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- NFL coaches: Genius or Lucky?

Kevin Figgers July 11, 2004
Kevin Figgers
NFL Columnist

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Is it the coach or is it the players?, the teacher or the talent? It’s the age-old question that for a lot of franchises, really has yet to be answered. The parity filled NFL of today brings to question whether or not head coaches are really that good, or if their collection of talented players make them one of the luckiest men in professional sports. A great coach has the ability to make a less talented team play better. Today we will look at some recent NFL head coaches and see whether or not they really are geniuses or if they are just flat out lucky.

1. Jeff Fisher- Tennessee Titans; 1994-present

Jeff Fisher is one of the longest tenured coaches in the NFL. As the winningest coach the last 4 seasons, Fisher has led the Tennessee Titans to two division titles, two AFC Championship games as well as Superbowl 34. With over 80 wins, Fisher is the also the winningest coach in Titans/Oilers history. After being a standout defensive back at USC (University of Southern California) himself, Fisher would construct, and maintain, one of the best defensive units in football. Fisher really placed himself in the NFL’s elite list of coaches when he took a struggling and injured Titans team that began the 2002 season with a 1-3 record, to a tie for the leagues best record at 12-4 and berth in the AFC Championship game.

Choice: Super Genius

2. Bill Belichick- Cleveland Browns; 1991-1995, New England Patriots; 2000-present

Known as one of the best defensive minds in the NFL. Bill Belichick was one of those guys who many critics said was a great assistant coach but wasn’t cut out to be a head coach. And for a few years, they were right. After 3 disappointing years in Cleveland, Belichick turned the Browns into one of the most dominant defensive units in the 1994-95 season, taking the Browns to the second round of the playoffs. Belichick left Cleveland after the 1995 season to re-join his mentor Bill Parcells in New England as a defensive assistant and helped lead the Patriots to the Superbowl against the Packers. After Parcells resigned from the Pats, Belichick joined Parcells in New York to help coach the struggling Jets. Belichick helped improve the Jets defense and take them to the AFC Championship game in 1998. After leaving the Jets after the 1999 season, Belichick returned to New England as the head coach in 2000. In 2001, the Patriots, who started with a record of 1-4, finished with a record of 11-5 and shocked the world by defeating the 14-point favorite St. Louis Rams in the Superbowl. In 2003, the Patriots got off to a shaky 2-2 start, but then proceeded to win their last 12 regular season games to post the leagues best record, 14-2. And they rode that momentum into the playoffs where they won their second Superbowl in 3 years. So its obvious, Belichick has improved every single team he has been involved with. This one is a no brainier.

Choice: Super Genius

3. Mike Shanahan- Oakland Raiders; 1988-1989, Denver Broncos; 1995-present

After being fired halfway through the 1989 season by the Oakland Raiders, Mike Shanahan joined the Denver Broncos coaching staff in late October and remained on the staff until the 1991 season, when he left Denver to join the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff. Shanahan remained in San Francisco until 1995 when the Denver Broncos offered him their head-coaching job and he accepted. Since then, Shanahan has posted the Broncos second best record at 88-49 (only Dan Reeves has more wins in the franchises history). Shanahan has mostly been known for his ability to take any running back and transform him into a 1000-yard rusher in any given season. However the biggest criticism of Shanahan is that he cannot win without John Elway and Terrell Davis. And so far, the critics have been right. Since the retirement of Elway, the Broncos have reached the playoffs twice in five seasons. It is a great accomplishment to be able to produce so many productive running backs over the last few seasons, however it is terrible when you have nothing to show for it.

Choice: Super Lucky

4. Mike Martz- St. Louis Rams; 2000-present

Known as one of the best offensive minds in football. Mike Martz began his rise to NFL coaching stardom as the Rams offensive coordinator in the 1999 season, helping to lead the Rams to a Superbowl victory over Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans. Many believe that Mike Martz, not head coach Dick Vermeil, was the reason why the 1999 St. Louis Rams were one of the most explosive offenses in NFL history. Vermeil would before the 2000 season, and Martz was selected as his successor. In Martzs’ 4 years as head coach, he has made the playoffs 3 times with one Superbowl appearance. The Rams have been able to maintain their offensive pralice, finishing in the top 5 of total offense every season of Martzs’ tenure. However, the team has failed to make a major impact in the playoffs the last few seasons, even with their wholesale collection of talented players.

Choice: Super Lucky

5. Bill Parcells- New York Giants; 1983-1990, New England Patriots; 1993-1996, New York Jets; 1997-1999, Dallas Cowboys; 2003-present

Bill Parcells is considered, by some, to be the best coach in NFL history. And so far, not too many people can argue that notion. Bill Parcells began his head-coaching career with the New York Giants in 1983. And after posting just 3 wins that season, many people in New York had already packed Parcells’ bags for him. However, Parcells would soon bounce back, making the Giants a legitimate contender. Parcells won his first the Superbowl in the 1987 season, and would return for a second title in 1990. After numerous health issues, Parcells retired from the Giants after the 1990 season. Parcells would return to the NFL in 1993 with the team that gave him his first NFL coaching job, the New England Patriots. The Patriots were coming off of a 2-14 season and hoped that Parcells would use his experience and grit to turn the franchise around. And he would do just that. In just three years, Parcells would take the Patriots to the Superbowl. After losing to the Green Bay Packers in the Superbowl, Parcells resigned as head coach of the Patriots because of philosophical differences between himself and the organization. Parcells shocked the nation when he would become the head coach of the Patriots archrival, the New York Jets, that next year. Like the Patriots before the Parcells arrived, the New York Jets were the doormat of the NFL, winning just 1 game the previous season. Parcells would lead the New York Jets to the AFC Championship game in 1999 and later that year retired as the Jets all-time winningest coach. Many believed that Parcells’ coaching career was finally over. He had been to 3 Superbowls, turned 3 of the worst NFL Franchises into elites, and had been considered one of the best coaches in sports history. But as it turns out, that wasn’t enough for Bill Parcells. Right after the 2002 regular season ended, Bill Parcells was announced as the New head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, which was yet another struggling franchise. The Dallas Cowboys had 3 straight 5-win seasons and the Cowboy fans were ready to put owner Jerry Jones’ head on a swivel. So Jones took a back seat, hired Parcells, and see how things played out. In his first season, Bill Parcells would lead the Cowboys to 10 wins and their first playoff berth in 6 seasons. What more has to be said?

Choice: Super Genius

6. Dick Vermeil- Philadelphia Eagles; 1976-1982, St. Louis Rams; 1997-1999, Kansas City Chiefs; 2001-present

Dick Vermeil is one of just 4 coaches to lead two different teams to the Superbowl. He led the Eagles to the Superbowl in 1981 and won the Superbowl with the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Just as Bill Belichick is known as one of the best defensive minds in football, Dick Vermeil is considered to be one of the best offensive minds in football. Vermeil has always been known as one of those coaches who gets the most out of his players, particularly offensive players. After retiring from the St. Louis Rams after the 1999 season, Vermeil would stay away from the NFL. Right after the 2000 regular season, Dick Vermeil was announced as the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Kansas City Chiefs improved to the leagues 4th best offense and had reason for optimism going into the 2002 campaign. After posting the leagues best offense in 2002, the Chiefs were just one win away from a playoff berth and needed defensive improvement. The 2003 season was Vermeil’s coming out party. The Chiefs got out to an extremely fast start, winning their first 8 games. The Chiefs were defeated by the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs later that season. But Dick Vermeil brought hope to a somewhat dieing franchise, similar to what he did wit the Eagles back in the 1970’s. And its no coincidence that all of his offenses improve within 2 years of Vermeil’s arrival.

Choice: Super Genius

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