clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Marvin Lewis ranked among top NFL coaches based on playing careers

Marvin Lewis has enjoyed a nice coaching career while not having a prior playing career in the NFL.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Lewis has become one of the most successful coaches in the NFL during his tenure in the Queen City.

Well, at least when it comes to the regular-season, which is why Lewis is regarded as one of the league's top coaching minds. Like many of the best coaches the league, Lewis had a successful career on the gridiron, though it didn't extend to the NFL and was only at the collegiate level.

Lewis' playing career came as a defensive end at the FCS level with Idaho State (where he was teammates with Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter). That was enough to earn him the 15th-overall placement in ESPN's ranking of the playing careers of all 32 NFL head coaches.

Position, top level played: Linebacker and defensive end, FCS

Lewis arrived at Idaho State as a quarterback/safety and saw brief action at both positions before settling into a role as an outside pass-rusher. He recorded 11 sacks in two seasons from 1978-79 and was a second-team All-Big Sky player as a sophomore and junior. He earned honorable mention Big Sky honors as a senior and joined the school's coaching staff after graduation.

Something you might not know: Lewis ran the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds as a defensive end in 1978, quite fast for a pass-rusher in those days.

Playing football at a high level is almost a necessity to be an NFL coach, but playing in the NFL is not. In fact, not having the ability to play in the NFL has been beneficial for some, as it's allowed them to begin their coaching career sooner, rather than delay it five to 10+ years while playing in the pros.

That's why Lewis having a nice career in the FCS ranks was enough to get him into the top 15 of this list. However, this ranking rewarded those who did make it to the NFL, as all of the top-10 coaches in this ranking had some NFL playing experience.

There are only two coaches with NFL playing experience who've won a Super BowlGary Kubiak and Sean Payton. In fact, there are more Super Bowl-winning coaches ranked below Lewis (3) than there are ranked ahead of him with NFL playing experience (2).

Ron Rivera and Jeff Fisher have coached in Super Bowls as well, and each played in the NFL, too, but the ranking goes to show that a playing career in the pros is nice to have, but far from a requirement to be a great NFL coach. The Super Bowl-winning coaches on this list without NFL playing experience include Bill Belichick (29), John Harbaugh (26),  Mike McCarthy (21), Mike Tomlin (14), and Pete Carroll (13, and his photo in this article is epic).