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Mailbag leftover: Does Nevada have rarest coaching situation in the NCAA?

Jay Norvell
Jay Norvell is one of only seven former NFL players to be head coaches n the FBS. (NSN file)

On occasion, a Monday Mailbag question warrants its own headline and a complete story dedicated to itself, which we call a "Mailbag leftover." I got such a question this week. Reader Ryan Lawrence asked how many Division I schools have a head football coach who played in the NFL and a head basketball coach who played in the NBA. That required a lot of research, but I finally have the answer.

To start, let's outline the professional histories of Nevada's Steve Alford and Jay Norvell, each of whom reached the top of their professions.

After an All-American career at Indiana, Alford was the 26th pick of the 1987 NBA draft, which was controversial because the hometown Indiana Pacers bypassed him with the 11th selection to draft Reggie Miller. It worked out for the Pacers. Alford, instead, landed with the Dallas Mavericks as the third pick of the second round. Alford played 169 games with three starts over four seasons in the NBA with the Mavericks and Golden State Warriors. He averaged 4.4 points per game in the NBA.

Norvell was an All-Big Ten defender at Iowa who had a brief NFL career. During the NFL's 1987 season, there was a three-week player strike in Weeks 4, 5 and 6 of the season. Norvell was a so-called "scab player" who broke the picket line to play for the Chicago Bears (known as the “Spare Bears”) for those three weeks before the strike ended in the Week 7. Norvell, a linebacker, played well enough in that three-game showcase (he had two-sack outings in his first two NFL games) to get added to the roster later that season. He appeared in six NFL games in total.

So Nevada hits the criteria of their football and basketball coach playing in the NFL and NBA, respectively. How rare is it? Pretty damn rare. In fact, it's rare for an FBS head coach to have played in the NFL. Only seven of the 130 FBS head coaches played at least one NFL game, those men being Norvell, Purdue's Jeff Brohm, Nebraska's Scott Frost, Arizona State's Herm Edwards, Minnesota's P.J. Fleck, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Michigan's Jim Harbaugh. Norvell is the only non-Power 5 coach in that group. Nick Rolovich (Washington State), Luke Fickell (Cincinnati), Josh Heupel (UCF) and Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern) all made training camps or better but didn't appear in NFL games.

(Oddly, there are a lot of FBS head coaches who share names with former NFL players but weren't actually that player. Those coaches include Tim Lester, Doug Martin, Gary Andersen, Jonathan Smith, Matt Wells, Bill Clark, Matt Campbell, Mike Leach, Mack Brown and Brian Kelly. That's 10 FBS coaches with the same name as former NFL players.)

But to get back to your actual question, there are five Division I schools who fit your criteria, including Nevada, Nebraska (Fred Hoiberg in basketball), Michigan (Juwan Howard in basketball), Utah (Larry Krystkowiak in basketball) and Arizona State (Bobby Hurley in basketball). So five of the seven schools with former NFL players as their football coach also have former NBA players as their basketball coach.

What did we learn from this? There aren't many former NFL players who are head coaches in college (that's weird). There are a lot of former NBA players who are head coaches in college (as expected). And Nevada having both makes it the only Group of 5 school in the nation with that distinction.

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