Four head coaches still have a chance to win the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.
It’s easy to imagine that guys like these stood out from the start, that the skills necessary to reach this pinnacle of NFL competition had people scrambling to hire them instantly, promote them quickly and then shower them with whatever was needed to keep them on staff.
Here’s a little exercise, though, to demonstrate how much scrapping there really is on the way to the top of this profession. I’ll offer a note or two about each of the head coaches in next weekend’s conference championship games and you can try to figure out which personal history fits which man.
The choices, in alphabetical order, are Bill Belichick, Mike McCarthy, Dan Quinn and Mike Tomlin.
- He slept on a bunk in the empty freshman locker room at William & Mary while working as a volunteer assistant coach. Got his first paid coaching job at Virginia Military Institute when his fiancée, who just happened to be the head athletic trainer there, helped set up a meeting. His first coordinator’s job was at a FCS school that since has dropped the sport.
- Got his first job in the NFL because his father, a respected scout and assistant coach at Navy for more than 30 years, arranged a face-to-face meeting with one of the league’s head coaches. “He was willing to work ‘round the clock for nothing and learn everything he could about the game,” that head coach said years later. In truth, the basic gopher job paid more than nothing. It paid $25 per week.
- Worked as a college graduate assistant without benefits during his first two years in coaching. Jumped around to four different schools in his first six coaching seasons. Two of those seasons were spent at a Div. I Independent that regularly scheduled “body-bag” payoff games against Miami, Georgia, LSU, Virginia Tech and the like in order to fund the athletic department.
- During his early days as a graduate assistant coach at a major university, he worked a toll booth on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as a second job. Because it was the graveyard shift and because few cars exited or entered at the rural interchange he was assigned, he brought playbooks along and studied all night without much interruption.
Rather than give the answers right here, these photos hopefully will require you to scroll down a bit and think a little, too, before getting them.
Answers: A) Quinn; B) Belichick; C) Tomlin; D) McCarthy.
Quinn later was on the Miami Dolphins’ staff under Nick Saban and was Will Muschamp’s defensive coordinator at Florida.
Belichick’s first job was personal assistant to Ted Marchibroda of the Baltimore Colts.
Tomlin got his first opportunity at VMI with help from Quinn, who had previously known him at William & Mary.
McCarthy was a grad assistant at the University of Pittsburgh during his toll-booth days, and he had already spent two seasons as a G.A. at Fort Hays State in Kansas.