The College of William & Mary has produced three U.S. Presidents, but it’s not thought of as a football power. That hasn’t stopped W&M from sending a number of its own to the NFL coaching ranks.
The latest offshoots of the program face off for the second-straight year in a Sunday Night Football game when Mike Tomlin’s Steelers (11-1) travel to face Sean McDermott’s Bills (9-3). That Week 14 matchup also features Brian Daboll (Buffalo offensive coordinator) and Danny Smith (Pittsburgh special teams coordinator) from William & Mary, too. Tomlin and McDermott actually played together at W&M in the ’90s under head coach Jimmye Laycock before starting on their coaching paths toward what’s becoming an annual NFL meeting.
“When I think about many of my teammates,” Tomlin told ESPN in 2019, “Sean and I get a lot of attention because of the jobs we hold, but we have many teammates that are doing awesome things in many walks of life, that are just as ‘successful’ or more ‘successful’ than we are.”
The four coaches in Week 14’s Sunday Night Football from William & Mary aren’t the entire list. Hall of Famers Marv Levy and Lou Holtz both made coaching stops at W&M, as did former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. William & Mary was a key factor in the education of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler, and just the same for the former and current NFL coaches who called the Tribe home.
Former William & Mary players, coaches turned NFL coaches
Tomlin attended William & Mary as a wide receiver. He was a three-year starter who finished his college career with 101 catches, 2,046 yards and 20 touchdowns, and his 20 receiving TDs still rank fourth in William & Mary history.
After his playing career was through, Tomlin began his coaching career not far away at VMI. He worked his way through the college and pro ranks to become the Steelers’ head coach in 2007, and he’s the winningest Black head coach in NFL history.
McDermott was younger than Tomlin and was only a walk-on at W&M when the pair were on the roster together. McDermott eventually worked his way into a scholarship as a defensive back. He started every game in his final two seasons and compiled 322 tackles and four interceptions in his college career.
Upon graduation, McDermott joined the Philadelphia Eagles’ staff and was there for more than a decade. He was named the Bills’ head coach in 2017, and McDermott helped break Buffalo’s 18-year postseason drought.
Levy’s final college coaching job was at William & Mary, where he was in charge from 1964-1968. He twice earned Southern Conference Coach of the Year honors and compiled an overall 23-25-2 record as the W&M head coach.
After William & Mary, Levy became an NFL assistant coach before landing his first head-coaching job with the Chiefs in 1978. Levy is best known as the head coach of the Bills teams that went to four-straight Super Bowls and lost them all.
When Levy left William & Mary, it hired Holtz. It was his first collegiate head-coaching gig, and he was in charge from 1969-1971. He led W&M to the 1970 Southern Conference title and a berth in the Tangerine Bowl, where they lost to an undefeated Toledo team led by Chuck Ealey.
Holtz used his success at William & Mary to become the North Carolina State head coach before heading to the NFL to coach for the Jets. After a year with the Jets, Holtz returned to college and coached Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina. He then featured for a time on ESPN’s College Gameday.
Daboll’s first coaching job after playing at the University of Rochester was as a restricted earnings coach at William & Mary in 1997, the same year McDermott earned all-conference honors at safety. Daboll only stayed that one year before moving on to Michigan State and then the NFL.
In 2018, Daboll was hired as Buffalo’s offensive coordinator by McDermott. His role in turning Josh Allen into a rising star sets Daboll up to be a trendy coaching candidate in the coming year.
Smith joined William & Mary’s staff as a full-time assistant the same year Laycock became the head coach in 1980. They spent four years together there.
Eventually, Smith made it a William & Mary party in Pittsburgh when he joined Tomlin’s staff as special teams coordinator in 2013.
Quinn’s first coaching job came at William & Mary in 1994 with both Tomlin and McDermott on the roster. Quinn was the defensive line coach. He was also on the VMI staff the following year with Tomlin.
Quinn ascended the coaching ranks to be the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2015 to earlier in 2020. That included a Super Bowl appearance after he’d earned a ring as Seattle’s defensive coordinator in 2014.