Thomas McGaughey wants to be a head coach in the NFL, and he’s not hesitant to say so.
"That’s always been my goal," he said.
More than any other game in which he has ever taken part, Sunday’s game against the Ravens may give him more hope that his aspirations can become a reality. That’s because it will feature two head coaches — Joe Judge of the Giants and John Harbaugh of the Ravens — who made the rare jump he would like to execute, from special teams coordinator to head coach.
"Any time you can take that stigma away from special teams coaches not being able to be head coaches, that’s always good," McGaughey said this past week. "These two guys are kind of breaking that stereotype, the stigma."
They’re not the first, obviously. There are plenty of head coaches who have risen from special teams ranks. Dick Vermeil, Marv Levy, Mike Ditka and even Bill Belichick spent time coaching those units before they became head coaches.
It’s actually a fertile corner of NFL coaching staffs because those are people who lead players across various position groups and generally are in charge of developing younger players.
Still, when their openings at head coach come about, most teams look more to offensive and defensive coordinators than they do special teams coordinators.
"I’m actually surprised that more teams don’t go that route," Harbaugh said. "There have been some great, great coaches who have been coaching special teams in this league for a long time all the way back to when I first broke in in '98 . . . just amazing coaches that never really got a shot."
He mentioned by name Pete Rodriguez, Scott O’Brien, Brad Seely and Joe Avezzano.
"There are guys in this league now, too," he added. Including McGaughey.
"I feel like I’ve been around for a long time," said McGaughey, 47, making his case perhaps even for the upcoming coaching cycle. "I’ve had opportunities to be around a lot of good head coaches that have had success and that have done some good things in their career. We’ll see. When those opportunities come up, we’ll see what happens."
And of course, there is one recent one who did overcome those odds. The Giants named Judge their head coach in January.
Harbaugh was a fan of the hire. "That was good to see," he said.
McGaughey concurred. In a copycat league like the NFL, the more special teams coordinators who are successful as head coaches, the more who will be hired in the future.
Both Harbaugh and Judge did have other experiences besides special teams that added to their resumes. With the Eagles, Harbaugh coached defensive backs early in his career. Last year, besides special teams, Judge was the wide receivers coach for the Patriots. But McGaughey said he does not think such diversity is a requirement.
"I don’t think it’s necessary," he said. "Your experiences are what they are. [Harbaugh and Judge] were still prepared to do the job. I don’t think coaching a wide receiver position or coaching a DB position changed who they are as coaches."
It did, however, help change their titles as coaches. And that’s ultimately what McGaughey wants.
"My thing is I take care of the job I have," he said. "The one thing that I’ve always learned in this coaching profession, all the jobs you ever chase, you never get. You take care of the one that you have and the next one will jump in your lap.
"I’m not worried about trying to chase a head-coaching position. In God’s time, I will get what I want. I try to do the best that I can every day helping this team get better. If that opportunity comes, then it comes. If it doesn’t come, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing."