To Be an NFL Assistant Coach You Must Have the Right Last Name

Being a football coach isn’t an easy profession. To get into coaching, you need to be a special breed. For college coaches, most start as graduate assistants. Being a “GA” isn’t an easy task. Most are part-time students. That means along with doing the grunt work for the football team, they also have to keep up on their studies. Most don’t earn salaries. Instead, they are paid through tuition, room, and board.  It’s all about working their way up the chain. If someone wants to crack in as an NFL assistant coach, that is even harder. Many begin as administrative assistants. That means you do whatever the head coach, position coaches, coordinators, or even analysts want you to do, including getting coffee. If someone is good at that, they might make their way up as a quality control position, something that isn’t easy to achieve. Or there is another way. If someone is related to the right person, they might have the golden ticket being an NFL assistant coach.

A Family Affair as an NFL Assistant

If you take a look at NFL assistants around the league, you will notice some very familiar last names. That’s because many of the current NFL assistants are related to current or former NFL coaches, or relatives of current or former NFL executives.

Nepotism has been a big part of the NFL coaching industry throughout the history of the NFL. The practice isn’t anything new when it comes to being an NFL assistant coach. Many in the business believe that having an assistant who has “come up in the business” is a major asset. The thinking behind this is that if they grew up in the business they will have a better chance of succeeding than an NFL assistant who doesn’t have a relative who has NFL coaching or front office ties. In some cases, they are right, while others, well, not so much.

Here is a look at NFL franchises that are employing relatives of current or former NFL assistants, as well as current or former NFL front office executives.

New England Patriots

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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t have to look far to find someone for family dinner. He currently employs two of his sons, Steve Belichick and Brian Belichick, on his staff. Steve is the outside linebackers coach while Brian is in charge of the safeties. The only coaching positions they have held have been under their father.

Coaching the Patriots wide receivers is Mick Lombardi. Mick is the son of former longtime front office executive Michael Lombardi, who worked with Bill Belichick while he was the Cleveland Browns head coach and with the Patriots. Unlike the Belichick sons, Mick Lombardi has been an assistant with other NFL teams (New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers) as well as at Fordham University.

Deron Mayo is an assistant strength and conditioning coach. He was hired back in 2018 by the Patriots, his first job as a strength and conditioning assistant. His brother, Jerod Mayo, is the Patriots linebackers coach, and a former linebacker for Bill Belichick.

Baltimore Ravens

This past off-season, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh hired a very familiar name to be his inside linebackers coach. Rob Ryan is the son of former longtime NFL assistant and former head coach Buddy Ryan. He is also the twin brother of former NFL head coach Rex Ryan. While Rex Ryan had some success as an assistant as well as a head coach, Rob Ryan hasn’t been as lucky. He has been a defensive coordinator for four different NFL teams. Each stop didn’t bring much success.

Las Vegas Raiders

Similar to Belichik, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden employs a son on his staff. Deuce Gruden is an assistant strength and conditioning coach. He has held that position the past four seasons for the Raiders.

Dallas Cowboys

John Fassel is the special teams coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys under head coach Mike McCarthy. Fassel is the son of former New York Giants head coach John Fassel. Prior to being hired by Cowboys, he was the special teams coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and the Raiders. He was once the assistant special teams coach for the Ravens, where his father Jim was the offensive coordinator.

Washington Football Team

Washington head coach Ron Rivera has four NFL assistants who have relatives who are either former or current NFL assistants.

Rivera hired Luke Del Rio in 2020 as his offensive quality coach. He is the son of Washington’s current defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio. Prior to being hired by Washington, he served as a high school tight end coach in California. Yes, he went from being a position coach for a high school team to being an NFL assistant coach.

Washington’s current offensive coordinator is Scott Turner. Scott is the son of former NFL assistant and head coach Norv Turner. This is only his second job where his dad wasn’t a part of the coaching staff. He was the quarterback coach for Minnesota Vikings and the Carolina Panthers, while his dad was the offensive coordinator.

Washington’s defensive quality coach is Vincent Rivera. He is the nephew of current Washington head coach Ron Rivera. His only NFL experience has been with the Panthers and now Washington, both with his father as the head coach.

Serving as Rivera’s quarterback coach is Ken Zampese who is the son of long time former NFL assistant Ernie Zampese.

Chicago Bears

Shane Toub is the Chicago Bears defensive quality control coach under head coach Matt Nagy. Toub is the son of longtime Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub. The connection between Nagy and Shane Toub is that Nagy worked on the same staff as Dave Toub while he was an assistant for the Chiefs.

Detroit Lions

Seth Ryan is the assistant wide receivers coach under first-year head coach Dan Campbell. His father is Rex Ryan, also the nephew of Rob Ryan, and the grandson of Buddy Ryan. Prior to joining the Detroit Lions, he worked as an offensive quality control assistant with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur employs three NFL assistants who currently have or had relatives who worked in the NFL.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is the son of long-time former NFL assistant coach Paul Hackett. Paul Hackett is one of the founders of the west coast offense. Prior to coming to Green Bay, Nathaniel Hackett served as the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator.

The Packers inside linebackers coach is Kirk Olivadotti. His father, Tom Olivadotti, was a long time defensive NFL assistant coach. His father served as a defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins under legendary head coach Don Shula.

Recently, LaFleur hired Joe Barry as the Packers defensive coordinator. Barry isn’t related to any current or former NFL assistants by blood, but he is by marriage. Barry is married to current Raiders NFL assistant Rod Marinelli’s daughter. He served as Marinelli’s defensive coordinator while he was the Lions head coach. In 2008, the last year for both Barry and Marinelli with the Lions, the Lions finished 0-16.

Minnesota Vikings

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer employs his son, Adam Zimmer, as his defensive coordinator. He has served as an assistant for his father since 2013, although he worked for two other NFL teams prior to being hired by his dad, where his dad wasn’t on the staff.

This off-season, Klint Kubiak was hired as the Vikings new offensive coordinator. He replaces, you guessed it, his father Gary Kubiak who retired this off-season. Prior to joining the Vikings as their quarterback coach, he served as the Denver Broncos quarterbacks, under his father.

Carolina Panthers

Another Michael Lombardi son is an NFL assistant. Matt Lombardi serves as the assistant quarterback coach for the Panthers. Prior to joining the Panthers, he worked for the Dolphins

Los Angeles Rams

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Sean McVay has had a very successful run as the Rams head coach since his hiring in 2017. McVay is another product of being related to somebody who is linked to the NFL. His grandfather, John, was a long time NFL executive.

McVay’s tight ends coach is Wes Phillips. Phillips is the son of former long time NFL assistant and former NFL head coach Wade Phillips. His grandfather is former NFL head coach Bum Phillips. He worked previously with the Cowboys and Washington, where his dad worked. Then, when his dad was hired by the Rams, Wes followed. His father was let go by McVay after the 2019 season, but Wes stayed on.

The linebackers coach for the Rams is Chris Shula. He is the grandson of legendary coach Don Shula, and the son of former Cincinnati Bengals head coach David Shula.

Denver Broncos

Speaking of the Shula family, Chris isn’t the only member that is an NFL assistant.

His uncle, Mike Shula, is the quarterback coach for the Broncos. Mike has been an offensive coordinator for three different NFL franchises. Like David, he is the son of Don Shula.

San Francisco 49ers

Kyle Shanahan is the son of former long time NFL head coach Mike Shanahan. Kyle Shanahan worked as his father’s offensive coordinator with Washington from 2010-2013. However,  that is the only time he worked for his father. Prior to being hired as the 49ers head coach, he was the offensive coordinator of four different NFL franchises.

Shanahan just hired a new defensive quality coach this off-season, Klay Kubiak, son of Gary Kubiak. Gary Kubiak was a long time NFL assistant coach under Kyle Shanahan’s dad.

Houston Texans

This off-season, the Houston Texans hired former Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith as their new defensive coordinator. Smith brought with him as his linebackers coach Miles Smith, his son.

Before being hired by the Texans, Miles Smith was the linebackers coach for the University of Illinois, under his father who was the head coach.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll employs one of his sons as his assistants. Nate Carroll is the Seahawks wide receivers coach. Not shockingly, he has only served as an NFL assistant under his dad. He came to Seattle with no football coaching experience.

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