Michael Pallas | September 23rd, 2019
Clint Dolezel might be the best coach you’ve never heard of. The reason is simple, he coaches in the Arena Football League.
Let’s face the facts. When NFL teams fanbases look at potential head coaching candidates, NFL assistants and college head coaches are the main people looked at, and that’s completely understandable. That said, former arena league (all leagues not just the AFL) quarterbacks should be considered if they have coaching experience at some level of professional football, even if it’s “just the AFL.”
We’ve all seen how the great players in history typically do as coaches, but what about those passed over for NFL jobs as players who do well elsewhere?
It’s a very small sample size of former arena football quarterbacks who have become NFL head coaches, and while it’s a combination of mixed results with two that are too early to tell, so far, it’s a good sign.
Jay Gruden may be the first one fans think of because he was also a head coach. He’s the best player on the list having been the only one who played at the top level of arena football (AFL) and is in the Arena Football Hall of Fame. He’s 15th all-time in AFL history in passing yards, 17th in touchdowns, and 8th in coaching wins. His time in Washington isn’t much to speak of, but that’s partially due to being in Washington and having to coach for Dan Snyder.
Two of the other three coaches who played arena football didn’t coach in the AFL, and their careers are too short to tell as NFL head coaches. That being said, Matt Nagy is 19th all-time in AFL touchdowns despite only playing five seasons in the league, and he did lead the Bears to the playoffs in his first season as an NFL head coach. In addition to that, current Packers coach Matt LaFleur has a team that finished 6-9-1 last season starting 3-0.
The one you can look at as the posterchild for arena football quarterbacks as NFL head coaches is Sean Payton. Even though his stay was brief, and not successful to boot (as a player), he did end up being one of the best head coaches in the NFL.
The four men have combined for a record of what will likely turn into 179-135-1 (unless there’s a tie between Nagy and Gruden), including a 9-3 playoff record with a Super Bowl Championship.
That brings us to Clint Dolezel. If he were to get a shot at coaching in the NFL, he’d bring the best resume of all into the NFL. His 44,564 passing yards are third all-time in the AFL (behind only Aaron Garcia and Mark Grieb) and his 931 career touchdown are only behind Garcia (whose record of 1336 passing touchdowns will likely never be broken). He was also enshrined in the Arena Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
As a coach in the AFL, he’s 97-46 (including a 10-6 postseason record). He’s led the Philadelphia Soul to the ArenaBowl four times and won two.
He may not have NFL coaching experience, but he’s currently a head coach with experience playing the quarterback position as a professional, so he’s offensive-minded. If teams are willing to give college head coaches with no professional coaching experience a chance, why not an AFL coach with both a good resume as a player and a coach? It’s not like the college game translates well to the NFL.
The NFL is becoming a quick-passing league, and two of the main qualities that teams look for in college quarterbacks are the ability to anticipate (throw before the receiver breaks and hit him on time) and throw into tight windows. Well with the short and not-so-wide field in arena football, and generally four rushers against four linemen, you must get rid of the ball quickly and into tight windows. So, it’s a perfect breeding ground for the new school NFL head coach.
As Connor Orr showed us in his article for Sports Illustrated back in March, the NFL is taking ideas from the AFL anyway. If Dolezel isn’t the guy now, no one ever will be.
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