When the New York Jets selected Chad Pennington 181 slots ahead of Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL Draft, they signed a player who broke several passing records with the Marshall Thundering Herd in college.
This was the quarterback who formed an explosive duo with future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss at Marshall.
It seemed Pennington was destined for greatness when he succeeded Vinny Testaverde as the Jets’ starting quarterback in 2002.
Alas, Pennington endured several up-and-down seasons in Broadway marred by nagging shoulder injuries.
Pennington’s tenure in New York ended when the Jets signed legendary signal-caller Brett Favre in 2008.
Pennington responded with a 3,000-yard passing season with the Miami Dolphins only to see his 11-year pro football career end due to injuries.
Sadly, Chad Pennington never earned a single Pro Bowl berth in the NFL ranks.
Had he remained healthy, he would have been a Pro Bowler for many years and broken many passing records along the way.
James Chadwick Pennington was born to parents Elwood and Denise in Knoxville, TN on June 26, 1976.
He has a sister Andrea.
Chad Pennington told KnoxNews.com’s Dave Link in July 2007 that he and his sister were fortunate to have two hard-working parents who taught them how to use their freedom responsibly when they were growing up.
Both Elwood and Denise Pennington worked as teachers during Chad’s formative years. The former was a middle school physical education teacher at Webb School and assistant football coach of the Webb Spartans.
Elwood Pennington passed away due to heart issues in December 2014.
Chad Pennington became enamored with basketball when he was in the third grade.
Little did he know playing that sport eventually ended his career on the gridiron some twenty-six years later.
Pennington started playing football two years after he began playing hoops, per KnoxNews.com.
He attended Webb School in his hometown of Knoxville.
His parents decided to have him repeat the eighth grade in that school because of its rigorous academic standards.
The move reaped benefits in terms of his development as a football player as the years went by.
Pennington was a three-sport star for the Spartans: he played football, basketball, and baseball.
It isn’t surprising Pennington advocates multiple sports backgrounds for youth athletes.
“I am a complete believer in multiple sports for our youth,” Pennington told USA TODAY High School Sports in the summer of 2017. “Specialization is a complete disservice to our youth for multiple reasons, including overuse injuries and ACL injuries happening at much younger ages.”
Pennington compared youth athletes’ situations to incoming college freshmen who cannot decide on a major.
He told USA TODAY High School Sports that ten-year-olds are worse off. It’s hard for them to decide on a sport at that age – the stress takes a major toll on their physical and mental well-being.
As for Pennington, he eventually settled on football because he thought that gave him the best chance of getting into college.
Webb school great and former NFL star Chad Pennington speaking to camp webb football camp. pic.twitter.com/EfwA9KMjRl
— kj (@kjulian37) July 13, 2021
He and his father Elwood agreed not to coach him when he played football for the Spartans – it helped both of them enjoy their roles within the team.
With Chad Pennington playing quarterback, the Spartans earned a state playoff berth during his sophomore season.
Their basketball team made it to the state basketball tournament during his senior campaign two years later.
Pennington was on the brink of entering college yet he didn’t receive any Division I offers.
Only the Chattanooga Mocs and Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders – two Division I-AA programs – dangled scholarships to Pennington.
His fortunes changed when he attended a summer camp at his parents’ alma mater Marshall University in 1995.
Pennington caught the eye of Marshall Thundering Herd head football coach Jim Donnan, who offered him a scholarship on the spot.
Chad Pennington eventually became one of the best quarterbacks in Marshall football history in the next few years.
College Days With The Marshall Thundering Herd
Chad Pennington attended Marshall University from 1995 to 1999. He majored in broadcast journalism.
Pennington was originally a fourth-string true freshman quarterback in 1995.
However, he rose from the ranks and led the Thundering Herd to the Division I-AA title game that year.
Alas, Marshall lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Montana Grizzlies, 22-20.
The coaching staff redshirted Pennington in 1996. He sat out the entire season to give way to Florida Gators transfer Eric Kresser.
Unlike many aspiring starting quarterbacks who pout and sulk in similar situations, Pennington viewed things from a different lens.
“I needed that extra year when I stayed back in eighth grade,” Pennington told KnoxNews.com. “I needed another year – that redshirt year after my freshman year after I’d played (at Marshall) to really develop and mature.”
The once scrawny 6’2″, 175-lb. high school signal-caller eventually became a 6’3″, 225-lb. toward the end of his college football career.
— Chad Pennington (@ChadPennington) August 28, 2020
The year off did Pennington a lot of good. He not only became an elite college quarterback in ensuing years, but he and wide receiver Randy Moss also formed an elite tandem in 1997.
Pennington shook off the cobwebs from his one-year hiatus and had 3,817 passing yards, 42 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
For his part, Moss had 1,820 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns (25 from Pennington alone) on 96 receptions.
The duo led the Thundering Herd to a 10-3 win-loss record and the Mid-American Conference (MAC) title in 1997.
“We played ball together, we bled together, we cried together,” Pennington told the Tennessee Titans’ official website in 2010. “We did a lot of things together in college.”
While Pennington and Moss played just one year together at Marshall, their paths crossed numerous times in the National Football League.
Pennington continued playing at a high level after Moss’ departure for the NFL in 1998.
He had 3,830 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and seven interceptions that year.
Pennington concluded his stellar college football career at Marshall with 3,799 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 1999.
The Thundering Herd won 25 of 26 games from 1998 to 1999. They also won the MAC title during that time frame with Pennington under center.
Chad Pennington earned many accolades following his senior season at Marshall. He earned MAC MVP and MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1999.
Pennington also won the William V. Campbell Trophy and Sammy Baugh Trophy that year.
He also won several academic awards including the Cam Henderson Award and the Vincent DePaul Draddy Trophy. Pennington also earned Academic All-American honors as a senior at Marshall.
Today, Nov 14, marks the anniversary of the Marshall University plane crash in 1970. It has been an honor & privilege to represent those 75 men & women on and off the field. Forever, WE ARE…MARSHALL! @HerdNation @HerdFB @HerdZone @HerdAlumni pic.twitter.com/4GBcQIEV5y
— Chad Pennington (@ChadPennington) November 15, 2018
He concluded his stint in the MAC with the Thundering Herd from 1997 to 1999 with 11,446 passing yards, 107 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions.
Chad Pennington was ready for the next level of the football hierarchy: the National Football League.
Regrettably, injuries took their toll and eventually derailed his pro football career.
Pro Football Career
The New York Jets made Chad Pennington the 18th overall selection of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Pennington never expected to don Jets Green and White. He thought the Pittsburgh Steelers, who he hosted for a workout in his hometown of Knoxville, TN, would pluck him from the draft pool.
The Steelers drafted Michigan State Spartans wideout Plaxico Burress with the eighth overall pick instead.
The San Francisco 49ers also showed keen interest in Pennington prior to the draft.
However, they chose Burress’ teammate at Michigan State, linebacker Julian Peterson, with the 16th overall selection.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) March 23, 2022
Nonetheless, Chad Pennington was already part of NFL history before he even played a down in the pro ranks.
The New York Jets had four first-round selections – defensive end Shaun Ellis (No. 12), defensive end John Abraham (No. 13), Pennington (No. 18), and tight end Anthony Becht (No. 27) – in 2000.
According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the Jets’ four first-rounders – three of which they acquired when they parted ways with former defensive coordinator Bill Belichick and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson prior to the 2000 NFL season – were revolutionary in the league’s common-draft era.
“We owe a lot to Bill Parcells and the organization for doing something historical like that,” Pennington told Cimini. “That took a lot of wisdom and courage to do that.”
Back then, Jets director of football operations Bill Parcells had no intentions of drafting a quarterback since he already felt confident with signal-callers Vinny Testaverde and Ray Lucas.
However, drafting a quarterback with Pennington’s potential seemed too appealing to the Jets, so they did.
The 2000 NFL Draft also had an interesting side note – Jets midwest scout Jesse Kaye made a strong case for drafting Michigan Wolverines quarterback Tom Brady in the fifth round.
After drafting Pennington, the Jets were set at quarterback, so they passed up on Brady.
The New England Patriots eventually snagged Brady 181 picks after Pennington’s selection.
All Brady did during his 20-year tenure in New England was help the Patriots win an unprecedented six Super Bowl titles.
For his part, Chad Pennington never earned a Super Bowl ring in his 11-year NFL career.
However, if there was any consolation, he helped the Jets reach the postseason in four of his first seven years in the National Football League.
Pennington’s pro football career got off to a slow start.
He played in a combined three games during his first two NFL seasons while playing behind starter Vinny Testaverde.
The Jets won an average of ten games during that stretch. They never made it past the AFC Wild Card Game.
While Pennington waited patiently for his turn to become a starter, he made progress in his personal life.
He married his college sweetheart Robin Hampton on March 1, 2001. The workhorse quarterback even brought his Jets playbook to his honeymoon.
10 days 'til the draft.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) April 18, 2022
Pennington played in his first NFL start a year-and-a-half later. He took over for an aging Testaverde in the Jets’ sixth game of the 2002 NFL campaign.
The 1-4 Jets finished the season strong with Pennington under center.
He had an impressive 3,120 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and six interceptions as New York finished with a respectable 9-7 win-loss record in 2002.
Alas, the Jets lost to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional Round, 30-10.
Pennington had 183 passing yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in the loss.
He’d use that as motivation in the Jets’ return to the postseason two years later.
Chad Pennington’s fourth pro football season marked the first of a string of injuries that plagued him throughout his eleven-year NFL stint.
Pennington fractured and dislocated his left hand after New York Giants linebacker Brandon Short hit him during the Jets’ fourth preseason game of 2003.
Pennington subsequently missed the Jets’ first six regular-season games.
The injury also took a toll on Pennington’s wrist and signature play-fake, which was never the same again.
To nobody’s surprise, the Jets took a step backward in 2003 – they won just six games and missed the postseason for the first time in three years.
Despite the Jets’ misfortune, Pennington made a difference off the football field – he and his wife launched the 1st and 10 Foundation which helped communities in West Virginia (his wife’s home state), Eastern Tennessee, and New York City.
Pennington agreed to a lucrative seven-year, $64 million contract extension with the Jets on September 2, 2004. The deal included $23 million in guaranteed money, per The Associated Press (via The Spokesman-Review).
Pennington’s guaranteed purse ranked him second behind the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning, who received a signing bonus of $34.5 million several months earlier.
Pennington suited up in just three games for Jets head coach Herm Edwards in 2005 due to a rotator cuff injury.
With Pennington out of commission, the Jets crashed and burned with a 4-12 win-loss record that year.
New Jets boss Eric Mangini and other Jets players lauded Pennington for his work ethic at that point in his career.
Pennington’s rotator cuff injury gave him a new perspective on his game. Surprisingly, it revealed some flaws in his quarterback mechanics.
He even told Sports Illustrated’s Nunyo Demasio in the fall of 2006 that he took karate lessons during the offseason to increase hip power and increase shoulder mobility.
Pennington’s improved throwing motion was smoother than ever. His close friend, Jets wide receiver Laveranues Coles, told Demasio that his throws didn’t knock wideouts down. Instead, they somehow stick to their hands.
Pennington barged into Mangini’s office on a Tuesday – the players’ day-off – during the 2006 NFL season.
Mangini wrongfully assumed it was an intruder or one of his assistant coaches.
It turned out Pennington asked Mangini to fill in the gaps on the meticulously-written notes on the Jets’ new offense.
“You don’t always know where he is,” rookie third-string quarterback Kellen Clemens told Demasio on September 18, 2006. “But when you leave at night or get there in the morning, there’s Chad’s truck in the parking lot.”
Pennington returned with a vengeance. He had a career-high 3,652 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions in the 2006 NFL campaign.
The Jets won 10 games that year. Unfortunately, they lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Wild Card Game, 37-16.
Nonetheless, he won the first of his two NFL Comeback Player of the Year awards in 2006.
The 2007 NFL season was one Chad Pennington would rather forget.
Injuries and poor play resulted in Pennington’s struggles during the season’s first half. Mangini eventually benched him in favor of Clemens.
Pennington finished the 2007 NFL campaign with 1,765 yards, 10 touchdown passes, and nine interceptions.
When the Jets signed legendary quarterback Brett Favre in the summer of 2008, they subsequently released Pennington.
He signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract with the Miami Dolphins on August 8, 2008.
Pennington’s third game in Dolphins Teal was against their AFC East rivals, the New England Patriots.
The Patriots had recently lost perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady, who tore his ACL and MCL, for the season.
Matt Cassel filled in for the injured Brady at quarterback.
Despite losing their first two games of the season, the Dolphins were confident they could beat the Patriots.
Pennington and Co. resorted to the Wildcat formation against New England.
He told MiamiDolphins.com’s Travis Wingfield in April 2020 that strategy required precise spacing in the run game.
Miami also had to take advantage of first- and second-down situations to make the passing game work.
The Dolphins clicked on all cylinders in that game against the Patriots.
Pennington completed 17 of 20 passes for 226 yards. For his part, running back Ronnie Brown had four rushing touchdowns.
Brown even threw a touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Fasano in the fourth quarter to seal Miami’s resounding 38-13 road victory over New England.
here’s every play (all-22) from the infamous ‘wildcat game’. pic.twitter.com/nklycCacbk
— josh houtz (@houtz) April 17, 2020
The crowd at Gillette Stadium typically went crazy during every Patriots home game.
Not this time.
“This was the first time in my career I remember the field being completely silent,” Pennington told Wingfield almost twelve years later. “No communication whatsoever, eyeballs being really big, jaws dropped because they had no answer for how to line up to the formation or what call to make to defend it.”
Pennington went on to throw for a gaudy 3,000 yards in the 2008 NFL season. He won his second NFL Comeback Player of the Year award at season’s end.
Miami won eleven games to end a six-year postseason drought in 2008.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins lost to Joe Flacco’s Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Wild Card Game in humiliating fashion, 27-9.
Several weeks into the 2009 NFL season, Pennington sustained a season-ending shoulder injury against the then-San Diego Chargers.
Remarkably, he injured the same shoulder where he had two prior surgeries. Pennington opted for a third surgery several days after the Chargers game.
The Dolphins re-signed Pennington to a one-year deal in March 2010. Alas, he sustained yet another shoulder injury – a potentially career-ending one – in a game against the Tennessee Titans eight months later.
Chad Pennington played in a combined four games in his final two seasons in a Miami Dolphins uniform from 2009 to 2010. He had 432 passing yards, one touchdown pass, and two interceptions during that span.
Pennington tried to make another NFL comeback in time for his 12th pro football season.
Regrettably, he injured his shoulder and tore his ACL while playing pickup basketball in March 2011.
According to KnoxNews.com’s Dave Link, Pennington was in Southwest Virginia visiting his wife Robin’s side of the family and promoting his foundation.
Pennington heard about a man named Chris Atkins who had a gym in Madison, WV. Children regularly visited Atkins’ gym to play basketball.
The story piqued Pennington’s interest. He suited up for a pickup basketball game – something he hadn’t done since his college days at Marshall.
“My legs weren’t ready for it,” Pennington told Link. “I went for a layup and hyperextended my knee and ended up in Pensacola having ACL surgery.”
Pennington just had his fourth shoulder surgery four months earlier. He decided that rushing the rehabilitation process wasn’t worth it so he took the year off.
Chad Pennington's career could have been so much more without injury, but even with his injuries he was still one of the best #Jets QBs of All-Time
— Harrison Glaser (@NYJetsTFMedia) May 17, 2021
Pennington’s ACL surgery coincided with the 2011 NFL lockout.
He applied for a job as a FOX Sports NFL color analyst. It wasn’t surprising when the network hired Pennington, who had a broadcast journalism degree from Marshall University.
Chad Pennington announced his retirement from the National Football League on February 9, 2012.
He finished his pro football career with 17,823 passing yards, 102 touchdowns, and 64 interceptions.
Chad Pennington and his wife Robin have three sons: Cole, 18; Luke, 16; and Gage, 14.
They currently reside in the Woodford County, KY area.
Cole Pennington, a three-star quarterback from Sayre School, committed to the Marshall Thundering Herd on July 5, 2021.
He chose Marshall over the Akron Zips, Ball State Cardinals, Eastern Kentucky Colonels, and UT Martin Skyhawks.
— Chad Pennington (@ChadPennington) December 15, 2021
His father Chad remains active in football endeavors years after his final down in the National Football League.
He became a member of the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.
Chad Pennington is currently a high school football coach in Lexington, KY. He started the Sayre Spartans football program from the ground up, per Cimini.
Pennington had always wanted to follow in his father Elwood’s footsteps. Elwood Pennington coached high school football for 30 years.
“My goal is to become a high school football coach,” Pennington told KnoxNews.com several months before his eighth pro football season in 2007. “I enjoy coaching. It’s in my blood.”
Even back then, Pennington savored the opportunity of making a difference in the lives of high school football players during their transition into adulthood.
Player ➡️ Dad ➡️ Coach
Chad Pennington is creating the Friday night lights experience for his sons and other Sayre student athletes.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) December 13, 2018
Pennington is also a consultant of the NFL Legends program, a member of USA Football’s advisory committee, a member of Marshall University’s board of governors, and commissioner of the Central Kentucky Youth Football League.