Inside the Process of Electing the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class

Also, some notes about the Browns filling out the rest of its coaching staff behind Kevin Stefanski, how Bill Lazor will fit in as the Bears' offensive coordinator and more.
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Those who voted Bill Cowher into the NFL Hall of Fame found out about Saturday’s surprise announcement like the rest of us—on CBS, without any forewarning.

“I was blown away,” said blue-ribbon panel voter Gary Myers, a long-time NFL columnist and the manager of SI’s NFL team sites. “None of us knew.”

Hall of Fame president David Baker does have practice at keeping secrets. These were big ones—the plan all along had been for the 15 Centennial Class inductees to be announced this week on NFL Network. But with Cowher and ex-Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson both on network pregame shows, Baker saw opportunity to get his project, launched in conjunction with the NFL’s 100 anniversary, some publicity.

And it’s fair to guess the voters won’t mind that this undertaking of the last few months is getting a few days in the spotlight. So before we jump into this week’s notes, here are a few facts about the process of electing the Hall’s centennial class.

• The motivation for the class was to account for players from the first 30 years or so of the NFL. The Hall opened in 1963, so naturally, it was always a little more difficult for those from the league’s earliest time to get in.

• The Hall assembled the 25-man blue-ribbon panel to handle it. Thirteen were plucked from the Hall’s regular pool of 48 voters. The remaining 12 included luminaries like Bill Belichick, Bill Polian, Ozzie Newsome and Ron Wolf.

• The 15-man class breaks down like this: 10 will be from the Seniors category (players who’ve been eligible for election for more than 20 years but aren’t in), three will be contributors, and the other two are, as you guys know, coaches.

• So yes, Johnson and Cowher are the only two coaches. They beat out Dick Vermeil, Buddy Parker, Marty Schottenheimer, Mike Holmgren, Don Coryell and Dan Reeves.

• In the Seniors category, a working list of over 200 names was distributed. The voters then gave the Hall a top five from every decade. From those lists, 20 finalists were selected, to go with 10 finalists in the contributors category and eight finalists in the coaches category.

• They voted 20 Seniors down to 15, and then from 15 to the 10 inductees.

• There was no final 80% vote, as there is in normal voting for the classes, and there won’t be for the five modern-era candidates picked at the Super Bowl either. Normally, at the Super Bowl site, the panel narrows the list to five, then votes again on those five, with 80 percent of the final vote needed for induction. In this case, the 80 percent vote was scrapped across the board so the HOF can get to its number of 20, as part of this 20 for ’20 project.

• The 15 in the centennial class won’t be inducted at the normal August ceremony, but the five modern-day inductees will go in as the usually would. A separate ceremony for the group of 15 hasn’t been announced, but the thought it is it’ll be in early fall.

So who else is going in? It’s instructive to look at who’s come close. One example would be ex-NFL commissioner Pail Tagliabue, one of the rare candidates who, during the regular process, was voted into the final group, but then failed to get 80% of the last vote to affirm his induction. Another is ex-Giants GM George Young, who, like Tagliabue, has come close in the past.

We’ll get the results on Wednesday morning, as they’re announced on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. And now on to the notes …

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• One of Kevin Stefanski’s most important moves over the coming weeks will be finding a defensive coordinator, and there are names young and old to consider. Among those on his list were Colts DBs coach Jonathan Gannon, Bills DBs coach John Butler, 49ers DBs coach/passing game coordinator Joe Woods and Eagles special assistant Matt Burke. It’s also worth wondering if Stefanski will consider Vikings DC George Edwards, now that he’s available.

• And then, there’s the Browns front office. They have to pick a GM, and we’ll see the favorite, Andrew Berry, wants it (I’d be surprised if Vikings assistant GM George Paton takes it, but he’s been requested and has a relationship with Stefanski). If Berry’s the guy, there are a couple things to consider. 

First, he’s more of a Swiss Army Knife of personnel guy than a scout, which means you’d be going through two levels on that side of the building (between Berry and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta) before getting to your first traditional evaluator. Second, Berry has built a relationship with Stefanski since the coach’s 2019 interview, but it’s mostly a “stay in touch” type of thing (and he’s not the only Browns official to stay in touch with Stefanski over the last year). Which means the Browns would, again, be projecting how those two would get on together.

• Edwards’s departure from the Vikings was interesting, but my understanding is that it was simply time to move on with his contract expiring. The 52-year-old Edwards had hoped for some head-coaching sniffs when the Minnesota defense was really rolling the last few years. One reason that wasn’t happening—head coach Mike Zimmer calls the defense there.

• It’s worth mentioning too that assistant GM Eliot Wolf is still there with two years left on his deal, as is VP of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith, with a year left on his. Both are respected across football, and their fates have been left in the hands of whoever the next GM is. Right now, those are the top two “traditional” scouts on hand.

• Finally, on the search itself—some of the candidates going through Berea found the place to have more red flags than Tiananmen Square. One big one was the, yes, level of involvement of DePodesta’s analytics team. Both Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens were basically told to have senior analyst Dave Giuliani on headsets on game day over the last four years, with Guiliani serving as a sort of game management specialist. What alarmed candidates was that Guiliani, who worked for Chip Kelly in Philly, would not be reporting to the head coach. He’d be reporting to DePodesta directly. Another was that the head coach would have twice-weekly meetings with ownership and analytics people. In the past, the Monday meetings have taken up to half a day, and proposed Friday meetings would be for reviewing game plans.

• More interesting coaching moves: Miami lost defensive coordinator Pat Graham and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski to the Giants. The reason? Both guys got bumps in title—Graham added “assistant head coach” to his business card, and Schuplinski is the Giants quarterbacks coach, knocking “assistant” off of his. And both are very close to new Giants coach Joe Judge.

• The marriage of Bill Lazor and the Bears will be interesting—Lazor’s known for simplifying scheme for players, weaponizing tempo and finding a way to get guys playing fast. With a quarterback, in Mitch Trubisky, who often seems to think too much on the field, injecting that influence into Matt Nagy’s offense could be a godsend.

• Fun fact: New Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was actually in the stands at Sunday’s AFC divisional game between the Chiefs and Texans, so he got a good, up close look at what he’s about to be up against in the AFC West. Shurmur’s son Kyle is a practice squad quarterback for Kansas City.

• Underrated piece of the Titans’ run? How they’ve handled what could’ve been a dicey quarterback switch, with a former second overall pick headed to the bench.

“Both quarterbacks handled it extremely well,” corner Logan Ryan said over the phone, after Saturday night’s win. “I think Marcus is doing exactly what you’d think Marcus Mariota would do, the best, most humble person we know. He handled it with grace, he took his role of preparing the defense every week and helping Ryan out, because he’s won games in this league and he’s a starting quarterback, a franchise quarterback as well. And Ryan [Tannehill] has just done an impressive job of improving each and every week and leading the team.”

• Give me Clemson tonight. 38-37 over LSU.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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