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October 10, 2004

Good Players Do Not (Always) Make Good Coaches

FROM THE PUNCH LINE OF A VINTAGE WOODY ALLEN MOVIE comes a snapshot of the small subset of D-1A football coaches who never played the game. The college game, that is.

And the Woody Allen line? It came from the movie “Annie Hall” (or was it Manhattan” maybe?) in which the scrunch-faced little man said: “If you can’t do, you teach. If you can’t teach, you teach phys ed.”

Although that’s quite a shot at a large swath of dedicated, educated professionals in many levels of athletics, it is a concept well taken nonetheless.

And it is a very basic concept. If one is proficient at a given pursuit—such as salesmanship, stand up comedy or playing college football—then it does not automatically follow that one will become a good sales manager, late-night TV host or college football coach.

And the corollary: if one has not done any of these things, it doesn’t mean they cannot be a great sales manager, late night TV host or football coach.

One need look not much further than other college and pro sports to prove the corollary stated above. The Patriots’ Bill Belichick was never a household name as an NFL star player. UConn’s Jim Calhoun never played for a big-time D1 powerhouse basketball team. The Pistons’ Larry Brown was never an NBA superstar.

The list goes on and on.

A recent USA Today article traced the paths of the only five active D1A coaches who never played college football. And the five have done pretty well thank you: a combined 320 wins, .650 winning percentage and 16 bowl appearances.

Here they are (in alphabetical order):

David Cutcliffe, Mississippi

• 1976: Assistant coach at Banks High in Birmingham, Ala. (where he had been a student and player).

• 1982: Took a job at Tennessee as a part-time assistant; worked his way up to offensive coordinator.

• 1998: Head coach at Ole Miss.

• Says Cutcliffe, "I've paid my dues." [Ed.-Seventeen years as an assistant coach? Yes, he’s paid his dues.]

Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M;

• 1973: Head coach at Miller (Mo.) High.

• 1978: Assistant coach at Kansas State.

• 1981: Head coach at Southwestern (KS).

• 1985: Head coach at his alma mater, Pittsburg State.

• 1990: Head coach at SW Texas State.

• 1992: Reached D-1A as head coach at New Mexico.

• 1998: Head coach at TCU.

• 2001: Head coach at Alabama.

• 2003: Head coach at Texas A&M.;

Paul Johnson, Navy

• 1979: Assistant coach at Avery County (NC) High.

• 1981: Assistant coach at Lees-McRae (2 year school), Georgia Southern, Hawaii and Navy.

• 1997: First head coaching job (at any level) with I-AA Georgia Southern. The Eagles had a 62-10 record with five consecutive Southern Conference championships under him.

• 2002: Returns to Navy as head coach. Their 4-0 start this year is their best start since 1979.

Mike Leach, Texas Tech

• 1987: Offensive Coordinator at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.

• 1988: Assistant coach / LB at College of the Desert.

• 1989: Head coach for Pori, Finland (in the European Football League).

• 1990: Offensive Coordinator at Iowa Weslyan.

• 1992: Offensive Coordinator at Valdosta State.

• 1997: Offensive Coordinator at Kentucky.

• 1999: Offensive Coordinator (under Bob Stoops) at Oklahoma.

• 2000: Became head coach at Texas Tech.

Mark Mangino, Kansas

• 1981: Assistant coach at New Castle (PA) High, his alma mater.

• 1985: Assistant coach at Youngstown State (under Jim Tressel, now at Ohio State).

• 1987: Offensive coordinator at Geneva (PA) College.

• 1990: Head coach at Ellwood City (Pa.) High.

• 1991: Assistant coach at Kansas State.

• 1999: Assistant coach (under Bob Stoops) at Oklahoma.

• 2002: Head coach at Kansas.

Perhaps the essence of proficiency in coaching / teaching / managing is better captured by Navy’s Paul Johnson than it is by the aforementioned Woody Allen. Johnson said, "Coaching is teaching. Just because a guy was a good player doesn't mean he's a good coach. ... Some (coaches) get frustrated because it came so easily for them when they played and their players don't pick it up as fast."



(this 681 word excerpt—with expansive and profound commentary as value-added—was distilled from a 1505 word article from the USA Today of 9-29-04)