Cradle of (head) coaches?

For the second time in three weeks to begin the season, the 49ers face an opponent whose head coach once was a prominent San Francisco assistant. That kind of thing is going around these days in the NFL, where seven 2004 head coaches used to call San Francisco their coaching home. And six other former head coaches have held that distinction in the last decade alone.

One of the most successful of the current head coaches spawned by the San Francisco system in Seattle's Mike Holmgren, whose Seahawks are the rage of the NFL as they prepare to host the 49ers this week in their home opener after beginning the season with two consecutive victories on the road.

When SFI asked Holmgren on Wednesday if he could pinpoint one thing in particular to explain the phenomenon of former Niners assistants attaining the highest of all football coaching positions after leaving San Francisco, he responded with a detailed answer that chronicled his own coaching growth.

"I was fortunate enough to come into the league working for coach (Bill) Walsh," said Holmgren, the Niners' offensive coordinator from 1989-1991 after spending the previous three seasons as San Francisco's quarterbacks coach. "I was able to learn a system. Not just an offensive system, but a day-to-day operational system on how a franchise works. The 49ers were a very, very successful franchise. They were successful on the field in how we practiced and how we did our medical and (also) where we stayed and how we traveled. All those things. I was very fortunate to come into those things."

Of course, Holmgren, like the other successful assistants who became head coaches after their San Francisco apprenticeship, learned well when presented with those things and opportunities.

"I also think I was a good student," Holmgren said. "Having coach Walsh as a teacher allowed me to implement that system if I had a chance to be a head coach. The second part of that is that your team has to be good to get those opportunities. We went to Super Bowls and had outstanding quarterbacks. Then you get a little recognition that way, and then that gets you in the door."

But there's more to it than that. The latest San Francisco product to ascend to the highest of coaching positions is Jim Mora, who was San Francisco's defensive coordinator last year before the Atlanta Falcons made him one of the NFL's youngest head coaches this season.

Mora has the Falcons off to a 2-0 start after beating his former team in his head-coaching debut two weeks ago.

Here's a brief look at the former San Francisco assistants now leading NFL teams, and those who preceded them in the last decade:

MIKE HOLMGREN: Holmgren won a Super Bowl and reached another with the Green Bay Packers before taking over as coach and general manager in Seattle. After taking Seattle to the playoffs in his first season there in 1999, Holmgren has not had the same kind of success with the Seahawks that he enjoyed in Green Bay - so far, at least. The Seahawks are off to a strong 2-0 start this season and are a consensus favorite to win the NFC West, with many considering them a top contender to be the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl come February.

JIM MORA: His coaching pedigree comes not only from the 49ers, but also his father, Jim Mora, who was an NFL head coach for decades with New Orleans and Indianapolis. Mora learned a lot during his seven seasons in San Francisco – the last five as defensive coordinator – and he brought with him to Atlanta the 49ers' offensive coordinator from last year, Greg Knapp, to keep some of the tricks of San Francisco's West Coast offensive system alive in Atlanta. Mora has the Falcons off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 1998.

MIKE SHANAHAN: Perhaps the most successful of San Francisco's coaching progeny, Shanahan led the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1998-99, becoming one of just five coaches ever to do so. Shanahan has led the Broncos to 98 victories over the past nine seasons, which is more than any other NFL head coach has compiled over the same span. Shanahan's Broncos have the most wins in pro football history over a two-year span (33 in 1997-98) and a three-year period (46 in 1996-98).

STEVE MARIUCCI: Mariucci is the only coach on this list who never was a Niners assistant. He came to San Francisco as head coach in 1997 and oversaw a tumultuous six-year period that ended with his dismissal after he won an NFC West title and reached the conference playoff semifinals in 2002. The popular Mooch didn't have to wait long to find a job after being fired by Niners owner John York. Detroit made him one of the richest coaches in NFL history a month later and, after a 5-11 start in his Detroit debut last year, Mariucci has rewarded Lions ownership with a 2-0 start this season, including a road victory over Chicago in the opener that ended Detroit's NFL-record road losing streak.

JEFF FISHER: San Francisco's defensive backs coach in 1992-93, Fisher has gone on to become the most successful coach in the history of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise. Fisher holds the franchise record for victories by a head coach, and his team's success over the past five years is unmatched by any coach in the league. During that period, the Titans have reached the playoffs four times, won two division titles, played in two AFC Championship games and reached Super Bowl XXXIV.

JON GRUDEN: Gruden got his first NFL job as an entry-level offensive assistant with the 49ers in 1990, and his career quickly hit the fast track after that. By 1998, he was head coach of the Oakland Raiders, and by 2002 - his first season as head coach in Tampa Bay - he had become the youngest coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl.

DENNIS GREEN: Green, the 49ers receivers coach in 1986-88, is starting over again this season in Arizona after a successful 10-year run in Minnesota, where he posted a 101-71 record as head coach and led the Vikings to eight playoff berths, four division titles and two NFC Championship games.

Other former San Francisco assistants to become NFL head coaches in past 10 years:

RICH BROOKS: Had two-year stint as St. Louis Rams coach in 1995-96.

PETE CARROLL: San Francisco's defensive coordinator in 1995-96 won a division title in the first season of his three-year stint as New England's head coach from 1997-99. Carroll now is guiding the nation's top-ranked college team at USC.

RAY RHODES: Now Holmgren's defensive coordinator in Seattle, Rhodes had a one-year stint as Green Bay's head coach after Holmgren left in 1999.

GEORGE SEIFERT: Was the NFL's all-time winningest coach when he was forced out as Niners coach in favor of Mariucci after the 1996 season. He never attained that kind of success during three seasons in Carolina.

BRUCE COSLET: The Niners' tight ends coach way back at the start of Walsh era in 1980, Coslet led Cincinnati to a 7-2 finish as head coach in 1996, which earned him four more non-winning seasons with the Bengals before he was sacked after a 0-3 start in 2000.

MARTY MORNHINWEG: Parlayed four seasons as Mariucci's offensive coordinator into a head-coaching gig at Detroit, where his teams went just 5-27 before he was replaced after two years by – you guessed it – Mariucci.

For those counting, that's two head coaches in a row for the Lions whose previous stop was San Francisco.

Niners Digest Top Stories