaching candidates:
Philip Rivers, quarterback, Los Angeles Chargers
Rivers has a big family to keep him busy and has made plenty of money, but if he wants to enter the head-coaching realm, he'd make a great candidate. He absolutely loves football and is very competitive. He'd have an excellent rapport with the players as a tough and capable teacher. I know Rivers well. Some guys only care about their positions, but Rivers knows what's expected at every position: receiver, offensive tackle and so on. He's immersed in the whole football scene and knows everything from A to Z on offense. Plus, he's always coaching on the Chargers' sideline and between plays and series. It can only help that his father, Steve, was a high school coach in Decatur, Alabama. While there are plenty of incentives for Rivers to pursue a less-demanding path, for some strange reason, I feel like he'll take a coaching job at some point.
Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
This will be his 10th NFL season. He's very smart, has great leadership qualities and would be fantastic in the role of head coach. Every time I have a chance to visit with a quarterback after his last game of college football and before his first NFL season, I try to quiz him about players he played against in his last college campaign. Ryan was the Michelangelo of this exercise. I try to talk to all these kids to see how sharp they are, and Ryan was off the charts. He's a natural leader. For the second straight offseason, Ryan organized a players-only camp in South Florida. If Ryan decides to go for a head-coaching position, I think he will be very, very good.
Terence Newman, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings
Though Newman is still making an impact as a player, he's also serving as sort of an on-field defensive backs coach for the Vikings. Thanks to his lengthy resume as a player (this will be his 15th NFL season), Newman will have the respect of his charges if and when he lands a coaching job. He's a smart, hard-working leader who knows football from top to bottom. When someone's been in the NFL as long as Newman has, nothing comes as a surprise. He also had to fight to stay in it this long, and that experience no doubt taught him valuable lessons he could apply to a coaching gig.
Josh McCown, quarterback, New York Jets
McCown knows offense, he knows defense, and his attitude and teaching ability seem to keep him in constant demand, despite the fact that the soon-to-be 38-year-old has posted a winning season as a starter just once (in 2013, when he went 3-2 for the Bears). The Jets are the latest team to make McCown the experienced veteran in an otherwise-young quarterback room. McCown has already done some coaching at the high school level and been singled out by Browns head coach Hue Jackson as a future head man. I could see McCown being a coach in the mold of an Adam Gase -- who is just a little more than a year older than McCown.
Chase Daniel, quarterback, New Orleans Saints
As with McCown, teams seem to want Daniel for his knowledge, and they've been willing to pay for it. He has a great attitude and recently spent time under QB-turned-head-coach Doug Pederson in Kansas City and Philadelphia, where he presumably watched Pederson apply his playing experience to the sideline. Though Daniel left Philadelphia after one season, the fact that Pederson was effusive in his praise of Daniel's teaching ability is promising.
Matthew Slater, special teams ace, New England Patriots
Not only is the nine-year veteran the best special teams player in the NFL, but he also plays receiver and defensive back, meaning he has a thorough knowledge of the game. The son of Hall of Famer Jackie Slater (who coached in the NFL), Matthew possesses great leadership skills -- he has coaching success written all over him. Playing under Bill Belichick -- and on the same team as Tom Brady -- can only help.
Kellen Moore, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
There is a ton of knowledge packed into Moore's head -- he's a tremendously smart guy. The fact that he won 50 college games at Boise State without exceptional physical characteristics is a testament to his ability to flourish with intelligence. He's another great teacher and communicator. His first year after retirement, I expect Moore -- whose father, Tom Moore, was a successful high school coach -- to become a quarterbacks coach somewhere in the NFL, with a head-coaching job on the horizon.
Mike Adams, safety, Carolina Panthers
You don't make it your 14th year in the NFL without having the kind of strong leadership skills and work habits Adams has. He's an excellent teacher, the kind of guy who will make a team better because of the on-field coaching and guidance he provides to the other players on the roster.
Colt McCoy, quarterback, Washington Redskins
McCoy has enough ability as a player to be respected; after all, I think his presence gives the Redskins a sense of security despite the possibility that starter Kirk Cousins could be gone after this season. But I think his real value comes from his mental acuity. He knows where he's going and how to get there, and he has strong leadership abilities. Whatever he does today, most people are thinking about doing tomorrow -- he's a day ahead of you. Also, he's been in a variety of different situations, starting for a struggling team in Cleveland and having an intimate view of the ups and downs of Robert Griffin III and Cousins in Washington.
Paul Posluszny, linebacker, Jacksonville Jaguars
Posluszny is another prime model of the type of overachieving player who makes for good head-coaching material. He's the type of person who wants to help others -- including his successor, Myles Jack -- get better by learning the game. He would be an aggressive type of head coach who places a premium on teaching.
Anquan Boldin, wide receiver, free agent
If he lands a contract with someone, this will be Boldin's 15th year in the NFL. He's very smart and possesses great leadership ability. The fact that he produced at prodigious levels -- his 13,779 receiving yards are the 14th-most in NFL history -- as a former second-round pick will go a long way toward building up credibility with a team.