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NFL coaching: all in the family

Sideline jobs in the NFL become a family affair

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From the Shulas to the Schottenheimers, the Tices to the Knoxes, coaching in the NFL can be a family business. Why, you can almost hear Archie and Edith singing in the background.

For decades, sons have followed fathers onto NFL sidelines. Brothers have worked with brothers. Fathers have coached their sons as players.

It's that way with almost any NFL roster today. Take the Redskins, for example.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer has brother Kurt and son Brian on the payroll. Kurt is the defensive coordinator and Brian handles the quarterbacks.

Marty, who also coached the Browns and Chiefs and has employed Kurt for 13 seasons, interviewed former Bills coach Wade Phillips before he chose Kurt for the Washington job.

"Had he not been my brother, it would have been a decision that was very easy," Marty says. "It's not an easy choice. You obviously face the possibility that if things don't go well, there's criticism. But that's what our business is about.

"He is very comfortable in the position, and certainly I am."

Because Kurt has so much coaching experience, claims of nepotism about his hiring have not been heard in Washington. But Brian is a relative newcomer to the business. He had to lobby his father to get the job and admits he was concerned.

"I thought about it initially when I took the job, what people's perception of it would be, but that lasted a day or two," Brian says. "Then you get here and get busy and you don't think about it. He and I have a great relationship in this building, at home, on the road, wherever it is.

"I never think about it, other than the times when people ask me questions about it — or when I go home to the house and start talking to my mom."

One of Schottenheimer's closest friends in football is Don Shula, the sport's winningest coach. Shula also had familial connections on NFL sidelines, helping son David get started.

David Shula played wide receiver at Dartmouth and spent a season on the Colts. But when the Dolphins had an emergency opening for an offensive assistant, Don asked Dave. Then Don hired Dave full time, and it eventually led to Dave becoming head coach in Cincinnati.

Mike Shula was a quarterback at Alabama who spent one year with Tampa Bay. Bucs coach Ray Perkins then gave Mike a choice to remain as a backup quarterback or become an offensive assistant coach. Mike took the coaching position and eventually became the Bucs' offensive coordinator.

"It was great for me, too," Don says. "I'm very proud of having them coach when I coached. When I coached against Dave when he was with the Bengals, it was the only time in NFL history that a father coached against his son as head coaches.

"They have gone their own way as coaches, which they had to do. But I enjoyed having the opportunity to talk to them and teach them and we've had discussions in general. But never on how to do things as a coach."

That is a no-no. Advising kin is fine, but there's a limit.

Acting like kin also can be overdone. Mike and John Tice of the Vikings recognized that very quickly.

"When we're at the office, we're not brother-brother, believe me," says John Tice, who works as Vikings tight ends coach while Mike works with the offensive line. "It's maybe after work, maybe having a soda, that you can talk a little bit deeper than if we weren't brothers. But here, it's all business. He's all business. I'm all business."

Mike said he has to make sure he "disconnects the fact that he's my younger brother and act the way I would professionally with anyone."

"Sometimes I have to chirp at him. We had to have a sit-down meeting to make sure that, 'When we're at work, you're not my brother.' We have to separate the two," Mike said.

Mike actually got John into coaching. Both played in the NFL as tight ends, but John went into other businesses after retiring in 1992, while Mike became a coach.

"Mike got me in the door, and I took care of it after that," says John, who became an offensive assistant on the Minnesota line, and worked with special teams and breaking down film. Last year, he was promoted to tight ends coach.

Chuck Knox wasn't directly responsible for his namesake son getting into coaching. Chuck Jr. coaches linebackers in Minnesota, where defensive assistant Trent Walters is the father of receiver Troy. Oh, yes, Vikings coach Dennis Green's son works in Cleveland's front office.

Knox Sr. had a career record of 186-147-1 (.558 percentage) with the Rams, Seahawks and Bills and guided 11 teams to the playoffs.

"I wasn't sure if he understood the hours involved and the instability involved," Knox says. "So I didn't exactly encourage him at first."

But the son persisted.

"I said, 'Dad, this is what I see myself doing.' Ever since I was little, I've been around the sport, especially at the professional level, because my father was a professional coach by the time I was born. It seemed like a natural fit to try to continue on."

And keep it all in the family.