NAPA, California — The Oakland Raiders added an impressive group this offseason. They brought in 10 men who combined for 102 years of playing experience with 15 Pro Bowl appearances, five All-Pro selections and one Hall of Fame induction.
That was just on the coaching staff.
The Raiders are hoping a staff filled with accomplished former NFL players like head coach Jack Del Rio, coordinators Ken Norton Jr. and Bill Musgrave, and position coaches like Rod Woodson and Mike Tice can pass along lessons learned in successful pro careers to a younger group of players still learning what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
"When you're a player, there's almost automatically a respect that you have for a person that's been in it, been in that fight, knows what it's all about," safety Charles Woodson said. "So I think the guys are responding to that. These guys, really they do have a wealth of knowledge. I think our teaching level this year has been at an all-time high, as far as guys understanding where they're supposed to be each and every play. I think that'll go well for us."
In all, 10 members of the Raiders coaching staff played in the NFL, including receivers coach Rob Moore, running backs coach Bernie Parmalee, defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, defensive assistant Sam Anno and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.
Oakland is the only team with former NFL players as head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. Even general manager Reggie McKenzie played 60 games at linebacker in the NFL.
"They have been there and done it, so when they say it, it has a little more clout to it," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "Initially it gets guys excited, but at the end of the day it's about knowing football. And we have a staff here full of guys that know football."
The Raiders don't need to look far to know that a coaching staff filled with star players doesn't necessarily translate to success on the field. Back in 2006, Oakland had eight former NFL players, including Hall of Famers Art Shell, Fred Biletnikoff, Willie Brown and Jackie Slater on a staff that went 2-14.
That's why a former player like Del Rio, who played for successful coaches like Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Green who never played in the NFL, knows it takes much more than on-field experience to be a respected coach.
"I don't put a lot of stock as a professional coach into that aspect of it," Del Rio said. "I am aware of it. Certainly the guys that have had experience that we've been in that seat, been in those pads, understand what we're going through. I think there is a different perspective that you have. But there are a lot of excellent coaches that never played the game, so I don't think it has a whole lot to do with whether you can coach or not."
Left tackle Donald Penn echoes that sentiment, saying he's played for great coaches who didn't play at a high level, like Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, and those who did, like Del Rio and Tice. Penn said that playing experience is just an added plus, not a necessity.
That comes into play when a coach tries to pass on a different technique or strategy to an experienced player often set in his ways.
"Coach Norton played linebacker for many years. He always says, 'I've done it so you don't have to,'" middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "There's so much knowledge he's passing down. You have to be a sponge and absorb it. Sometimes you want to get stubborn. But he's done it and he's lost those battles so we don't have to do it."
Tempering the excitement about the playing experience of the staff is this fact: Only three of the past 29 Super Bowl champions were coached by men who played in the NFL, with Sean Payton's playing career lasting only a short stint as a replacement player in 1987.
Many of the rest were led by coaching lifers who were better teachers, motivators or innovators than players, such as Bill Belichick, Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells.
"I believe that guys that didn't play can be just as good as a coach because they might have learned things from guys who did play," rookie receiver Amari Cooper said. "So it's not really a huge difference."