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Super Bowl coaches followed similar paths

By A. James Memmott

February 7, 2010 at 8:14am

One way of getting ahead in most professions is to work hard, gain experience and acquire some mentors along the way.

Both head coaches in today’s Super Bowl adhered to this formula to get where they are.

Jim Caldwell, 55, of the Indianapolis Colts, spent more time coaching at the college level than Sean Payton, 46, the coach of the New Orleans Saints.

But each man paid similar dues to reach the top.

After playing defensive back at the University of Iowa, Caldwell was as a graduate assistant in the football program at Iowa.

He became an assistant coach in 1978 at the University of Southern Illinois.

Caldwell then was an assistant in three college programs before going to Penn State University as an assistant in 1986, the year that school won a national championship.

This move linked Caldwell with Penn State’s legendary head coach, Joe Paterno, the first of two key influences upon his coaching career.

After seven seasons at Penn State, Caldwell became head coach at Wake Forest University in 1993. He lasted eight years, compiling a record of 26 wins and 63 loses, before he was fired after the 2000 season.

Though he lost the job, Caldwell said the time at Wake Forest was positive. “It gave me an opportunity to come in and run my own program,” he told reporters this week. “It was maybe one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

After Wake Forest, Caldwell linked up with another mentor, as he became an assistant to Tony Dungy, at the time the head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Fired at the end of the 2001 season, Dungy soon became head coach of the Colts, bringing Caldwell with him as the quarterbacks coach.

Under Dungy, the Colts enjoyed consistent success, winning the Super Bowl in 2007. Dungy retired in January 2009, and Caldwell was named head coach.

A star quarterback at Eastern Illinois, New Orlean’s Payton had a brief professional career, first as a quarterback in the Arena Football League, the equivalent of a minor league in baseball.

In 1987, he got a chance in the NFL as a replacement player with the Chicago Bears during the strike of regular players. That didn’t lead to a regular spot, and Payton went from the NFL to one season of semi-pro action in England.

He was then an assistant coach in four college programs before he became the quarterbacks coach for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1997.

Two years later, he went to the New York Giants, where he was the quarterbacks coach.

In 2002, as the team’s offensive coordinator, Payton turned the Giants offense into a high-scoring machine, only to have the play-calling duties taken from by Jim Fassel, the head coach.

Payton resigned at the end of the season, but was quickly hired as a quarterbacks coach by Bill Parcells, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Parcells, who won two Super Bowls as coach of the New York Giants, has a track record of preparing assistant coaches to become head coaches in the NFL.

His proteges include Super Bowl winning coaches Bill Bilichick of the New England Patriots and Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants.

Payton, who became head coach of the Saints in 2006, credits Parcells, a demanding boss, with helping prepare him for his current job.

“I learned an awful lot in a short period of time, three years,” Payton told reporters this week. “When you think about that opportunity for a young guy to work with a Hall of Fame coach, it’s invaluable.”

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