March 13, 2004
The Smartest NFL Head Coach Of All Time
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Next in a series of positional analysis of the 2003 New England Patriots. Today: coaching.
Almost a year ago, the rugged symbol of the great state of New Hampshire came crumbling down.
Granite State residents were aghast at the site of The Old Man of the Mountain. The famous visage, which adorned the state license plates, state route signs and the state quarter, was no more. The distinct nose and the strong, stately chin fell victim to weathering, aging and erosion. It was like the good people of New Hampshire had their identity and heritage taken away in one fell swoop.
Nothing can ever bring back this timeless state treasure, even if some genius comes up with a way to put it back together or to rebuild it. But if rebuilding or restoring are not at all an option, here's a suggestion which might restore a little bit of what was lost.
In 1923, South Dakota State Historical Society superintendent Doane Robinson had a dream and a vision of a massive monument carved out of the granite peaks of the state's Black Hills. Originally, that monument was to be a memorial to regional icons like Buffalo Bill Cody, General Custer, and others. When funding for the project eventually came, Gutzon Borglum, who would sculpt the massive project, demanded that the memorial be national and not regional. Thus Mount Rushmore was born, and the huge masterpiece graces Adam Vinatieri's home state to this day.
Why South Dakota? A local state employee envisioned this. So, let's call upon the good people of New Hampshire to create a shrine in their state, something that will replace The Old Man. And let's make this person a rabid Patriot fan (it just so happens that we here at PatsFans.com are well stocked with people with close ties to the Granite State), someone who can envision something which can immortalize the real national pastime of this great nation.
And that national pastime isn't baseball. Not on your 73 allegedly drug-enhanced home runs by Barry Bonds.
Let's contract the best sculptor on the planet (in 1927 Borglum was 60 years old, and the entire sculpting of Mount Rushmore consumed the final 14 years of his life, so we might want to go younger here). Let's head up into the Presidential Range and find some granite that will mark the time, or rather that can withstand a massive sculpture which can hold up in the midst of brutal winters (if you have ever climbed Mount Washington, you might recall the sign on the Boott Spur Trail which says that "the trail ahead has the worst weather in North America").
Okay, you find a spot. You have your drill, hammer, chisel and dynamite handy. What now?
Oh, yeah. Whose faces are we carving?
The four greatest players? The four greatest quarterbacks? Nah. If this be like Rushmore with four former presidents, you make it the four best head coaches. Like the "fathers" of our country (with no disrespect to Papa George; we can make Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln out to be "uncles"), you need the NFL equivalent up there. That's perfect. Huge busts of the greatest head coaches in NFL history.
One's easy. They named a trophy after him. No NFL memorial to head coaches is complete without this guy. Any ignoring of this man in such a monument is blasphemous. Vince Lombardi was simply the greatest. No man has been more immortalized by his former players, by his organization, and by his league than the namesake of the Super Bowl trophy. You don't need to have ever played for him to know what he was like. In the words of the late Howard Cosell, "ask his players".
After Coach Lombardi, you'd probably want George Halas up there. His career in the NFL is both historic and remarkable. He coached the Bears in four separate segments and won 84, 88, 76 and 76 games respectively. He died in 1983 as the only man who had served the NFL continuously back to its birth in 1920. His 324 head coaching wins was the most until Don Shula passed him in 1993. He won six NFL championships in a 40-year head coaching career.
Who would be the other two? It would be incredibly easy to say Shula and Tom Landry. Both men win big points on longevity. Shula is the king in terms of coaching wins. The 17-0 Miami team of 1972 was under his stewardship. He coached Miami for 26 seasons. Landry coached Dallas for 29 seasons, won two Super Bowls (as did Shula), and would look great in granite with that fedora and his piercing and unwavering stare.
But Shula never came close to the big prize after 1974, and is perhaps better remembered for losing Super Bowl III to the Jets. Landry was perhaps more famous for losing the big games than winning them, as "America's Team" gained lots of national fame but had only two Vinces to show for many years of sustained greatness. When both men left coaching, it seemed that the game had passed both men by, and their glory days had departed them long ago.
You could also offer up Curly Lambeau, who has a stadium named after him, except that he is too overshadowed by Lombardi in Packerland. Chuck Noll won all four Super Bowls he was in and presided over arguably the best five-year defense in league history, but his Steelers became irrelevant after 1979. He also suffers from the same "game has passed him by" syndrome that Shula and Landry do. Paul Brown founded not one, but two NFL franchises. He would be a great choice. His problem is that we can do just a little bit better.
That said, here are the remaining two men who should go up on the new Mount Rushmore somewhere in New Hampshire.
Bill Walsh coached the 49ers for nine years. Through a third-round draft pick named Joe Montana, he changed football permanently by introducing something called the West Coast offense. In those nine years, he went to three Super Bowls and won them all. He would have won lots more had exhaustion not gotten the better of him. George Seifert won two more Super Bowls as 49er head coach, but both titles are really thanks to Walsh and Seifert failed miserably as head coach of the Carolina Panthers (Disagree? How's Carolina doing now, under John Fox?). Walsh was an innovator, and one of the game's finest head coaches ever. Carve this guy.
And the fourth may seem like a regional choice to most of you outside the area. Not that we care.
And it may seem outrageous, given that this man has not withstood the test of time. This writing says that he will.
It took 14 years to carve Mount Rushmore. Fourteen years from now, Bill Belichick will be known as the greatest head coach in history. The only thing that will make this come false is if Belichick and Bob Kraft someday have a falling out, or if a tragedy overcomes Belichick. Otherwise, Belichick should go up.
Never mind that he is the best defensive mind in the history of the game. Never mind that he has authored the two finest defensive game plans in NFL playoff history, one of which is on display in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. Never mind that he has been able to do all this by working within the choking restraints of league salary cap rules and making ordinary players come together to be a whole that is an exponential gain over the value of its component parts.
As of right now, Belichick is not in the highest pantheon. We're saying that when this monument is completed, Belichick will look just fine up there.
He is simply the smartest head coach that ever was. He relies on top lieutenants Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, who along with Belichick form arguably the best coaching troika in the league since the merger. But you have to feel deep down inside that, when Weis and Crennel expand the Belichick coaching tree in other cities some day, Belichick will have found able and capable men to carry on their work, and his work as well.
There's your NFL Mount Rushmore. Lombardi. Halas. Walsh. Belichick.
Okay, New Hampshire. Find your mountain and your sculptor, and get busy.
Next installment: ownership.
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