Within a few weeks, if not sooner, a multi-million-dollar bidding battle likely will be touched off between teams trying to land one of the two big fishes expected to dominate this year's coaching pool: ex-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and ex-Steelers coach Bill Cowher. Meanwhile, former Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has made it clear he wants to return to the league in a general manager-personnel decision-maker type role, and in time, the likes of Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and even Tony Dungy might re-emerge as viable candidates to again don a headset on an NFL sideline.
All in all, the enticing spectacle of watching Shanahan, Cowher and Holmgren execute their NFL comebacks should make for fascinating theater this winter and doubtless will spark renewed hopes and enthusiasm in the presumably struggling franchises they join. Multiple hosannas will be offered up by the fans of those teams, and a parade might even be hastily organized.
But will all the hoopla and talk of a savior having arrived wind up being justified? Four decades of history in the NFL says no. Since Green Bay's Vince Lombardi, the first Super Bowl-winning head coach, was lured back to coaching by the Redskins 40 years ago this season -- and come to think of it, history might repeat itself in Washington this offseason -- losing teams have sought and coveted the luster that surrounds a Super Bowl-winning head coach. But should they? Is it worth the big-money risk?
The track record of coaches who have scaled the game's highest summit and then went on to work for other NFL franchises does not spawn some sort of murky debate. It's clear cut. The coaching magic that won a Super Bowl has never been rekindled to the same degree in a subsequent stop. Eleven NFL head coaches have won at least one Super Bowl ring and gone on to coach another team, multiple teams, or in one case, had a second coaching stint with their original team. None have won a Super Bowl as the head coach of any other team. That's 0-for-11 over a span of 40 years if you're scoring at home. (See chart at bottom of page.)
The list includes coaching luminaries such as Lombardi in Washington, Hank Stram in New Orleans, Mike Ditka in New Orleans, Joe Gibbs in his second go-round in Washington, Jimmy Johnson in Miami, Bill Parcells in New England, New York (Jets), and in Dallas, Dick Vermeil in Kansas City and Holmgren in Seattle. In addition, George Seifert in Carolina, Tom Flores in Seattle, and Don McCafferty in Detroit all tried to repeat their Super Bowl success but failed to bring home the Holy Grail.
Of that illustrious group, only Parcells and Holmgren managed to lead a second team back to a Super Bowl, alas with different results. Parcells' New England Patriots lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI in January 1997, and Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks fell to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL in February 2006.
In some cases it can be fairly argued that the Super Bowl-winning savior left the franchise in far better shape than they found it, albeit without a shiny trophy to display in the lobby of the team office. After his two Super Bowl wins with the Giants, Parcells' subsequent stops in New England, New York and even Dallas qualify for that category. As does Holmgren's 10-year stay in Seattle, Vermeil's stint in Kansas City, and Lombardi's one-year tenure in Washington (where he went 7-5-2 in 1969).
But quite a few Super Bowl winners definitely tarnished their coaching legacies with a second stop, such as Stram and Ditka's debacles with the Saints (a combined 22-54 record in five losing seasons), Seifert's struggles in Carolina (where he went 1-15 his final year), Gibbs's so-so second act in D.C. (one playoff win in four years), Jimmy Johnson's mediocre results in Miami (one playoff win in four years), and Flores in Seattle (14-34 in three seasons). After leading Baltimore to a championship in Super Bowl V, McCafferty later served just one season as Detroit's head coach, going 6-7-1 in 1973.
There is one caveat that bears noting in our examination of later-career results of Super Bowl coaches. There are two well-known head coaches who went to the Super Bowl early in their careers, lost the game, and later led different franchises to Super Bowl wins. Don Shula's Colts were victimized by the upset-minded Jets in Super Bowl III, but within five years he had earned a pair of rings with the Dolphins.
Vermeil had perhaps the most unconventional experience of all Super Bowl head coaches. He led the Eagles to Super Bowl XV in January 1981, where they lost to Oakland. After a lengthy retirement and stint as a TV analyst, Vermeil returned to the game and won a ring with the 1999 St. Louis Rams. He briefly retired again, before being enticed to Kansas City, where he never came close to duplicating his Rams success in five years on the job, retiring again after the 2005 season.
Even going to a Super Bowl and losing it will usually get you another NFL head coaching job, and Shula and Vermeil have been joined on that list over the years by the likes of Dan Reeves (Denver, N.Y. Giants, Atlanta), Bobby Ross (San Diego, Detroit), Forrest Gregg (Cincinnati, Green Bay), Sam Wyche (Cincinnati, Tampa Bay), George Allen (Washington, L.A. Rams), John Rauch (Oakland, Buffalo) and Bud Grant, who returned to the sidelines for a quick second stint in Minnesota, in 1985.
Reeves is the only coach among those with the distinction of having led two different teams to the Super Bowl (three trips with the Broncos, one with the Falcons), but alas, he's one of the three coaches to go 0-4 in the NFL's biggest game, joining Grant and Buffalo's Marv Levy in that dubious achievement.
So when the clamor for Shanahan and Cowher's services starts to build in the coming weeks, just remember that even though they wear three Super Bowl rings between them, Camelot can be hard to recreate. After all, they don't make 'em like Weeb Ewbank any more.
In case you forgot, the former Colts and Jets head coach is still the only man to ever coach two different teams to world championships, leading Baltimore to NFL titles in 1958 and 1959 in the pre-Super Bowl era, and the Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl III. Forty years later, no one's matched Weeb yet.