For most coaches in professional sports, their backgrounds are typical (not to say cliché). They are either former players brought in to connect with the athletes or, in the case of the NFL, men who grew up in football families and worked their way up through the ranks from position coach to coordinator to, finally, head coach. Boooooooring.
Then there are guys whose route to the NFL was anything but typical. Perhaps they used to work with Navy SEALs. Perhaps they were once a competitive surfer. Here are three coaches and two GMs who have the strangest backgrounds in their respective leagues.
Shaun Huls, Director of Sports Science and Reconditioning for the Philadelphia Eagles
When Chip Kelly left the University of Oregon to take over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, an innovative offense wasn’t the only thing he brought with him. The inner workings of the Eagles’ organization are largely kept secret, but Kelly’s vision for how things should be run behind the scenes regarding training and nutrition are as progressive as his multiple read-based option offense.
One of the men Kelly hired was Shaun Huls, who was fresh off a stint as the strength and conditioning coach and combatives coordinator for—wait for it—the Navy Special Warfare. Whoa! Dig a little deeper. It turns out that Huls is also well versed in Brazillian Ju-Jitsu, and he had spent five years working with and rehabbing injured Navy SEALs. Now the Eagles’ director of sports science and reconditining, he gets to use his wealth of knowledge about the human body to create some of the biggest and fastest NFL players on the planet.
Michael Gervais, Sport Psychologist for the Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll consistently stresses the importance of the mental side of football. Alleviating pressure, living in the moment and refusing to give in are cornerstones of the coach’s philosophy. So Carroll brought in Michael Gervais as the team’s sport psychologist. Gervais doubles as the Director of DISC’s High-Performance Psychology in Los Angeles, and he has done things like helping a skydiver overcome claustrophobia caused by the equipment he wore to set a world record with a 23-mile free-fall.
If “high performance psychology” sounds intense, it truly is. Just check out this paragraph from Gervais’s bio:
As a California licensed psychologist specializing in high performance, he works in the trenches of high-stakes environments, where there is no luxury for mistakes, hesitation or failure to respond.
Before he got into psychology, Gervais was a competitive surfer living in Marina Del Ray, California, so he knows a thing or two about pressure.
Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets
Before he became the king of basketball analytics and the GM for a Rockets team bound for the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals, Daryl Morey was just a dude in an office. Armed with an MBA from the MIT Sloan School for Management and a computer-science degree from Northwestern, he was working for STATS, Inc., a company that provided what are now called advanced stats to sports teams and members of the media.
Morey shifted to a consulting firm call The Parthenon Group, which was commissioned in 2002 to help the new owners of the Boston Celtics make a smooth transition. He got his break in sports when the Celtics discovered how well he understood the NBA salary cap. In 2007, he was hired as the GM of the Houston Rockets where his analytics-driven approach has transformed the organization into his personal basketball lab experiment.
Jim Tomsula, Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers
The new coach of the San Francisco 49ers once lived out of his car. After working odd jobs such as delivering newspapers and repping for a food distribution company, he was an assistant coach at Catawba College (Salisbury, N.C.).
It was the mid-90s and Tomsula was making very little money, so he turned his vehicle into his humble abode. In 2006, he caught on as the head coach of the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe. A year later, he was brought in as the defensive line coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Now he’s the follow-up act to Jim Harbaugh, and a long distance away from using his front seat as a makeshift bed.
Pete D’Alessandro, General Manager for the Sacramento Kings
The current general manager of the Sacramento Kings does have a background in basketball (he began as a video coordinator for St. John’s College in 1986), but he’s had a few unusual gigs on his way to an NBA front office job. He enrolled in law school in 1994, then became a member of Congressman Rick Lazio’s re-election campaign team in 1996. He even spent time as a sports agent for awhile, working for Professional Management Associates out of D.C. Now he’s in charge of putting together a better roster around DeMarcus Cousins. What a ride.