One surefire way to create a buzz and re-energize a program is to name a former star player as the new head coach. That is exactly what Texas Tech did in December when it announced that former record-setting quarterback Kliff Kingsbury would take over the reins of the Red Raiders football program. After starting his coaching career only five years ago as a quality control assistant at the University of Houston, Kingsbury—who at 33 years old is now the youngest head coach of any BCS automatic qualifier school—rose quickly, ultimately leaving his job as offensive coordinator at Texas A&M to accept an offer to return to his old stomping grounds.
Besides the increased media attention, another major benefit of having a former player lead a team is the fact that the previously established strong ties may increase the chances of a long-lasting tenure, which is especially important in today’s college football, a sport notorious for its constantly moving coaching carousel.
This trend is not unique to college football, however. It is becoming increasingly popular in several sports— both collegiate and professional—and the familiarity between teams and former players has produced some very positive results recently. Below are some notable examples across the sports landscape today.
Brandon Miller – Butler Bulldogs | NCAA Basketball
The most recent instance of this trend is Butler’s hiring of former player Brandon Miller. After the Boston Celtics hired away Brad Stevens, who had been the crown jewel of the college basketball coaching ranks for several years, the Bulldogs allowed little time for speculation as they quickly promoted Miller to head coach. A diminutive and heady guard in his playing days, Miller was a double-digit scorer in his three years with the program in the early 2000s, including a senior season in which he lead the team to its first Sweet 16 in over 40 years. Hired as an assistant just days before being named head coach, Miller will now have his work cut out for him as he makes the transition to first-time head coach in the middle of the critical July recruiting period just months before the Bulldogs will make their debut in the revamped Big East.
Jason Kidd – Brooklyn Nets | NBA
The Nets have been grabbing all sorts of headlines since moving to Brooklyn and did so again recently when they signed newly retired former star point guard Jason Kidd. Kidd was the face of the franchise when it was based in New Jersey, averaging 14.6 points, 9.1 assists, and 7.2 rebounds per game, while being selected to five NBA All-Star games in his six and a half seasons playing for the team. The floor general, who was a member of the Nets’ chief rival, the New York Knicks, last season, will now be asked to lead the team from the bench. With a loaded roster that will include new additions Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett—who, at 37, is only three years younger than his new head coach—Kidd will be tasked with once again leading the Nets to the NBA Finals, something he did twice as a player in 2002 and 2003.
Mike Munchak – Tennessee Titans | NFL
Like Kidd, Munchak’s playing days with the team he now coaches took place in a different city; however, he has spent his entire professional career with the organization, from its days in Houston all the way to its transition to Tennessee. After being drafted in the first round by the Houston Oilers in 1982, Munchak enjoyed a 12-year career as a starting offensive lineman for the team, where he was selected to nine Pro Bowls and named to the NFL All-Pro team 10 times. Munchak then joined the Oilers coaching staff one year after retirement, holding multiple coaching positions before ultimately being promoted to head coach of the Tennessee Titans in 2011.
Joe Girardi – New York Yankees | MLB
Girardi is one of very few with the distinction of winning a World Series title with the same team as both a player and a manager, and has a place in Yankees lore as the catcher who caught Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter in 1996, as well as David Cone’s perfect game in 1999. Girardi won three World Series titles with the Yankees as a player, including a 1996 championship in which he drove in the runs that would ultimately win the franchise its first title in nearly 20 years. In 2009, a decade after winning his last World Series as a player, the Yankee legend took home his first as a manager.
Girardi is not the only manager in charge of his former team in the MLB today—Mike Matheny (St. Louis Cardinals), Robin Ventura (Chicago White Sox), and Mike Redmond (Miami Marlins) have also joined the ranks in recent seasons.
Fred Hoiberg – Iowa State Cyclones | NCAA Basketball
The Cyclones were ecstatic to welcome back Hoiberg, a player whose immense popularity led to his being nicknamed “The Mayor” during his time in Ames in the early ‘90s. After leading Ames High School to a state title his senior year, Hoiberg attended nearby Iowa State, where he scored nearly 2,000 points in his illustrious career and is still among the school’s all-time leaders in almost every major statistical category. The local product wasted little time putting Iowa State basketball back on the map after being named head coach in 2010, breaking a seven-year drought by leading the Cyclones to the NCAA Tournament in just his second season.