If you think the idea of the 49ers trading head coach Jim Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns for draft picks is unheard of in sports, you’re wrong. It has happened before. Not only have head coaches been traded in the NFL, but trades have also happened in the MLB, NBA and NHL.
Bay Area sports fans likely remember one of the last two times a head coach was traded in the NFL, because it involved the Oakland Raiders and Jon Gruden. The most recent major league sports team to trade for a head coach was in the NBA. The Boston Celtics traded Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers this past June for a 2015 first-round draft pick.
Combined, 11 head coaches in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL have been traded to another team since 1960. In the list below, most of the head coaches were not traded in the conventional way that we all know. A majority of the teams on the list let their head coach sign with another team. Even though the head coach was not under contract with his previous employer, the team that let him go received compensation, like draft picks. This is one of the many reasons why the Harbaugh trade to Browns is so shocking. Rarely, in any major sport, is a head coach traded while still under contract.
- The New York Jets allowed head coach Herm Edwards out of his contract in 2006 so he could sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. In exchange, the Chiefs gave up a fourth-round draft selection.
- At the conclusion of the 2001 season, the Raiders allowed Jon Gruden to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oakland received first- and second-round picks in the 2002 draft, a first-round pick in the 2003 draft and a second-round pick in the 2004 draft. The Buccaneers also gave the Raiders cash.
- One day after Bill Belichick was hired by the Jets as head coach in 2000, he quit his job. A few weeks later, he was hired by the New England Patriots as their head coach. After the announcement, the Jets demanded compensation from the Patriots because Belichick was still under contract with the team. The Patriots gave the Jets a first-round selection in the 2000 draft, a fourth-round selection in the 2001 draft and a seventh-round selection in the 2002 draft. The Patriots not only hired Belichick, but also received a fifth-round selection in the 2001 draft and a seventh-round selection in the 2002 draft from the Jets.
- In 1997, the Jets tried to hire Bill Parcells as head coach. However, he was still under contract with the Patriots who would not release him out of his final year with the team. To get around that, the Jets tried to name Belichick, an assistant to Parcells with the Jets, as head coach and Parcells as a consultant in exchange for two first-round picks in the 1997 draft. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue rejected that deal. But a week later he did accept a deal that involved Parcells to be named head coach of the Jets. The Patriots received third- and fourth-round picks in the 1997 draft, a second-round pick in the 1998 draft and a first-round pick in the 1999 draft. The Jets also donated $300,000 to a Patriots charity.
- The Chicago White Sox released manager Ozzie Guillén out of the final year of his contract after the 2011 season, so he could sign with the Florida Marlins as their skipper. The White Sox received two minor league players, Jhan Mariñez and Osvaldo Martínez, from the Marlins.
- After the 2002 season, the Seattle Mariners allowed Lou Piniella to become manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays sent outfielder Randy Winn to the Mariners.
- Before the start of the 1977 season, the Oakland A’s allowed their manager Chuck Tanner to serve in the same capacity with the Pittsburg Pirates. Catcher Manny Sanguillen was traded to the A’s for allowing Tanner to sign with the team.
- Only once has a major league sports team traded a manager for a manager. This occurred in 1960, when the Cleveland Indians traded Joe Gordon to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Jimmy Dykes.
- This past offseason, the Boston Celtics traded Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2015 first-round pick.
- The Miami Heat allowed their head coach, Stan Van Gundy, to be named the head coach of the Orlando Magic after the 2007 season. The Magic sent the Heat a second-round pick in the 2007 and 2008 draft.
- Right before the 1987 draft, the Quebec Nordiques traded their head coach Michael Bergeron to the New York Rangers. The Rangers received a first-round selection and $75,000.