The Coaches Who Could Play - Defense
Posted Aug 22, 2009

Which of the current head coaches could play back in the day? Richard Cirminiello takes a look at the ones who also were stars between the lines, including former Northwestern star linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, the leader of the All-Back In The Day defense.

All-Back In The Day Team - Defense

Which coaches were the best players?

By Richard Cirminiello

- All-Back In The Day ... Offense

Defensive Linemen (7)

Frank Spaziani, Penn State…Boston College – A terrific all-around athlete by the time he got to Penn State, Spaziani played for Joe Paterno at the tail end of the 1960s. A productive pass rusher and run defender on the outside, he also played some quarterback for the Nittany Lions, a testament to his versatility and athleticism.

Bret Bielema, Iowa…Wisconsin – From walk-on tight end to Hawkeye co-captain, Bielema's college journey was a testament to his dedication and desire to succeed, which now rubs off on his Wisconsin players. He started for Hayden Fry along the defensive line over his final two seasons, playing well enough to earn a free agent opportunity from the Seattle Seahawks.

Robb Akey, Weber State…Idaho – Akey set the tone for head coach Mike Price's Wildcats in the mid-1980s, picking up All-Big Sky and I-AA All-America honors for his work in 1987. Although he also dabbled at linebacker and tight end, he left Weber State as the school's all-time leader in sacks.

Tom O'Brien, Navy...North Carolina State – A wiry, but tough and disciplined defensive linemen, O'Brien had three successful seasons as a starting end with the Middies. It was at Annapolis that he really honed a work-ethic and attention to detail that have been characteristics of every team he's coached.

Al Groh, Virginia…Virginia
Brady Hoke, Ball State…San Diego State
Butch Davis, Arkansas ...North Carolina

Linebackers (12)

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern...Northwestern – Of the nearly five dozen current coaches that spent their playing days on the defensive side of the ball, none built a more impressive resume than Fitzgerald. He was a tackling machine in Evanston, twice getting named Big Ten defensive player of the year and becoming the first two-time recipient of the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award in 1995 and 1996.

Kevin Sumlin, Purdue...Houston – For four seasons, Sumlin was an outstanding linebacker with the Boilermakers, which is odd considering his forte as a coach has been on offense. Originally a walk-on, he still ranks in the top 10 in tackles at the school, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in his final two seasons.

Kyle Whittingham, BYU…Utah – The 1981 WAC Defensive Player of the Year was proof that Provo produced more than just prolific, NFL-ready quarterbacks during the glory days. A terrific all-around linebacker, Whittingham spent three years bouncing around the USFL before beginning his career in coaching.

Randy Shannon, Miami…Miami
Greg Schiano, Bucknell…Rutgers
Kirk Ferentz, Connecticut…Iowa
Jim Grobe, Virginia...Virginia
Gene Chizik, Florida…Auburn
Gary Patterson, Kansas State…TCU
Brian Kelly, Assumption College…Cincinnati
Rich Ellerson, Hawaii...Army
Jerry Kill, Southwestern College…Northern Illinois

Defensive Backs (29)

Mike Stoops, Iowa…Arizona – As a hard-hitting strong safety with the Hawkeyes, Stoops earned All-America honors in 1984 and was twice named All-Big Ten. In his junior year, he led the league in interceptions with six in nine games, giving him nine in an abbreviated career that consisted of just two years as a starter.

Bob Stoops, Iowa…Oklahoma – Back when he was known as Bobby, Stoops was a four-year starter in Iowa City and a two-time All-Big Ten selection. Considered by many as an all-time great defensive back for the Hawkeyes, he twice led the team in interceptions and was an intimidating defender from his strong safety spot.

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech…Virginia Tech – Long before he was prowling the sidelines in Blacksburg, Beamer was making plays for the Hokies as a three-year starting cornerback. An all-around good athlete, who set records as high school quarterback, he played an integral role in Tech teams that played in the 1966 and 1968 Liberty Bowls.

Pete Carroll, Pacific…USC – In the early 1970s, Carroll was a two-time All-Pacific Coast Conference free safety at Pacific and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame a quarter century later. His attempts to make it in the World Football League never panned out, but as a Tiger, he had a very successful playing career under former Pitt and Stanford head coach, Walt Harris.

Bobby Johnson, Clemson…Vanderbilt
Mike Haywood, Notre Dame...Miami Univ.
Mike Riley, Alabama…Oregon State
Mark Snyder, Marshall…Marshall
DeWayne Walker, Minnesota...New Mexico State
Bronco Mendenhall, Oregon State…BYU
Bo Pelini, Ohio State...Nebraska
Rich Brooks, Oregon State…Kentucky
Urban Meyer, Cincinnati…Florida
Nick Saban, Kent State…Alabama
Mark Dantonio, South Carolina…Michigan State
Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia…Michigan
Todd Graham, East Central University…Tulsa
Ron English, Cal...Eastern Michigan
Jim Leavitt, Missouri…South Florida
Bill Snyder, William Jewell College…Kansas State
Ron Zook, Miami Univ. …Illinois
Mike Locksley, Towson...New Mexico
Paul Rhoads, Missouri Western…Iowa State
Greg McMackin, Southern Oregon...Hawaii
Chip Kelly, New Hampshire...Oregon
Dave Clawson, Williams College...Bowling Green
Tim Beckman, Findlay College…Toledo
Stan Parrish, Heidelberg College…Ball State
David Elson, Butler…Western Kentucky
Never Played in College (6)

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame…Notre Dame
Paul Johnson, Western Carolina…Georgia Tech
David Cutcliffe, Alabama…Duke
Mike Leach, BYU…Texas Tech
George O'Leary, New Hampshire…UCF
Mark Mangino, Youngstown State…Kansas