It helps when coaches can relate

Originally Published: January 12, 2005
By Ken Bikoff | Pro Football Weekly

There's an old saying that those who can, do. Those who can't, well, they teach.

The NFL -- heck, sports in general -- is one of the few cases in life where that old saying doesn't apply at all. For every player on the field, the clock is ticking. We're not talking about the game clock. We're not talking about the clock on the season. We're talking about the clock on his career.

Some clocks run slower than others, but eventually, everybody's career clock hits midnight.

Some players gracefully walk into retirement without looking back, moving on to the next point in their lives without thinking twice. Others struggle with the transition before finding success in business or in the broadcast booth, and still others go down a wayward path from which they never recover.

Then you have that certain segment of the NFL population that may not be able to get the job done on the field anymore, but they just can't get the itch of football out of their heads. They need that competitive fire every week.

They need the thrill of practice and the challenge of beating an opponent every week. They need the adrenaline rush that comes when the ball is kicked off.

That need can only be filled by coaching. Oh, there's usually a ladder that needs to be climbed. Not since the early days of the NFL have players moved from the scrimmage line straight to an NFL head-coaching job.

These days, players have to get their feet wet as quality-control coaches, position coaches and coordinators before they can finally get a shot at the head-coaching gig.

At the start of the 2004 season, 13 NFL head coaches had either played in the NFL, gotten a cup of coffee in a training camp or seen some playing time in the Canadian Football League. The firing of former Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt, who was selected by the Packers in the 15th round of the 1974 draft only to spend the season on injured reserve with a neck injury, dropped that number to an even dozen.

Through the past 20 years, the number of coaches who have played in the league has fluctuated very little, but there doesn't seem to be a definitive answer as to whether or not a coach has an advantage over his peers simply because he has NFL experience as a player.