The NFL Coaching Tree

NOTE: The Coaching Tree has been updated with a 2008 version.

Five Quick Hits

* Terrell Owens' contract is less than a year old and he already wants to change it? He is the most self-centered player in the history of the league.

* Good news for Tennessee: Steve McNair will play in 2005. Reliable backup Billy Volek is still around in case McNair gets hurt, and new offensive coordinator Norm Chow gives fans reason to be excited.

* Bad news for Tennessee: Derrick Mason is gone. So are Kevin Carter, Carlos Hall, and Samari Rolle. I don't think Drew Bennett is a No. 1 receiver, and the defense has been gutted.

* With this year's deep RB pool, Travis Henry isn't worth a first-round NFL pick. But he's a great value for a third-rounder.

* When he was the highest-paid defensive back in the NFL, Ty Law complained about his contract. Now no one will pay the guy. Irony is beautiful.

We're in heavy offseason right now. The Super Bowl was two months ago and the draft is weeks away. If you need a fix, I've been working on a project that might help hold you over until draft day.

The great NFL Films piece Holmgren's Heroes was on ESPN2 about 8,000 times last year. It's about Green Bay's late-'90s glory days under Holmgren, and the subsequent hiring of everyone on his staff to be a head coach elsewhere. After the first time I watched it, I researched the coaching roots of every current head coach in the NFL. Last week -- it's heavy offseason -- I updated it for Romeo Crennel, Mike Nolan, and Nick Saban.

We all know about the impact innovators like George Halas, Paul Brown, and Tom Landry had on today's teams, but the coach with the most direct influence on today's leaders might surprise you: Marty Schottenheimer. The Schottenheimer coaching tree includes Dom Capers, Bill Cowher, Jack Del Río, Tony Dungy, Herman Edwards, Jim Haslett, Marvin Lewis, Mike Mularkey, and Lovie Smith. That's more than a quarter of the league, not counting Schottenheimer himself.

The Marty Schottenheimer Coaching Tree

Marty Schottenheimer, SD -- He got his NFL start in 1975 under legendary defensive expert Bill Arnsparger, but Schottenheimer has spent more of his career teaching others than being taught himself. Perhaps most impressively, Schottenheimer doesn't just find good assistants, or just teach them to be good coaches -- he teaches them to be good teachers.

Bill Cowher, PIT -- Cowher's branch of the Schottenheimer tree is pretty impressive itself: Capers, Del Río, Haslett, Lewis, and Mularkey, not to mention ex-Cowboys coach Chan Gailey and former Bengals coach Dick LeBeau, who will probably get another shot if Pittsburgh's defense is as impressive next season as it was in 2004. Cowher played and coached for Schottenheimer in Cleveland, and followed him to Kansas City before taking over the Steelers.

Mike Mularkey, BUF -- Spent eight seasons with Cowher before getting the head position in Buffalo last season. Mularkey played for Chuck Noll for three seasons, and he's also part of the less-glorious Sam Wyche tree.

Dom Capers, HOU -- I've listed him as part of the Cowher tree because that's where he was before his first head coaching gig, with the expansion Panthers. It might be more accurate, though, to put him in the surprisingly impressive Jim Mora tree, since Capers spent six years with Mora in New Orleans and only three in Pittsburgh. Capers also spent two seasons under Tom Coughlin, which connects him to the Bill Parcells coaching tree.

Jim Haslett, NO -- Another Cowher protégé, he spent three seasons in Pittsburgh before taking the Saints job. Haslett also traces some of his roots to Mora, though, with two years in New Orleans before Cowher hired him with the Steelers. He played for Chuck Knox in Buffalo.

Marvin Lewis, CIN -- Lewis never worked directly under Schottenheimer, but he worked for Cowher for four years, making him part of the Schottenheimer tree. Although Cowher was his primary influence, Lewis also connects to the Dennis Green coaching tree via his work as defensive coordinator for Green protégé Brian Billick.

Jack Del Río, JAC -- A loose relation to the Schottenheimer tree, he qualifies because of his three seasons working under Lewis in Baltimore. As a player, Del Río also spent time with Mora, Green, and Jimmy Johnson.

Tony Dungy, IND -- He also worked with Dennis Green as Minnesota's defensive coordinator from 1992-95, but Schottenheimer is his primary influence. Dungy also played for Noll and Bill Walsh. KC's 1990-91 assistant coaches included Cowher, Dungy, and Herm Edwards, making it one of the best staffs in recent memory.

Herman Edwards, NYJ -- Although he clearly has his own style, Edwards is a Schottenheimer guy through and through. An assistant in Kansas City for six seasons, he also worked under Dungy in Tampa Bay before taking over the Jets in 2001. Edwards initially made his name as a player for Dick Vermeil in Philadelphia.

Lovie Smith, CHI -- Like Edwards, he's a distinguished member of the Tony Dungy coaching tree, but unlike the Jets' coach, he never worked directly with Schottenheimer. Smith is also a distant relation of the Jimmy Johnson tree, via Rams coach Mike Martz, a Norv Turner disciple.

The Mike Holmgren Coaching Tree

Mike Holmgren, SEA -- Holmgren, of course, traces his own roots to legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh, but he's established his own style to the point that he deserves his own tree, not just a branch. Former head coaches Dick Jauron (Bears), Marty Mornhinweg (Lions), and Ray Rhodes (Eagles, Packers) were also Holmgren assistants, but they don't appear on this list. Former Raiders coach Bill Callahan was also part of the Holmgren tree, via Rhodes and Jon Gruden.

Jon Gruden, TB -- An assistant for Holmgren from 1992-94, he's also connected to the Walsh tree through Rhodes, for whom he served as offensive coordinator in Philadelphia.

Steve Mariucci, DET -- Ran Holmgren's offense before taking over the 49ers -- there's that Walsh connection again -- but the really fascinating thing is that Mooch also worked for Mike Ditka for two seasons in Chicago. Jauron is Mariucci's defensive coordinator in Detroit.

Andy Reid, PHI -- The most accomplished member of Holmgren's tree, he was on Green Bay's staff for seven seasons before joining the Eagles. With Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel gone from New England, Reid probably has the most respected pair of coordinators (Brad Childress and Jim Johnson) in the league. Mornhinweg is also on Reid's staff.

Mike Sherman, GB -- The embattled Packers coach was on Holmgren's staff in Green Bay for two seasons and followed him to Seattle before returning to become the head coach in Titletown.

The Bill Parcells Coaching Tree

Bill Parcells, DAL -- His legacy has really taken off the last few seasons. Parcells was on Ray Perkins' staff in New York, but even more than Schottenheimer and Holmgren, he's really crafted himself. Maurice Carthon, who played and coached under Parcells, and Eric Mangini, the new defensive coordinator in New England, are both hot prospects who might expand the Parcells coaching tree within the next several years.

Bill Belichick, NE -- This is the one every fan knows. Belichick was an assistant for Perkins, too, and Parcells kept him on when he became head coach. Belichick also worked for Parcells with the Patriots and Jets before returning to New England in 2000.

Romeo Crennel, CLE -- Perkins may not have been an exceptional coach, but he knew how to pick 'em. The 1981-82 Giants had Parcells, Belichick, and Crennel as assistants. Crennel stayed with the Giants until 1992, then went to the Pats when Parcells came out of retirement in 1993. He also followed Parcells to the Jets before joining Belichick's staff in '01.

Nick Saban, MIA -- Saban is hard to pin down, but the Parcells tree is where he fits best, having spent four years with Belichick in Cleveland. Saban got his NFL start from Jerry Glanville in Houston in the late 1980s.

Tom Coughlin, NYG -- The Parcells influence is clear in the way he runs his teams. Coughlin spent three years with Parcells, including the Giants' 1990 Super Bowl campaign.

Between Schottenheimer, Holmgren, and Parcells, 20 of the league's 32 head coaches are accounted for. That's an awfully impressive résumé for those three men. The remaining trees have fewer branches.

The Dennis Green Coaching Tree

Dennis Green, ARI -- Another descendant of the Walsh tree, his first NFL job was coaching special teams in San Francisco. As coach of the Vikings for 10 seasons, though, Green established an independent style. Marvin Lewis, who spent four years with Brian Billick, and Tony Dungy, who was on Green's staff for four seasons, both have ties to Green's coaching tree, but are listed under Schottenheimer. Jack Del Río and Mike Nolan, the new coach of the 49ers, also coached for Billick.

Brian Billick, BAL -- Green's offensive coordinator with the Vikings, he was hired to coach the Ravens after directing Minnesota's record-setting 1998 offense. Though hired for his offensive know-how, Billick has had more success as a team-builder than an offense-minded head coach. Several of his assistants -- Lewis, Del Río, and Nolan -- are now head coaches.

Mike Tice, MIN -- Worked for Green for six seasons, taking over as interim coach before getting his old boss' job full-time. Tice had a lengthy playing career under Green and Chuck Knox.

The Jimmy Johnson Coaching Tree

This one took a serious hit last season, with both Butch Davis and Dave Wannstedt fired in midseason. And, of course, Johnson himself is in the studio rather than on the sidelines.

Norv Turner, OAK -- Spent six years with John Robinson's Rams before running Johnson's offense in Dallas. Turner worked with Ernie Zampese in Los Angeles and through him picked up Don Coryell's offense. Turner has ties to Nolan, who was his defensive coordinator in Washington.

Mike Martz, STL -- Johnson's legacy has come to this: it runs through Turner. Martz worked for Knox, but his ideas about offense really developed under Turner in Washington. He has ties to Lovie Smith, who was his defensive coordinator for three seasons.

The George Seifert Coaching Tree

It doesn't seem fair to give Seifert his own tree, but not Walsh. Seifert, obviously, traces his own roots to Walsh. Holmgren spent three seasons working for Seifert before getting his own gig in Green Bay.

Mike Shanahan, DEN -- Only spent three seasons with Seifert, as opposed to the seven he spent with Dan Reeves in Denver, but he clearly inherited Seifert's (and Walsh's) ideas about offense before returning to the Broncos as head coach.

Jeff Fisher, TEN -- This is a rotten lie. Fisher's primary coaching influence was undoubtedly Buddy Ryan, but he's here for two reasons: (1) I don't have a Ryan tree; (2) Fisher was on Seifert's staff when Bud Adams hired him as head coach. A cop-out, I admit.

The Jim Mora Coaching Tree

Just to be clear, I'm referring to Jim Mora, Sr., who coached the Saints and Colts. You know, the "Playoffs?!" guy.

Jim Mora, Jr., ATL -- I suppose this one's obvious. The younger Mora actually got his pro start from Don Coryell, but he also served on his father's staff for five seasons before joining Mariucci in San Francisco for six seasons, tying him to Walsh and Holmgren.

While Mora, Jr., is the only clear branch from the elder Mora's tree, Capers, Del Río, and Haslett also have ties to this coaching tree.

The Don Coryell Coaching Tree

Along with Walsh, the primary offensive pioneer of the 1980s. Coryell was a brilliant coach and should probably be recognized with a bust in Canton. Mora, Jr., was on his staff in San Diego. His ideas have been picked up by Turner and Martz and, oh yeah, a Hall of Famer.

Joe Gibbs, WAS -- He was on Coryell's staff at San Diego State, then with the Cardinals and Chargers. Zampese, an assistant with Coryell (San Diego State and the Chargers) and with John Robinson and Martz (Rams), is an assistant for Gibbs in Washington.

The Dan Reeves Coaching Tree

Mike Nolan, SF -- He has connections to Jimmy Johnson (via Norv Turner) and Denny Green (via Brian Billick), but his roots are with Reeves in New York from 1993-96. Reeves also has connections to Shanahan.

The Leftovers

Dick Vermeil, KC -- A product of the obsessive George Allen, who hired Vermeil to be the first special-teams coach in history. Hall of Famer Marv Levy also coached special teams for Allen.

John Fox, CAR -- A tough one to pin down, but I think Chuck Noll was probably his primary influence. Fox also worked for Art Shell and Jim Fassel.

Deeper Roots

The big names you can come back to time and again:

Don Shula -- This is the first time I've mentioned him, but Shula coached Arnsparger, who coached Schottenheimer, who coached Cowher and Dungy. Shula, the NFL's all-time winningest coach, has some claim at the roots of the largest coaching tree in today's NFL, 10 deep.

Bill Walsh -- With connections to the entire coaching trees of Mike Holmgren, Dennis Green, and George Seifert, Walsh can lay some claim to nearly half the league, including Shula/Schottenheimer/Cowher disciples Marvin Lewis (via Billick), Tony Dungy (via Green), Jack Del Río (via Green and Billick), and Lovie Smith (via Dungy). Walsh's own roots go back to Paul Brown, probably the greatest innovator of the modern era.

Sid Gillman -- Coryell adapted his ideas, so Gillman has some claim to Gibbs, Turner, Martz, and Mora, Jr. His offensive brilliance was sufficient to get him into the Hall of Fame with the second-lowest winning percentage in Canton.

Chuck Noll -- Dungy and Mularkey played for him in Pittsburgh, and Fox was on his staff from 1989-91. Noll is still the only head coach to win four Super Bowls.

Mike Ditka -- Not really the primary influence on any of today's coaches, he did have Mariucci on his staff in Chicago, and he's connected to Fisher through Buddy Ryan.

Chuck Knox -- Haslett and Tice played for him, and Martz coached on his staff in L.A. He is the winningest eligible coach not in the Hall of Fame.

Art Shell -- He hired John Fox and Jim Haslett.

John Robinson -- He had Turner for six years and Jeff Fisher for one.

Final Notes

Obviously, this was a just a time-killing, kicking-around project, but it's interesting to see where today's coaches got their starts. The coaches most influential on today's leaders -- Cowher, Holmgren, Belichick, Green -- all trace their own roots to exceptional coaches and teachers: Schottenheimer and Shula, Walsh, Parcells, even Gillman and Coryell.

One thing that separates good coaches from great ones is the ability to find qualified assistants. Cowher, more than any contemporary coach, has consistently been able to reload his staff. Over the years, he has lost Capers, Del Río, Ron Erhardt, Gailey, Haslett, LeBeau, Lewis, and Mularkey: eight of his top assistants. New offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt drew rave reviews for his work with Ben Roethlisberger last season and may become a hot coaching prospect at some point, as well. With Cowher, it figures.

View the latest NFL odds for each game of the season and get advice on who is going to win with the picks at BetFirms.

Comments and Conversation

April 12, 2005

Murdock Halligan:

I would think that Dungy and Del Rio would be under Denny’s Tree. If you had more time to kill how about a Quarterback Tree. Just seeing what coach has the best system for developing QBs.

Just a thought

September 19, 2005

Brad Bazzett:

Just out of curiosity, are there any Buddy Ryan or Jeff Fischer defensive positional coaches out there receiving any attention? I only ask because Detroit’s going to be looking for a new defensive coordinator soon. Also, where did Tom Moore, Offensive Coordinator of the Colts come from in trees? Thanks!

November 29, 2005

Tony Butler:

You need to look a lot closer to the Don Coryell Tree. A lot of coaches either played for him or coached with him at SDSU that haven’t been mentioned…

January 18, 2006

Ed Kargbo:

This is absolutely amazing. Love the research and the passion it takes to get this involved. Is this an annual thing that you do? If so how do I get on your mailing list?



January 18, 2006

Marc James:


You can subscribe to this site’s monthly newsletter here:

Or you can subscribe to our RSS feed and receive instant updates:

January 17, 2007


This is really interesting because I was putting together the full Bill Parcells/Belicheck tree and became interested in other trees. I am going to try to make a full tree that actually looks like a tree. This is great thanks a lot.

September 27, 2007

fair hooker:

Quite fascinating this this with the coaching trees. I am sure that Jimmy the Hair Johnson will get deeply offended because he thinks that he invented pro-football coaching the same as Al Gore invented the internet.

Jimmy’s work is mainly the way he projects himself with the media and in his shows but if you get to the nitty gritty all of his guys have been great failures in the NFL as head coaches, not just failures but catastrophes, including Butch Davis, Wannstedt, Norv Turner, Dave Campo, and on and on.

Then you go to the situation with his work in college at the UM where people think that he invented the UM and when he got there he had a program already formed with a pro style game that Schnellenberger brought in and they had already won and he immediately engaged in much bickering and dirty work agains Bernie Kosar much the same as he did with Marino in the Dolphins later on.

At the UM, a guy like Dennis Erickson won much more and did much more but was not the polished handler of television cameras and the media as Jimmy was. If you review Erickson’s record at the UM, he cleaned Jimmy’s clock and yet the people here complained about Erickson even when he was 44-4 in 4 years including 2 Natinal Titles. Yet Jimmy kept undermining him from the distance the same as he did with coach Shula.

Jimmy then destroyed the Dolphins by going there and quitting and engaging in politicking against Marino and then he killed the Dolphins by talking Huizenga into hiring perennial flunkie of NFL coaches Dave Wannstedt.

January 24, 2008


fair hooker, re: jimmy johnson, you completely failed to mention 2 superbowls and 3 NFC title games with the cowboys. not to mention he assembled the cowboys team that won the 1995-96 superbowl. i see where your beef is, but come on, credit where it’s due…

March 22, 2008


Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your conmunity,
and wish to assit as far as possible.

December 11, 2011


No mention of John Madden or Rod Dowhower under the Don Coryell coaching tree. Its this kind of omission that keeps the Don out of the HOF.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site