NFL Head Coaches as Quarterbacks

Have you ever wondered what NFL head coaches did before they became head coaches? Here is a look at the quarterback playing careers of NFL head coaches.


Kyle Shanahan did not play QB, but he is known for his work as a coach with QBs. He played wide receiver at Texas, on a team that included Roy Williams, Cedric Benson, Quentin Jammer, and Chris Simms among other NFL players.

Matt LaFleur was a backup QB in National Indoor Football League in 2003-2004 for the Omaha Beef and Billings Outlaw 

Sean Payton played 3 games for the Chicago Bears in 1987 and threw 23 passes (0 TD, 1 INT).

Matt Nagy played for Delaware in FCS from 1997-2000. He threw for 8,214 yards passing and 58 TDs. From 2002-2008, Nagy spent 6 seasons in the Arena Football League. He threw 374 TDs and 55 INT.

College Experience

Kliff Kingsbury

The new Cardinals head coach threw 2 NFL passes in 2005 with the Jets, after being drafted in the 6th round of the 2003 draft by the Patriots.

He threw over 1800 passes in college, playing for Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Kingsbury threw for 12, 429 yards, 95 TDs, 40 INTs. At the conclusion of his college career, Kingsbury held 39 school records, 13 Big 12 Conference records, and 7 NCAA FBS records.

Jay Gruden

Gruden played for Louisville from 1985-1988. He threw for 7,024 yards, and 44 TDs, 55 INTs. He completed just 54.5% of his passes. Louisville won 8 games combined in Gruden’s first three seasons before breaking out with an 8 win season in 1988.

After Louisville, Gruden played in the World League of American Football, NFL and CFL practice squads, and the Arena Football League. the AFL is where he found his true calling, winning league MVP in 1992. He is in the AFL Hall of Fame and is ranked #4 on the all-time list of AFL’s greatest players.

Zac Taylor

Zac Taylor started 2 years at Nebraska (2005-2006), after starting his career and transferring from Wake Forest. Nebraska went 17-9 over his two years playing for Bill Callahan, whose son was hired onto Taylor’s Bengals staff. Taylor threw 45 TDs, 20 INT on 822 total pass attempts, throwing for 5,853 yards total.

Taylor was not picked in the 2007 NFL Draft, but signed with Tampa Bay Bucs, where he was cut soon after. He spent the 2007 season in Canada, as the 4th string QB for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL, as a member of the Championship game runner ups.

Bruce Arians

Arians started at QB for Virginia Tech in 1974. He ran for 11 touchdowns that season (which is 2 more than Mike Vick ever ran for in a season at VT).

In addition to his success on the field, Arians became the first white player in Hokies history to share a dorm room with a black player – that player was James Barber, the father of well-known former Giants RB Tiki Barber and former Bucs CB Ronde Barber.

NFL Experience

Doug Pederson

Career stats: 54.8% completions, 2,762 yards, 12 TD, 19 INT

Pederson started 17 games in his career, winning just 3 of them (3-14). He spent one year playing for the Eagles, whom he coaches now, and went 2-7 in 9 starts. His role was to serve as a stopgap until #2 pick Donovan McNabb was ready to take over.

He was the QB of the Browns in 2000 – coming into the year he was #3 on the depth chart, but injuries forced him into action and he would go 1-8, in the Browns second season since being resurrected as an expansion team.

Most of his career (7 seasons) was spent as a backup to Brett Favre with the Packers. Pederson threw just 77 passes in those 7 years (which included two different stints, broken up by one year in Philly and Cleveland).

Jason Garrett

Career stats: 56.1% completions, 2,042 yards, 11 TD, 5 INT

Garrett spent 7 years in Dallas, as a backup to Troy Aikman, before playing his final year with the Giants. He went 6-3 in 9 starts 9 starts with the Cowboys. As a backup, Garrett won two Super Bowl rings with the Cowboys.

The highlight of his career came in 1994 when Garrett started on Thanksgiving Day and led the Cowboys to a win over the Packers. Garrett threw for 311 yards and 2 TDs and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Frank Reich

Career stats: 54.5% completions, 6,075 yards, 40 TD, 36 INT

Reich went 5-15 in 20 games as a starter. He spent 9 years in Buffalo, mostly backing up Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, and went 4-4 as a spot starter. He also spent time with the Lions, Panthers, Jets.

Reich famously started 2 playoff games in 1992, due to an injury to Kelly. In the Wild Card game, the Bills trailed 41-3 and Reich led them to a historic comeback, wininng 41-38. The Bills would advance to Super Bowl XXVI that year.

 Follow me on twitter @msschneid or instagram @mikedropsports 

Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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