11 National Title Winning Coaches Who Coached in the NFL

Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Jacksonville Jaguars are hoping that legendary college head coach Urban Meyer can change their fortunes.

It was reported on Thursday that Meyer would be the next coach of the Jaguars. At the collegiate level, Meyer was the head coach at Bowling Green and Utah before winning two national championships at Florida and another at Ohio State.

Successfully transitioning from the college to the pro game is easier said than done. Here’s a look back at 11 other national championship-winning coaches to try their hand in the NFL.

Paul Brown

National Championships: Ohio State (1942)
NFL Stops: Cleveland Browns (1946-62), Cincinnati Bengals (1968-75)
NFL Coaching Record: 213-104-9 (.672)
NFL Accomplishments: 3 world championships (1950, 1954-55), 7 conference titles (1950-55, 1958), 2 division titles (1970, 1973), 3-time NFL Coach of the Year (1957, 1969-70)
Overview: Paul Brown will be forever known for his tenure with the Cleveland Browns, but before that, he actually led Ohio State to its first national championship. After leading the Browns to four straight AAFC titles, Brown led Cleveland into the NFL where it played in six straight NFL Championships, winning three.

Pete Carroll

National Championships: USC (2003, 2004*)
NFL Stops: New York Jets (1994), New England Patriots (1997-99), Seattle Seahawks (2010-present)
NFL Coaching Record: 145–94–1 (.606)
NFL Accomplishments: Super Bowl champion (2013), 2 conference titles (2013-14), 6 division titles (1997, 2010, 2013-14, 2016, 2020), 11 playoff appearances (1997-98, 2010, 2012-16, 2018-20)
Overview: Pete Carroll actually was an NFL head coach before a college coach. After two stints in the AFC East, Carroll took over at USC and led the Trojans to national prominence. Now one of the longest tenured head coaches in the NFL, Carroll has coached the Seattle Seahawks since 2010. He’s led the franchise to two Super Bowls, its only title and nine straight winning seasons.

Dennis Erickson

National Championships: Miami (1989, 1991)
NFL Stops: Seattle Seahawks (1995-98), San Francisco 49ers (2003-04)
NFL Coaching Record: 40-56 (.417)
NFL Accomplishments: None
Overview: Dennis Erickson has been the head coach of five different college programs, but has never stayed anywhere too long. The same has been true in the NFL. In four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, Erickson’s team finished 8-8 three times. He never had a winning season in the NFL.

Jimmy Johnson

National Championships: Miami (1987)
NFL Stops: Dallas Cowboys (1989-93), Miami Dolphins (1996-99)
NFL Coaching Record: 80-64 (.556)
NFL Accomplishments: 2 world championships (1992-93), 2 division titles (1992-93), 6 playoff appearances (1991-93, 1997-99), NFL Coach of the Year (1990)
Overview: After winning a national championship at Miami, Jimmy Johnson won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993. Johnson was hired to replace legendary Don Shula with the Miami Dolphins in 1996. Although he was never able to duplicate his Dallas success, he did lead the Dolphins to the playoffs in each of his final three seasons.

John McKay

National Championships: USC (1962, 1967, 1972, 1974)
NFL Stops: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1976-84)
NFL Coaching Record: 44-88-1 (.333)
NFL Accomplishments: 2 division titles (1979, 1981), 3 playoff appearances (1979, 1981-82)
Overview: The first head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL game was harder for John McKay than he initially thought. McKay lost his first 26 games as an NFL head coach and twice as often as he won for his career. He did lead the Buccaneers to the playoffs in three of his final six seasons.

Nick Saban

National Championships: LSU (2003), Alabama (2009, 2011-12, 2015, 2017, 2020)
NFL Stops: Miami Dolphins (2005-06)
NFL Coaching Record: 15-17 (.469)
NFL Accomplishments: None
Overview: After a successful stint at LSU, Nick Saban briefly tried his hand at the NFL. In two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Saban lost more than he won. He did win his final six games in his first season in Miami as the Dolphins finished 9-7.

Howard Schnellenberger

National Championships: Miami (1983)
NFL Stops: Baltimore Colts (1973-74)
NFL Coaching Record: 4-13 (.235)
NFL Accomplishments: None
Overview: Howard Schnellenberger was actually a head coach in the NFL before he ever got a head coaching gig in college. In less than two seasons with the Baltimore Colts, Schnellenberger won just four games. After a second stint as an offensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins, Schnellenberger went on to spend 27 total years as a college head coach. He led Miami to its first national title in his fifth and final year with the Hurricanes.

Clark Shaughnessy

National Championships: Stanford (1940)
NFL Stops: Los Angeles Rams (1948-49)
NFL Coaching Record: 14-7-3 (.667)
NFL Accomplishments: Division title (1949)
Overview: Clark Shaughnessy spent 33 years as a head coach at the college level and two at the NFL level. Shaughnessy had a winning season in each of his two years with the Los Angeles Rams and reached the NFL Championship in 1949. The Rams lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 14-0.

Steve Spurrier

National Championships: Florida (1996)
NFL Stops: Washington Redskins (2002-03)
NFL Coaching Record: 12-20 (.375)
NFL Accomplishments: None
Overview: A former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida, Steve Spurrier spent 12 years at his alma mater and brought the Gators to national prominence before trying his hand at the NFL. In two years with the Washington Redskins, things didn’t go well. Washington finished with a losing record each season.

Jock Sutherland

National Championships: Pittsburgh (1929, 1931, 1936-37)
NFL Stops: Brooklyn Dodgers (1940-41), Pittsburgh Steelers (1946-47)
NFL Coaching Record: 28–16–1 (.636)
NFL Accomplishments: Playoff appearance (1947)
Overview: Jock Sutherland made Pittsburgh a college football powerhouse in the late 1920’s throughout the 1930’s. Following his stint at Pittsburgh, he spent four years as an NFL head coach. Sutherland had a winning record three times in those four seasons and never a losing one. While on a scouting trip for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sutherland died suddenly of a brain tumor in April 1948.

Barry Switzer

National Championships: Oklahoma (1974-75, 1985)
NFL Stops: Dallas Cowboys (1994-97)
NFL Coaching Record: 40-24 (.625)
NFL Accomplishments: Super Bowl champion (1995), 3 division titles (1994-96), 3 playoff appearances (1994-96)
Overview: A 3-time national champion at Oklahoma, Barry Switzer replaced another coach to make this list, Jimmy Johnson. Switzer spent four years as the head coach of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Under Switzer, Dallas won the NFC East in three straight seasons and its third Super Bowl in four years in 1995. He resigned after a 6-10 finish in 1997.

*Title vacated

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.