My First Coach

Inspiring Stories of NFL Quarterbacks and Their Dads


By Gary Myers

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Brady vs. Manning and dean of football writers – a book that explores the many interesting facets to NFL quarterbacks and their relationships with their fathers.

Tom Brady’s father is an estate planner. Jim Harbaugh’s father had a long career as a college coach. Archie Manning played fourteen years in the NFL and never made the playoffs, but his sons Peyton and Eli won a combined four Super Bowls. Joe Montana is considered by many to be the greatest quarterback of all time, but his two sons bounced around college football with limited success. Jameis Winston’s father supported his family working overnight highway construction in Alabama. Derek Carr’s father moved the family to Houston after Derek’s older brother, David, was drafted by the Texans.

My First Coach goes behind the scenes to explore the unique relationship between these and other quarterbacks and their fathers, as well as investigate various approaches to parenting through their stories. Can young athletes overcome helicopter parents? How did the kids with NFL aspirations deal with their fathers who’d already made it? What kind of pressure did they have to overcome? What kind of pressure did the father who succeeded put on his son to be an athlete? Would the expectations be lower and the results greater if the father was an attorney or doctor? Was it better for the fathers to be overbearing, or borderline disinterested?

My First Coach tells the compelling, real-life stories of some of the country’s most famous quarterbacks and how they took advantage of or overcame their relationships with their fathers.



Tom Brady was by his locker getting dressed for practice a few days before the New England Patriots would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in 2017. He had been suffering in silence for more than a year after his mother, Galynn, was diagnosed with cancer. His closest friends on the team and in the front office knew, as well as a few others. I asked him how his mother was doing.

"Better," he said. "Thanks for asking."

His father, Tom Brady Sr., had always been Tom's most reliable and valued support system, but he had been to just one game all season, and that was when the Patriots played the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, just a short ride from the Brady home in San Mateo. His father was incredibly devoted to his mother and didn't make any trips to Foxborough during the 2016 regular season, and he wouldn't be attending the championship game in Foxborough, either.

Tom understood. He knew his father had his priorities in the correct order.

"My dad is a great guy," he said quietly by his locker.

He has always felt that way. They have been each other's best friend. When Brady was deciding which college to attend, it came down to Michigan and Cal-Berkeley. Tom Sr. didn't want to influence his son's decision and then be held responsible if things didn't work out. Privately, he was rooting for Cal, just thirty-five miles from his front door. He figured his son would play football on Saturdays and play golf with him on Sundays.

Tom decided on Michigan. "It literally broke my heart," Tom Sr. said.

Eight weeks of psychological counseling to deal with the separation helped Tom Sr. He and Galynn attended 90 percent of Tom's games at Michigan, home and away, even when he wasn't starting. In his first four years as the Patriots starter, they were at every one of his games. Then it was just home games. Then it was just Tom Sr., as he combined business in the Boston office of his estate planning company with Patriots home games.

Brady Sr. was outspoken in defending his son during the NFL's $5 million investigation of deflated footballs in 2015 that became known as Deflategate. Tom Sr. was likely saying what Tom was thinking but couldn't say himself. Tom Sr. phoned into a San Francisco radio show and called Commissioner Roger Goodell "a flaming liar."

Even if Brady agreed with his father, he would never say it. "Dad," he said, "you're not doing me any favors."

It's one of the few times in Brady's life he could say that to his father.

My First Coach explores the important relationship between quarterbacks and their fathers. It provides many life lessons for boys and girls and mothers and fathers through the experiences of some of the best-known and most interesting quarterbacks of this generation.

What parent can't relate to working their schedule around driving their kids to baseball, football, basketball, and soccer practices and games? Or sitting in the stands trying not to make it too obvious which kid is theirs?

Every parent knows the anxiety of not seeing their son or daughter on the field and thinking the coach is being unfair. It is not limited to kids with minimal athletic ability. Joe Flacco, who would go on to become a first-round draft pick and Super Bowl MVP, couldn't get off the bench at Pitt and had to transfer to Delaware. Joe Montana's older son, Nathaniel, hardly played in high school.

There is more than one way to raise a quarterback. Some fathers want to be involved in every aspect of their sons' athletic lives. Some like to coach. Others take a step back. Even others are overbearing—confronting coaches and complaining about playing time. Indifference is not a trait I found in football fathers. Indifference is not what their sons wanted.

The closeness of the Brady family became evident on the Monday night of Super Bowl LI week in Houston in 2017. Brady was asked who his hero was.

"That's a great question," he said. "I think my dad is my hero, because he's someone I've looked up to every day."

As he was answering, Brady became choked up and teary-eyed. His mother's health issues and his father's dedication to her greatly contributed to his emotions.

"He was just a great example for me, and he was always someone who supported me in everything I did, to come home at night and bring me out, hit me ground balls and fly balls. I loved baseball growing up," Brady said. "And to have a chance to go to the 49ers game on the weekend with him and my mom and throw the ball in the parking lot before the games, those are memories that I'll have forever."

Tom Sr. and Galynn arrived in Houston for the Super Bowl at the end of the week after she received medical clearance to attend her first game of the year. When Brady made those comments about his father, Tom Sr. was back home in San Mateo and was deeply touched.

"I think every father relishes time with their sons, and you never know if the son relishes time with his father," he said. "For me to hear he respects me, and as much as I respect him, is the most satisfying feeling that I could ever have."

Like his son, Brady Sr. is emotional when discussing their relationship.

"I remember when he was still in high school and I would go in to wake him up in the morning so we could go play golf," he said. "It was always the greatest joy for me that he wanted to play golf with me. Years later, he made the comment that 'I never wanted to stay out late out on Friday night because I wanted to play golf with my dad Saturday morning.'"

He thought about that for a second. He wanted to grasp the full meaning. "It's more than gratifying," he said. "It's really a fulfillment of my dream. I love every minute I can spend with my son." He knows he's not the only father so fortunate that his son feels that way, and he never takes it for granted. "Many dads that I know love hanging with their kids," he said.

The end of Deflategate finally arrived when Brady was on the podium next to Patriots owner Robert Kraft accepting the Vince Lombardi Trophy from Goodell after he wiped out the biggest deficit in Super Bowl history—25 points—and beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. It was the end of two years of aggravation after Brady Sr. felt his son was falsely accused by Goodell. "There's been a lot of pent-up emotions for two years. It was a cathartic time," he said. "Everything that we could have possibly hoped for and more was realized in that moment seeing him up there on the podium."

Tom Brady Sr. has lived the dream of any parent. He has seen his son on the Super Bowl championship stage five times and in the Super Bowl seven times, giving him one more title and three more appearances than any other starting quarterback in NFL history. Yet, it's unrealistic for all fathers to see their sons achieve greatness. Tom Sr. is a lucky man.

My First Coach takes you on a memorable journey; there are success stories and stories of deep disappointment. There's a stop at Phil Simms's home office in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. Initially, my plan was to talk to him about his relationship with his two sons, Chris and Matt, both of whom made it to the NFL. I have known Simms since the New York Giants drafted him in 1979 but had never heard him talk about his own family life as a kid growing up in Louisville. His childhood was so compelling that it became a big part of the chapter about him in this book. I didn't know that his father was an alcoholic. I didn't know Phil had a brother and a sister who died way too young as adults.

I went to visit Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, the son of a lifelong coach. His parents, Jack and Jackie, moved to a house around the corner from Jim and his family in Ann Arbor in 2016, just before his second season back at his alma mater. Jack's outgoing personality is much closer to that of his other son, John, the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, than it is to Jim's. One thing is clear: Dad is thrilled that his boys went into the family business. Do you like hearing the Harbaughs' chant, "Who's Got It Better Than Us?" and then their teams reply, "Nobody"? You can thank Jack for that. One of Jack's ten-year-old buddies he played sandlot baseball with when they were kids came up with that, and it's become the Harbaugh rallying cry.

Joe Montana is proud that his sons, Nate and Nick, played college football, even if they attended seven colleges between them looking for the ideal spot to develop their talent. The boys did not have their father's skill set and were further burdened by the expectations of the family name. They survived difficult times that built character even if neither made it to the NFL. Joe felt guilty for years because he believed he had sent Nate to the wrong high school and not given him the best chance to succeed. He didn't make the same mistake with Nick.

I decided to include Ryan Fitzpatrick in this book. He may not have achieved the same level of success as other quarterbacks featured here, but none of the others have a degree from Harvard. He is the only Harvard quarterback to ever start a game in the NFL. What kind of upbringing did he have that allowed him to excel in academics—20 points short of a perfect SAT score—and then play more than ten years in the NFL?

Fathers can certainly provide inspiration and motivation. Brett Favre was very close to his father, Irv. Brett was in Oakland for a Monday night game against the Raiders in 2003. The day before the game, Irv Favre suffered a heart attack behind the wheel of his car in their hometown of Kiln, Mississippi, and drove into a ditch. Authorities believe the heart attack and not the accident killed him. Favre told teammates hours later that he would remain with the team and play in the game.

"For about five minutes there was some indecision on whether or not I was going to play," Favre said. "It didn't take long for me to say, 'You've got to play in this game.'"

He not only played, he was incredible. In the first half, he completed 15 of 18 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns. The Packers led 31–7. Favre finished 22 of 30 for 399 yards and four touchdowns in a 41–7 victory. He played because he knew his father, his biggest fan, would have wanted him to play. Favre said it was the best game he ever played in. It was also probably the best game he ever played.

Every pass was exactly where it was supposed to be.

"I love him so much and I love this game," he said after the game. "It meant a great deal to me, my dad, to my family; and I didn't expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching tonight."

Favre was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2016. He gave a speech that said much about his relationship with his father. Brett mentioned that Irv once had told Favre's wife, Deanna, that he wanted to be the one to introduce Brett at the Hall of Fame. Until then, Favre said, he had never thought much about the Hall of Fame, but he was determined to make his father's wish come true.

In his speech, he said, "My father was short on praise and long on tough love. If he was ever to praise me, I was not to hear it. It was always, 'You can do better.' He was always pushing me to be better. And that was okay. Never did I hear him say, 'Son, you've arrived. You're the best. That was awesome. Great game.' It was always, 'Yeah, but…'"

He said he never would have made the Hall of Fame without his father. Irv was also his high school coach. "He taught me toughness," Favre said. "Boy, did he teach me toughness. Trust me, there was no room for crybabies in our house. He taught me teamwork, and by all means no player was ever more important than the team."

After he played poorly in a game, he heard his father tell three of his assistant coaches in the middle of the week, "I can assure you one thing about my son—he will play better. He will redeem himself. I know my son. He has it in him."

Then Favre said in his Hall of Fame speech, "I never let him know that I heard that. I never said that to anyone else. But I thought to myself: 'That's a pretty good compliment, you know?' My chest kind of swelled up. And again, I never told anyone. But I never forgot that statement and that comment that he made to those other coaches. And I want you to know, Dad, I spent the rest of my career trying to redeem myself."

Aaron Rodgers, who succeeded Favre as the Packers starting quarterback in 2008, was close with his family for the early portion of his NFL career. Aaron's parents and his brothers were pictured on the field with Aaron when the Packers were in Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas, in February 2011. But Aaron and his family subsequently became estranged, and there was no communication starting in late 2014.

"Fame can change things," Ed Rodgers, a chiropractor and Aaron's father, told the New York Times. Summing up where the relationship was headed, he said, "It's complicated. We're all hoping for the best."

Irv Favre was able to see his son win a Super Bowl. Harrison Wilson III, known as Harry, wasn't so fortunate. His son Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, defeated Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl following the 2013 season and nearly defeated Brady the next year. Wilson's father died in 2010 at the age of fifty-five following complications from diabetes. Wilson III played wide receiver at Dartmouth, then went to law school in 1977 and was in the San Diego Chargers training camp in 1980 and nearly made the team.

"I always believe he's there with me, no matter what stadium we're playing in, home or away," Russell Wilson said. "I believe my dad has the best seat in the house."

There's likely been no father more overbearing than Marv Marinovich, who provides a treacherous blueprint of fathers who want their sons to succeed so badly it turns out to be detrimental. From the day Todd Marinovich was born on July 4, 1969, his father raised him to be a quarterback. He was dubbed "Robo QB." There were stories of Marv stretching Todd as an infant to become more limber. He put him through difficult conditioning drills and football workouts when he was probably too young for such a regimen. Marv controlled his son's diet, and he used computer analysis to try to build the perfect football player. Marv once talked about the vitamins and minerals he and his wife were taking even before Todd was conceived.

Marv was a former player at the University of Southern California and lineman for the Oakland Raiders and later was hired by Raiders owner Al Davis as the team's strength and conditioning coach. "To me, the Robo quarterback means the guy has all the equipment," Marv told the New York Times in 1990. "Everything in sync. Everything balanced. The perfect machine. From a training standpoint, not that Todd is that, but the appearance of that is a positive situation. You could never be too good with your mechanics of throwing. You can never be too focused, mentally. You can never have too good a vision. You strive for those things. The idea of Robo, the ultimate decision-making trigger machine."

Todd Marinovich went on to be USC's quarterback and was a first-round draft choice of the Raiders in 1991. Favre went in the second round, nine spots after Marinovich. Robo QB? "I don't know what that really means," Todd told the New York Times. "I think people can get the false idea of what I'm all about."

He never outwardly resented his father's role in his development. He once said people got the wrong impression of Marv. But he lasted only two years with the Raiders and his NFL career was over. Eight touchdown passes. He later played in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. He's battled drug issues, and in October 2016 he was charged in California with trespassing, public nudity, and drug possession after he was found naked in the backyard of somebody he did not know.

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston have a long way to go before they have to start thinking about their Hall of Fame speeches. But as two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, it was important to tell the stories of their relationships with their fathers in My First Coach.

It was almost as if Carr had two fathers: Rodger, his real-life father; and his older brother David, his football father. The strength of Winston's relationship with his father, Antonor, was tested when Jameis had off-the-field troubles at Florida State. His father never stopped believing in him.

My First Coach is not just about the fathers who coached their sons on the field; rather, it's actually more about how they coached them off the field and taught them how to succeed in football and in life.

Sometimes, a dad just being a dad works out better than even the most supportive father could have planned. What can result in greatness? Athletic skill is required, of course, but supportive parents who can put their child in the best position to succeed are essential. But there are different formulas that work, as My First Coach illustrates. Often, there is even more frustration from the parents than the quarterbacks if they are not on the field.

Brady Sr. still holds a grudge against Michigan coach Lloyd Carr for the way he felt he mistreated Tom. Carr redshirted him his freshman year in 1995, then Tom threw only twenty passes as a backup over the next two years. The Wolverines won the national championship with Brian Griese at quarterback in '97, so it's hard to second-guess Carr's decision. Clearly, Brady was not yet the Brady who has won five Super Bowls.

Brady started all twenty-five games, putting together a 20-5 record, in his last two seasons at Michigan, but even so, Carr put Tom in a position where he was constantly forced to look over his shoulder at top prospect Drew Henson. Carr got Henson into seven games in 1998, often just for one series to give him experience and keep him happy. Carr began the 1999 season by having Brady play the first quarter, Henson play the second, and then decide at the half who would play the rest of the game. Eventually, he scrapped that rotation and Brady played all the time.

"All I hoped for is Tommy would get a chance to play in college," Tom Brady Sr. said. "Then I hoped he would get a chance to start. Then I hoped he would have a chance to get drafted in the pros and carry a clipboard for two to three years. To think he has reached the pinnacle of his world is beyond anybody's expectations, beyond anybody's dreams."

Brady has played for Bill Belichick, the best coach of this era. But the best coach of his life is also his hero and his best friend. His name is also Tom Brady. He was his first coach.


Who's Got It Better Than Us?

Jack Harbaugh was sitting on the Colts bench at the old RCA Dome in downtown Indianapolis hours before kickoff of the final game of the 1994 season.

The dance team was on the field. Maybe fifteen people were in the stands. Jack, the head coach at Western Kentucky, had driven 265 miles on I-65 North to Indianapolis the previous evening from Bowling Green. His team's season was over, so this was a rare opportunity to see his son Jim play in person. After staying with Jim in his hotel room on Saturday night, they grabbed some breakfast with the team in the morning and then began the short walk to the stadium.

"Oh my God, I forgot my playbook," Jim said.

That was not surprising. "That's Jim Harbaugh," his dad said. "We had to make a U-turn, go back, and get his playbook."

They arrived at the stadium, and Jim went into the locker room to put on his warm-up gear. Jack waited for him on the bench. Jim had started at quarterback during the previous week's victory against the Dolphins, but Browning Nagle was starting for the Colts that day against the Bills. The Colts were out of the play-offs, and they wanted to get a look at Nagle.

However, Nagle was awful and was benched after the first series of the third quarter and replaced by Harbaugh. It was a preview of the Captain Comeback nickname Jim earned the next season when he nearly completed a Hail Mary in the final seconds of the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, a loss that kept him out of the Super Bowl. He threw a touchdown pass on his first series against the Bills and led the Colts to 10 points in the third quarter in their 10–9 victory, which was secured when Buffalo's Steve Christie hit the right upright with a 46-yard field goal attempt on the final play.

The game was not memorable. What happened before the game was a highlight in the lives of Jack and Jim Harbaugh. They each remember the moment's every detail.

Jim came out of the locker room and walked over to his father.

"Come on, Dad, play catch with me," he said. "I need somebody."

The offer brought tears to Jack's eyes then and even now. As he was tossing the ball back and forth with Jim from 10 yards away, he had a flashback. It took Jack back in time to Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he was an assistant coach on Bo Schembechler's staff. Jack would put in a full day of work preparing for the weekend's game, but he was able to come home to the house on Anderson Avenue for dinner after practice wrapped up. He lived fewer than two miles from campus. Back in the day, coaches had to wait for the old celluloid film to be developed by the team photographers before they could study what had transpired in practice. They were back in their office by 7 p.m., running the projector.

First came "the catch."

"I would be sitting in this chair, all tired," Jack said. "All I wanted to do was get dinner, read the paper or do whatever, and then go back to work. These two kids would come up to me and say, 'Hey, Dad, let's play catch.'"

John is exactly fifteen months older than little brother Jim. When Jack was in his first season at Michigan, John was eleven and Jim was ten. The boys had endless energy. Jack was only thirty-four years old and early in a coaching career that would span forty-six years. He loved playing catch with his boys when he wasn't tired, but knowing he would be returning to work after dinner and grinding until 11:30 p.m., and then having to do it all over again the next day, well, "Oh my God, the last thing I want to do is play catch," he said.

Often, with accuracy not necessarily a priority for his sons, it really wasn't catch at all.

"A lot of times it seems like I am chasing the ball," Jack said. "It was more chase than it is catch. I would crawl out of the chair and we would play catch for about twenty minutes."

Only then could he return to work.

Now he was helping Jim warm up on the sideline in Indianapolis before an NFL game. Jim was thirty-one years old. Jack was fifty-five. He thought about their catches in Ann Arbor and realized all that had really changed was that they were older now and the catch was in an NFL stadium. They had just taken their game of catch from the backyard to the big time. Imagine that.

"He had tears coming down," Jim said.

Jim recalled coming into the game early. He remembered he helped the Colts win the game. He kind of thought it was against the Bills, but he wasn't sure. "But I remember playing catch with my dad before the game," he said.

All these years later, Jim, too, gets emotional telling the story.

"Yeah," he said. "Just the power of catch."

Jim Harbaugh learned many things from his father that he has found to be useful as a father himself. He has seven children, three with his first wife, Miah, and four with his second wife, Sarah. His oldest child, Jay, is twenty-eight, and after working for his uncle John with the Ravens, he is Jim's running backs and assistant special teams coach at Michigan. His youngest child, John, was born on January 11, 2017.

Jim thinks back to the days in the backyard with his father and brother and to that precious day on the field in Indianapolis. He knows the lesson he will carry with him the rest of his life. "Play catch with your kids no matter how tired you are when you come home from work," he said. "That's a metaphor. You might be playing dolls, you might be climbing a tree, doing the things they want to do. Take them to things. Show them things. Take them to ball games. Most importantly, believe in them, because if you don't, who else is going to, and how else are they going to believe in themselves?"

"Who's got it better than us? Noo-body."

Certainly nobody had it better than Jack Harbaugh the day he was down on the field at the RCA Dome playing catch with Jim.

The Harbaugh family slogan came to life on a hot-selling T-shirt at the M Den in Ann Arbor, where Jim Harbaugh has returned to his alma mater as head coach. He shouts the question in the Michigan locker room and his players enthusiastically answer. John Harbaugh, the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, has made it the motto in his locker room.

The football translation?

"You're really telling your team, 'I believe in you.' Who could have it better than us? Right?" Jim said. "What coaches could have it better? Then, when they say it back and answer, 'Nobody,' they're saying, 'We believe in you.' I learned that's part of self-talk. It's a tool you have; a weapon you have. It's not fake. Self-talk is a powerful tool that you have."

The first time the Harbaugh boys heard their father ask the question, it was 1971 and they were in Iowa City. Their dad was an assistant coach at the University of Iowa, and the Harbaughs were a one-car family. Jim was eight years old and John was nine. A local dealership provided each of the Iowa coaches with a loaner car, and one day Harbaugh's wife, Jackie, was using it. It was also a day the boys were off from school and Jack was taking them to work.

The university was two miles from the house, on the corner of Court Street. The three guys came out of the house.

"Hey, Dad, where's the car?" Jim asked.

"No car today, boys; we're walking," Jack said.

He had a plan.

"John, grab a basketball; Jim, grab a basketball. One hundred with the right. One hundred with the left. Here we go," Jack said.

They dribbled their way to the university's football office. Along the way, Jack introduced them to what was to become the family mantra.

"Who's got it better than us?" he asked.

"Nobody, Dad, nobody," they answered.


On Sale
Aug 22, 2017
Page Count
288 pages

Gary Myers

About the Author

Gary Myers is the former NFL columnist for the New York Daily News and Dallas Morning News. He is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller Brady vs. Manning, an inside look at the greatest rivalry in NFL history. Myers has been covering the NFL since 1978. He was a long-time member of the cast of HBO's Inside The NFL and the YES Network's This Week in Football. Myers is a graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communication and a former adjunct professor at Syracuse. He is a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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