Head Coach Jack Del Rio
When players are asked what makes Jack Del Rio so good at his job as Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders, the answer is pretty consistent – he relates to the players and knows the challenges of going through the rigors of a 16-game season.
Before Del Rio acquired a decade of head coaching experience, he was an NFL linebacker – and a pretty good one at that – appearing in 160 games, totaling 13 career sacks, and earning a Pro Bowl berth in the process. Throughout his 11-year career, the former University of Southern California Trojan proved to be a quality professional before trading in his cleats and shoulder pads for a coach's whistle.
Among the fraternity of NFL coaches, Del Rio is not alone in having experience as a player, but he might have the edge as being the best player of the group. In fact, ESPN.com recently ranked the playing careers of all 32 NFL head coaches, and the Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders earned the top spot, edging out Ron Rivera and Todd Bowles for the No. 1 position.
"He patched together a fulfilling career as a do-anything linebacker, special-teams player and on-field leader," wrote Kevin Seifert of NFL Nation. "Del Rio appeared in 160 NFL games, with 128 starts, and totaled 941 tackles with the Saints, Chiefs, Cowboys and Vikings. He made the NFL All-Rookie team in 1985 as a third-round draft pick, was a two-time All-Pac-10 player at USC and is a member of the USC Hall of Fame. Del Rio is the only active head coach to be named to a Pro Bowl as a player, in 1994 while with the Vikings."
Is being a former NFL player a prerequisite to being a quality NFL coach? No – just look at Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, and John Harbaugh to name a few – but there is something to be said for being able to relate to the players and knowing exactly how they feel going through a full training camp and regular season.
Here are the top five playing careers of NFL head coaches according to ESPN.com:
- Jack Del Rio – Oakland Raiders
- Todd Bowles – New York Jets
- Ron Rivera – Carolina Panthers
- Mike Mularkey – Tennessee Titans
- Jeff Fisher – Los Angeles Rams