Skip to main content

The many stages of new Lions QB coach Mark Brunell's playing career prepared him for coaching

Mark Brunell entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick (118th overall) by the Green Bay Packers in the 1993 NFL Draft after a terrific college career at the University of Washington.

At the time, the Packers had a young Brett Favre as their starting quarterback and Brunell battled Ty Detmer to be the backup in Green Bay. Brunell spent his first two seasons in the NFL learning and developing as a backup before eventually being traded to Jacksonville in 1995 for a third and fifth round pick.

Brunell would spend the next eight seasons in Jacksonville, leading the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game in 1996, earning three Pro-Bowl nods and guiding Jacksonville to three playoff appearances in the Jaguars' first four seasons as a franchise. In 2013, Brunell was named to Jacksonville's Pride of the Jaguars, the team's Hall-of-Fame equivalent.

But it was those two seasons in Green Bay, learning how to be an NFL quarterback, that helped mold a 19-year NFL playing career for Brunell that also included stops in Washington, New Orleans and the New York Jets as well.

It was those early years when Brunell learned the value of building relationships and that developing all the players in that quarterback room, not just the starter, is so critically important. It's something he plans to bring to Detroit as the Lions new quarterbacks coach. 

"It starts with the relationship," Brunell told Friday in a Zoom call. "Earning their trust, having their back, committing to each of the quarterbacks – the starter and the backups. That you're going to do everything in your power to take their game to the next level. 

"Every quarterback has shortcomings, some areas where they need to improve. I think every player is a process. The quarterback coach's job is really to get them to a place where they can't go on their own, and that's my job."

Brunell said the experience those first two years in Green Bay was perfect for him and he benefitted from being in the right place at the right time.

"I needed time," he said. "I had a really good (coaching) staff, in a system that fit me – west coast offense – and then I got to learn a lot from Brett Favre."

Those were the early days for Favre, a young gunslinger who could throw three touchdowns in a game just as easily as he could throw three interceptions. But Brunell said the thing he learned the most from Favre was how to play the game hard and to give everything he had when he was on the field. It's something he said translates into coaching.

Brunell couldn't discuss on the record the current quarterback situation in Detroit and the reported trade involving Stafford, Jared Goff and draft picks, since that trade can't be finalized until the new league year March 17. NFL rules don't permit coaches to discuss trades before they are official. But Brunell did say he thinks he can relate to just about any quarterback the Lions have in that room next season because of his experiences during his playing days. 

"What I hope resonates with the quarterbacks I get to coach is the fact that I've been in their shoes," he said. "I was a late-round draft pick, a backup for really half my career. I've been in a supporting role. I was a starter for a long time, been to the Pro Bowl, on a Super Bowl team, led the league in passing, so I had some really cool moments. I was the guy in Jacksonville for a long time.

"But where I think this will really hit home for these guys is that listen, I've been traded, I've been cut, I've been benched, I've been booed, I've been told, 'you're just not what we want,' I've been kicked to the curb. I've gone through just about anything an NFL quarterback can go through.

"So sure, I can identify with Jared Goff, or whoever is our starter, but I can also identify with the kid who's just new to the building, who's young and nobody really expects to even make a team. I've been that guy, too. I think players can respect that. I hope they can at least."

Brunell said it's always good business in the NFL to develop young quarterbacks.

That's something Detroit hasn't done over the last 12 years Matthew Stafford has been the team's franchise quarterback. Since 2009, when the Lions took Stafford No. 1 overall, Detroit's selected just two quarterbacks – Brad Kaaya in the sixth round in 2017 and Jake Rudock in the sixth round in 2016. Both players were eventually released by the team.

"That's the hard part," Brunell said. "You get a young player in here and he does well and after two, three, four years he's sought by a lot of different teams and they want him. You'd love to be able to hold onto all your great quarterbacks, but that's just the nature of the business, teams are always looking to upgrade at that position.

"Whether that happens, obviously you'd really like that to happen, but I don't know if that's the goal. The goal is if I have a quarterback that we drafted in the sixth round, regardless of where he's going or what his future holds, however long I have that young man, one, there's a relationship that's built that lasts, but two, you take a quarterback and develop him. Your hope is he becomes a much better quarterback when he leaves than the day he showed up. That's my job."

Brunell is passionate about the development of the position under his, head coach Dan Campbell’s and new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn's stewardship.

"I recognize this is a great opportunity," Brunell said. "First of all, I'm grateful that Dan Campbell reached out to me and that he wanted me to be his quarterbacks coach. I'm grateful Anthony Lynn felt the same way. I'm excited about it.

"I told the offensive staff not too long ago that we've all had great football moments. A lot of the guys on the staff have won Super Bowls as players and coaches, a lot of experience there. Regardless of how long you played and coached, there's always those moments that you look back on, 'man, that was really cool.'

"I'm actually living in one of mine right now. I'm thankful for the time I played in the NFL, thankful for all those great memories and relationships, the success I had as a player on teams, but his is one of those moments that I'm absolutely thrilled about." 

Detroit's coaching staff have been evaluating their players and the free-agent class the past couple weeks, and begin to really dive into the draft class next week. Brunell has loved the process and said he can't wait to start working with the players in the spring. He has a plaque in his office that reads: "The thing about football, the most important thing, is that it's not just about football."

"I believe that," Brunell said of the quote. "We get to teach and coach and mentor and be friends with these young men… and we get to use football to do it. It's pretty cool."

Related Content