National Football League
The family business: Coaches' sons follow their fathers' NFL footsteps
National Football League

The family business: Coaches' sons follow their fathers' NFL footsteps

Published Jun. 15, 2014 11:23 a.m. ET

Growing up the son of an NFL head coach certainly comes with its perks.

While the advantages overshadow the drawbacks, learning how to handle the notoriety and attention is a part of their development.

“Ever since I was 8 years old, when he got the head coaching job with the Jets, it has been different because everybody knows who he is,” Seahawks assistant wide receivers coach Nate Carroll told in telephone interview.

Carroll, 27, has spent the last four years in Seattle since his father Pete Carroll’s arrival. He also attended USC, where his dad was the head coach. During his time with the Seahawks, he has learned to carry himself professionally around his father.


“This is a high-level setting and he is a respected person,” Carroll said. “Whatever he says goes. At the same time, he’s dad for me. Everyone knows the father-son relationship, though. Normal things happen. My growth has been how to treat him as the head coach of this football team and not as dad anymore.”

Father-son coaching combos

Team Father (position) Son (position)
Buccaneers Lovie Smith (head coach) Mikal Smith (safety coach)
Bengals Marvin Lewis (head coach) Marcus Lewis (defensive assistant)
Chiefs Andy Reid (head coach) Britt Reid (quality control)
Rams Jeff Fisher (head coach) Brandon Fisher (assistant secondary coach)
Patriots   Bill Belichick (head coach) Steve Belichick (coaching assistant)
Seahawks Pete Carroll (head coach) Nate Carroll (assistant WR coach)
Vikings Mike Zimmer (head coach) Adam Zimmer (LB coach)
Vikings Norv Turner (offensive coordinator) Scott Turner (QB coach)

After two seasons working as a defensive assistant in Seattle, Nate Carroll accepted an interview request with the Jaguars. Head coach Gus Bradley, who had been the Seahawks defensive coordinator, realized his value and offered him the same role. Instead of immediately accepting it, Nate Carroll was able to parlay it into a promotion as an assistant wide receivers coach. Opposed to being No. 3 in the cornerbacks room, he was second-in-command, behind seasoned wide receivers coach Kippy Brown.

In most cases, football isn’t force-fed from father to son. It happens organically. What’s more, within these families, it’s how they make their living.

By a count, eight father-son coaching combinations currently exist in the NFL. From the Ryans, to the Shanahans and Schottenheimers, the long tradition of handing down the family business continues to trend upwards.

“I never thought I would coach with my dad, but it’s almost like a dream come true,” Bengals defensive quality control Marcus Lewis said. “It has been a great learning experience.”

With an ambition to always become a coach, a season as a graduate assistant at Indiana State was validation for Lewis. He moved on to coaching defensive lineman at the University of Cincinnati before making his next stop.

This past spring, Lewis, 24, was hired by the Bengals. Spending most of his time with defensive line coach Jay Hayes and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, Lewis doesn’t directly work under his dad and head coach Marvin Lewis. When their paths cross on the practice field or in the team facility, it’s a reminder of how rare the opportunity is.

“If we run into each other it’s great,” Marcus Lewis said. “That’s the person I called my hero my whole life. That’s my father. But at work it’s a very work-oriented relationship.”

Arguably, the most high-profile father-son duo this season is in Minnesota.

As Norv Turner installs his complex offensive system with the Vikings, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner is grooming rookie Teddy Bridgewater and  veterans Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder during a very thorough quarterback battle.

"He's the offensive coordinator and he wants things done a certain way," Scott Turner said. "It's my job to do those things. At the same time, he's still my dad."

The Turners first linked up in Cleveland in 2013 after Norv Turner’s dismissal in San Diego. While in Cleveland, they witnessed the rapid ascension of Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who led the league in receiving yards and second in average yards per catch.

Coaching professional football has its demands. Exceedingly long hours, shaky job stability and time spent away from home are just a few of the challenges. Fortunately, some found a way to maintain a balanced home life and play a big role in their children’s lives.

“We were always really close,” Turner said. “Sports were a big part of that. It was just a normal father-son relationship. People always talk about the long hours during the season and they are, but when I was young and played on Saturdays he would be there.”

Their fathers paved the way. The sons are following through. Together, they are united in more ways than one. 

“I was offered a great opportunity,” Nate Carroll said. “How could I have turned this down? I have the opportunity to work in sports. I get to work in football. And I’m learning from one of the best.”


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