When NFL Coaches Were Players
Drafted by the Broncos in the eighth round of the 1983 NFL draft, Gary Kubiak served as John Elway's backup for his entire career. After Kubiak retired, it seemed like his coaching career would follow a similar pattern. He served as the offense coordinator in Denver for 11 years, but in 2006 he was named the second head coach in Houston Texans history. On Dec. 6, 2013, Kubiak was fired after eight years in Houston (61-64), but Denver brought him back home when he signed a four-year deal to become their head coach in 2015. Kubiak's Broncos went on to win Super Bowl 50, 24-10 over the Panthers.
Jack Del Rio
Drafted by the Saints in the third round of the 1985 NFL draft, Jack Del Rio played with four teams over 11 seasons and made the 1994 Pro Bowl with the Vikings. A ferocious linebacker in his playing days, Jack Del Rio brought the same intensity to the sidelines as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-11. After three years as Denver's defensive coordinator, Del Rio was named Oakland's head coach in 2015.
Todd Bowles played safety for eight NFL seasons, seven with the Redskins, and started in Super Bowl XXII. Bowles had 15 career interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and two sacks. After two seasons as Arizona's defensive coordinator (2013-14), Bowles signed a four-year deal to become the head coach of the New York Jets in 2015.
The linebacker out of Cal was selected in the second round of the 1984 draft by the Bears. Despite spending nine seasons in Chicago as a player, Ron Rivera's time as a coach there did not end well. After elevating the Bears' defense to an elite level as the defensive coordinator, Rivera was a hot coaching candidate in 2006. When no other team hired him, the Bears cut their losses, announcing they would not renew Rivera's contract. Rivera landed on his feet as an assistant coach in San Diego, and in 2011 he was named head coach of the Carolina Panthers. In 2015, Rivera led the Panthers to a league-best 15-1 record, and to Super Bowl 50 where his team lost to the Broncos, 24-10.
Largely a backup for his entire career, Jason Garrett enjoyed his career highlight in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day 1994. Garrett led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory over the Packers, finishing with 311 passing yards and two touchdowns. When he was named the interim head coach of the Cowboys on Nov. 8, 2010, Garrett piloted a similarly shocking upset: a 33-20 victory over the favored New York Giants at the Meadowlands. He has remained the head coach ever since.
Doug Pederson played quarterback professionally for 12 years, most notably as Brett Favre’s backup in Green Bay. While playing for the Eagles in 1999, he served as a temporary starter ahead of rookie Donovan McNabb. Pederson later joined their coaching staff in 2009, beginning as offensive quality control coach and then serving as quarterbacks coach from 2011-2012. He followed Andy Reid to Kansas City after the head coach parted ways with the Eagles in 2012, working as offensive coordinator for the Chiefs from 2013-15. The Eagles hired Pederson to replace Chip Kelly as the team's head coach in 2016.
Undrafted quarterback Sean Payton toiled in the AFL and CFL before catching on with the Bears during the 1987 NFL players strike. His road to a head coaching job was less circuitous, as he rose from quarterback coach to head coach in fewer than 10 years. He led the New Orleans Saints to their first championship with a 31-17 victory over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.