Former NFL quarterbacks as head coaches

The rumblings are getting louder that Jim Harbaugh is on the way out in San Francisco. Jerry Rice is the most recent member of the Niners Family to pipe up. “I have heard some complaints from some players that he likes to try to coach with the collegiate mentality,” the Hall of Fame wideout told Newsday’s Bob Glauber, “and that’s just not going to work in the NFL.”

Boy, that’s a tough crowd in the Bay Area. Harbaugh takes over a team that has missed the playoffs eight years running, guides it to three straight NFC title games and one Super Bowl, and folks are starting to dump on him because (a.) the 49ers are off to a 4-4 start, and (b.) his coaching style is unorthodox by NFL standards.

His “collegiate mentality” has worked just fine up to now — unless you’re going to argue that it was his “collegiate mentality” that caused Kyle Williams to mishandle punts in the 2011

Jim Harbaugh in full throat.

Jim Harbaugh in full throat.

conference championship game, or that it was his “collegiate mentality” that kept his offense from putting the ball in the end zone late in Super Bowl 47, or that it was his “collegiate mentality” that prevented the Niners from winning a fourth consecutive game on the road at the end of last season (formidable Arizona to finish the regular season, then Green Bay, Carolina and Seattle in the playoffs).

Yeah, that “collegiate mentality” is just a killer.

But that’s not the subject of this post. It’s just my way of beginning this post. The subject of this post is: former NFL quarterbacks who become head coaches in the league — and how Harbaugh is one of the few who have experienced much success. Going into Sunday’s game, he’s 45-18-1, postseason included. That’s a .711 winning percentage, far better than most ex-QBs have done.

If there’s anything we’ve learned over the years, it’s that former NFL QBs — despite their inherent genius, sixth sense, Pattonesque leadership ability and whatever other bouquets were tossed their way during their playing days — have no Special Insight into the game. They’re just as capable of turning out losing teams as the next guy, maybe more so.

Check out the regular-season records of the five modern Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have become head coaches in the league:


Quarterback, Played For* Coached W-L-T Pct
Sammy Baugh, Redskins 1960-61 N.Y Titans, ’64 Oilers 18-24-0 .429
Bob Waterfield, Rams 1960-62 Rams 9-24-1 .279
Norm Van Brocklin, Rams 1961-66 Vikings, ’68-74 Falcons 66-100-7 .402
Otto Graham, Browns 1966-68 Redskins 17-22-3 .440
Bart Starr, Packers 1975-83 Packers 52-76-3 .408

*Team he played for longest.

I’ll say it for you: Yikes. Of these five, only Starr coached a club to the playoffs – in the nine-game ’82 strike season.

Lesser-known quarterbacks, it turns out, have done a lot better on the sideline — though, again, none has been Vince Lombardi. Their regular-season records look like this:


Quarterback, Played For* Coached W-L-T Pct
Jim Harbaugh, Bears 2011-14 49ers 40-15-1 .723
John Rauch, N.Y. Bulldogs 1966-68 Raiders, ’69-70 Bills 40-28-2 .586
Frankie Albert, 49ers 1956-58 49ers 19-16-1 .542
Jason Garrett, Cowboys 2010-14 Cowboys 35-30-0 .538
Tom Flores, Raiders 1979-87 Raiders, ’92-94 Seahawks 97-87-0 .527
Allie Sherman, Eagles 1961-68 Giants 57-51-4 .527
Ted Marchibroda, Steelers 1975-79/’92-95 Colts,’96-98 Ravens 87-98-1 .470
Gary Kubiak, Broncos 2006-13 Texans 61-64-0 .488
Sam Wyche, Bengals 1984-91 Bengals, ’92-95 Bucs 84-107-0 .440
Harry Gilmer, Redskins 1965-66 Lions 10-16-2 .393
June Jones, Falcons 1994-96 Falcons, ’98 Chargers 22-36-0 .379
Steve Spurrier, 49ers 2002-03 Redskins 12-20-0 .375
Jim Zorn, Seahawks 2008-09 Redskins 12-20-0 .375
Kay Stephenson, Bills 1983-85 Bills 10-26-0 .278
Frank Filchock, Redskins 1960-61 Broncos 7-20-1 .268

*Team he played for longest.

If you want to add the Saints’ Sean Payton (77-43, .642), a replacement quarterback during the ’87 strike, to this list, be my guest. To me, he was a pseudo-NFL QB, but . . . whatever.

Anyway, this group at least has had its moments. Flores won two Super Bowls (1980/’83), Rauch (’67) and Wyche (’88) led teams to the Super Bowl, Sherman’s Giants went to three straight NFL title games (1961-63) and Marchibroda came within a Hail Mary of getting to the Super Bowl with the ’95 Colts (with — you’ve gotta love this — Harbaugh throwing the pass).

Obviously, this is a small sample size. Most former NFL quarterbacks, after all, don’t become coaches, don’t want to deal with the aggravation. They’d much rather pontificate about the game from a broadcast booth or TV studio — or cash in on their celebrity in the business world. And who’s to say that doesn’t make them smarter than the ones who so willingly hurl themselves back into the arena?

Still, Harbaugh, “collegiate mentality” and all, might be the best the league has seen. Does anybody really think, if he leaves the 49ers after this season to coach at his alma mater, Michigan, that pro football will be better for it?


Harbaugh gets ready to uncork one for the Colts.

Harbaugh gets ready to uncork one for the Colts.