Detroit Lions coaches as players: Quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell
As we start to wind down our series looking at the playing careers of Detroit Lions coaches, quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell lands on the docket.
As hinted at in previous editions of our series looking at the playing careers of the Detroit Lions coaches, head coach Dan Campbell seemed to prioritize (if only subconsciously) having former NFL players on his staff. For his quarterbacks coach, he went with Mark Brunell.
Brunell had only coached at the high school level, mostly as a head coach at a school in Jacksonville (2013-2020), before landing with the Lions in 2021. But where he may lack in coaching experience right now, he makes up for it in pure playing experience.
Brunell started two Rose Bowls as the quarterback at the University of Washington. His college career wasn’t quite what it could’ve been on the whole, due to injury and sharing time with Billy Joe Hobert. But the Green Bay Packers still took him in the fifth round (118th overall) of the 1993 draft.
Detroit Lions coaches as players: Mark Brunell
Brunell played in two games over two seasons in Green Bay, as the first in a run of Packers’ backups who basically never played as Brett Favre authored his epic record consecutive start streak. But the young lefty would get his chance soon enough.
As they embarked on their first season as an expansion franchise in 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded two draft picks to Green Bay for Brunell. Over the next eight seasons, he led the Jaguars to two AFC Championship Games and earned three Pro Bowl nods. In 1996, the first of those conference title game appearance seasons, Brunell led the league in passing yards (4,367) with Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith as his top two targets.
Brunell was benched in favor of a rookie Byron Leftwich in 2003, so he only started three games in his last season as a Jaguar.
Brunell was traded to Washington before the 2004 season. Between two seasons where he was injured or benched in favor of a younger option, he started 15 games and led Washington to a 10-6 record and a playoff win in 2005.
Brunell split his final four NFL seasons between the New Orleans Saints (2008-2009) and New York Jets (2010-2011) as a little-used veteran backup/mentor. He did make one start in a meaningless final regular season game for the Saints in 2009, a season that ended with a Super Bowl win for New Orleans.
The peak of Brunell’s career was clearly in Jacksonville, with 117 of his 151 career starts. He is currently top-50 in NFL history in career passing yards (32,072) and top-25 in times sacked (390).
Whenever the Lions find their long-term quarterback, Brunell will be a key cog in the development of that guy. He can lean into his experience as a quarterback in the league, spanning the scope of roles over the stages of his career, to become a trusted voice for a young quarterback.
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