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A coaching tree is similar to a family tree except that it shows the relationships of coaches instead of family members. There are several ways to define a relationship between two coaches. The most common way to make the distinction is if a coach worked as an assistant on a particular head coach's staff for at least a season then that coach can be counted as being a branch on the head coach's coaching tree. Coaching trees can also show philosophical influence from one head coach to an assistant.
Coaching trees are common in the National Football League and most coaches in the NFL can trace their lineage back to a certain head coach for whom they previously worked as an assistant.
The phrase "coaching tree" has also grown to refer colloquially to any idea or set of ideas originated by an individual or group. For example, an individual may claim an original idiom or phrase as part of his or her coaching tree if used by another individual.
Coaching trees are becoming more prominent in today's NFL culture. They are often referenced by various media outlets, such as ESPN.
In 1998, half of the active head coaches in the National Football League could be traced to Bill Walsh and Tom Landry. Of those fifteen coaches, four (plus Walsh and Landry) had coached a Super Bowl winning team.
20 years later, in 2018, an ESPN article showed visually how 28 of the 32 coaches who would serve as NFL head coaches in the upcoming season were connected to head coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. The only team that wasn't profiled in this particular story was the Indianapolis Colts, who hadn't yet hired a head coach at the time of the article. The Colts later hired Frank Reich. The only three NFL head coaches who couldn't be connected to either Parcells or Belichick, according to this said article, were the following coaches: Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears, and Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles. Incidentally, both Pederson and Nagy were once former assistants under Reid before becoming head coaches. Additionally, before Reich became head coach of the Colts, he served as Pederson's offensive coordinator of the Eagles, and helped Philadelphia win Super Bowl LII. Therefore, Reich is connected to Reid through Pederson.
In October 2018, The Washington Post published their own article about NFL coaching trees, mapping out the roots, influences and origins of every active NFL head coach.
Coaching tree examples (shown visually below) for Bill Walsh & Marty Schottenheimer:
Note: Trees updated through 2020.[note 1]
Philosophical tree connections
Coaching trees can also show a philosophical relationship between a mentor head coach and their protégé. Below is a list of current and former head coaches and who they primarily developed their philosophy under:
- Norv Turner: Most recently, Turner worked as an offensive coordinator under Mike Nolan in San Francisco. However, Nolan previously worked under Turner when he was the head coach with the Redskins as a defensive coordinator 1997–1999. Also, before getting his first head coaching job with the Redskins in 1994, Turner worked under both John Robinson in Los Angeles and Jimmy Johnson in Dallas.
- Wade Phillips: Coached under Marty Schottenheimer, but primarily learned his philosophy from his father, Bum Phillips.
- Jon Gruden: Worked under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay.
- Tony Dungy: Dungy is listed above as part of the Schottenheimer coaching tree and was a Defensive Coordinator under Dennis Green. However, Dungy attributes most of his coaching style from tutelage under Chuck Noll. Noll learned much of his own philosophy from Paul Brown. Noll coached Dungy as a player and also gave him his first NFL position as the defensive backs coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dungy later became the defensive coordinator for the Steelers.
- Todd Haley: Coached under Bill Parcells and learned his philosophy from him for many years before joining Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, in 2007.
- Steve Spagnuolo: While Spagnuolo is credited under Tom Coughlin and Bill Parcells tree, he studied and learned much of his style and system during his tenure in Philadelphia under Jim Johnson and Andy Reid. Spagnuolo took Johnson's style of play to New York where he gained national attention for his scheming and personnel packages that helped shut down New England in the Super Bowl, one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. He then took that defense to St. Louis.
- Jack Del Rio: Del Rio worked under Marvin Lewis on the Ravens' defensive staff. However, Del Río got his coaching start from Mike Ditka in New Orleans, and then worked as defensive coordinator under John Fox in Carolina before being hired by Jacksonville in 2003.
Additionally, many college football coaches worked as assistants for head coaches on the tree. For instance, Bill Belichick can claim Kirk Ferentz, Nick Saban, and Charlie Weis as descendants of his tree, though they are not included in the graphic above.
- Bum Phillips coached under Gillman with the Oilers, and was chosen by Gillman to succeed him upon Gillman's stepping down from the head coaching job of the Houston Oilers.
The Bill Belichick tree
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The Bill Belichick coaching tree is a far-reaching one. During Belichick's long-tenured career as an NFL head coach, 17 assistant coaches under him have went on to become head coaches in both the NFL and college. They then sprouted their own trees, leading to over 100 total offshoots, which include 13 active NFL head coaches.
- Bill Belichick, Cleveland Browns (1991-1995), New England Patriots (2000-present)
- Nick Saban, Michigan State (1995–1999), LSU (2000–2004), Miami Dolphins (2005–2006), Alabama (2007–present)
- Dean Pees, Kent State (1998–2003)
- Bobby Williams, Michigan State (2000–2002)
- Mark Dantonio, Cincinnati (2004–2006), Michigan State (2007–2020)
- Brad Salem, Augustana College (Illinois) (2005–2009)
- Scott Linehan, St. Louis Rams (2006–2008)
- Derek Dooley, Louisiana Tech (2007–2009), Tennessee (2010–2012)
- Josh McDaniels, Denver Broncos (2009–2010) (first served under Saban)
- Mike Haywood, Miami (OH) (2009–2010), Texas Southern (2016–2018)
- Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (2010–2017), Texas A&M (2018–present)
- Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys (2010–2019)
- Curt Cignetti, IUP (2011–2016), Elon (2017–2018), James Madison (2019–present)
- Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns (2011–2012), New York Giants (2018–2019)
- Will Muschamp, Florida (2011–2014), South Carolina (2016–2020)
- Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville Jaguars (2012), Tennessee Titans (2016–2017)
- Jim McElwain, Colorado State (2012–2014), Florida (2015–2017), Central Michigan (2019–present)
- Brian Polian, Nevada (2013-2016)
- Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons (2015–2020)
- Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins (2016–2018), New York Jets (2019–2020)
- Kirby Smart, Georgia (2016–present)
- Major Applewhite, Houston (2016–2018)
- Geoff Collins, Temple (2017-2018), Georgia Tech (2019–present)
- Mario Cristobal, Oregon (2017–present)
- Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee (2018–2020)
- Billy Napier, Louisiana (2018–present)
- Mike Locksley, Maryland (2019–present)
- Mel Tucker, Colorado (2019), Michigan State (2020–present)
- Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns (2019)
- Joe Judge, New York Giants (2020–present)(first served under Saban)
- Rod Dowhower, Vanderbilt (1995-1996)
- Pat Hill, Fresno State (1997–2011)
- Lane Kiffin, Oakland Raiders (2007-2008), Tennessee (2009), USC (2010-2013), Florida Atlantic (2017-2019), Ole Miss (2020-present)
- Trent Miles, Indiana State (2008–2012), Georgia State (2013–2016)
- Jim McElwain, Colorado State (2012–2014), Florida (2015–2017), Central Michigan (2019–present)
- Woody Widenhofer, Vanderbilt (1997-2001)
- Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (1999–present)
- Al Groh, New York Jets (2000), Virginia (2001–2009)
- Mike Nolan, San Francisco 49ers (2005–2008)
- Ron Prince, Kansas State (2006–2008), Howard (2019)
- Al Golden, Temple (2006–2010), Miami (2011–2015)
- Danny Rocco, Liberty (2006–2011), Richmond (2012–2016), Delaware (2017–present)
- Mike London, Richmond (2008–2009), Virginia (2010–2015), Howard (2017–2018), William & Mary (2019–present)
- Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs (2009–2011)
- Latrell Scott, Richmond (2010), Virginia State (2013–2014), Norfolk State (2015–present)
- Bob Diaco, UConn (2014–2016)
- Todd Bowles, New York Jets (2015–2018)
- Gregg Brandon, Colorado Mines (2015–present)
- John Garrett, Lafayette (2017–2021)
- Charlie Weis, Notre Dame (2005–2009), Kansas (2011–2014)
- Romeo Crennel, Cleveland Browns (2005–2008), Kansas City Chiefs (2011–2012)
- Eric Mangini, New York Jets (2006–2008), Cleveland Browns (2009–2010)
- Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions (2009–2013)
- Josh McDaniels, Denver Broncos (2009–2010)
- DeWayne Walker, New Mexico State (2009-2012)
- Pete Mangurian, Columbia (2012–2014)
- Bill O'Brien, Penn State (2012–2013), Houston Texans (2014–2020)
- Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions (2018–2020)
- Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins (2019–present)
- Joe Judge, New York Giants, (2020–present)
- Bret Bielema, Illinois (2021–present)
- Jedd Fisch, Arizona Wildcats, (2021–present)