With the Hall open to coaches, it's time to get on the Buddy Parker bandwagon

Photo courtesy of Pro Football Journal

Clark Judge

With last week’s change in its by-laws, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has made it easier than ever for coaches to be inducted. For the next four years, they have their own category, which means you’re going to hear a lot now about why Tom Flores and Don Coryell should be enshrined.

And you should. Both have been multiple finalists for Canton, with Coryell making the cut six times (including the Centennial Class) and once making it to the final 10, and Flores told he was “almost a shoo-in” for this year’s Centennial Class prior to the vote.

Except he wasn’t. Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher were.

So consider Coryell and Flores early favorites for 2021, the first of four years that coaches will be named. But there’s another individual who’s Hall-of-Fame worthy but who doesn’t have the momentum of Flores or Coryell.

And that’s Buddy Parker.

He coached the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1950s and ‘60s, and there are two things you should know about him: 1) The last time the Lions were dominant -- yes, I said dominant --  he had them winning two consecutive league championships (1952-53), and 2) he got there by twice beating Hall-of-Famer Paul Brown, considered by some as the greatest coach in NFL history, in title games.

Parker reached the league championship game three straight times (1952-54), and that’s more than rare in the NFL; it’s unheard of in Detroit. In fact, the Lions won three NFL championships in seven years, the last in 1957 with the team Parker built. It was the last time the Lions were in a title game, and more on that in just a minute.

In five of Parker’s six seasons with Detroit, the Lions finished no worse than second in a six-team Western Conference that included the L.A. Rams and Chicago. Furthermore, he was 47-23-2 there, winning at least nine games in four of his six years there.

If that sounds modest, it wasn’t. The Lions played 12-game seasons.

All I know is that when Motown had its Mojo, it was when Buddy Parker was in town. And when he left? That happened prior to the 1957 season, when a frazzled Parker abruptly quit because, as he put it, “this is the worst team I’ve seen in training camp.”

Yet that team went on to win the NFL championship, mostly because of a backup quarterback Parker acquired prior to the season – Tobin Rote.

So he won two league championships and built a third winner, and tell me where you’ve heard that before. If you said, “Jimmy Johnson,” go to the head of the class. That put him in the Centennial Class. But Buddy Parker? He hadn’t even been a Hall-of-Fame finalist until the Centennial Class chose him, and I’ll be honest: I thought he was a cinch for one of the two spots reserved for coaches.

I was wrong.

However, with the Hall creating a separate coaches’ category for the next four years (2021-24), one candidate per year, you'd think he'd be a cinch for one of four spots. But I'm not so sure because you barely hear his name. Most of the push is for modern-era coaches like Flores, Coryell, Dick Vermeil, Dan Reeves and Mike Holmgren.

It seldom includes Parker.

And, OK, I get it. He last coached over 50 years ago. So there’s little familiarity. There’s also the knock on his record. After leaving Detroit he had only three winning seasons in eight years with Pittsburgh. Of course, he had only three losing seasons, too.

But let’s put that into context. Parker was 51-47-6 with the Steelers and never reached the playoffs. We know that. What you may not know, though, is that in the seven years before his arrival, Pittsburgh was 35-48-1 and never had a winning year. And in the seven years that followed Parker, the Steelers were 25-70-3 and never had a winning year.

Like Johnson, when Parker was in Detroit he assembled one of the NFL’s premier teams. His Detroit Lions were so talented that seven players who worked for Parker – including Bobby Layne and Joe Schmidt -- are in Canton.

Like Johnson and Flores, he won two league championships, too.

And, like Coryell, he was an innovator, teaming up with Layne to popularize the two-minute offense. Granted, it wasn’t Air Coryell, but it was good enough to put Layne, Dick Stanfel, Lou Creekmur and Doak Walker into the Hall.

It hasn’t, however, been enough to put Buddy Parker on the map.

“I can honestly say he was an innovator in secondary play in the 1950s, too, with his ‘Chris’s Crew’, “said historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal. “He and Weeb (Ewbank, Hall-of-Fame coach) are true innovators of the ‘halftime defense,’ now called the 3-3-5 nickel and the 4-2-5 nickel.

“Weeb may have gotten there first, but Parker used schemes of his own invention, with positions he called ‘star’ and ‘port’ – allowing Jack Christiansen to lead, which gave his team an advantage.”

Oh, by the way, Christiansen is in the Hall, too. So are safety Yale Lary and Schmidt.

One last item: I know Parker ranks a modest 42nd in career victories with 104, but that’s more than Flores (97), more than Johnson (80) and seven shy of Coryell. I also know that his .581 winning percentage ranks 22nd among coaches with 50 or more victories. But that’s higher than Coryell (.576), higher than Johnson (.556) and higher than Flores (.527).

What I don’t know is why he’s not already in Canton.

The Hall has an opportunity the next four years to open its doors to coaches like Tom Flores and Don Coryell. It would be wise not to close them before Buddy Parker is invited.

Comments (10)
No. 1-4
brian wolf
brian wolf

To be honest, its time for Parker to be inducted, especially after what transpired for television ratings this past winter with the Centennial Class coaches ...

Most of the famous Coach-QB duos are already enshrined and its time for Parker to reunite with Bobby Layne once again.

The Detroit Lions have achieved nothing since this duo left.

During Paul Browns era of dominance with the Cleveland Browns in the NFL from 1950-1955, the only team that had his number was Parker's Lions teams. Brown finally stopped the Lions winning streak with a victory in the 1954 Championship game, that ended the Lions chances at a three-peat.

Like Jimmy Johnson with the Cowboys, Parker left his team before they won a third championship and tried to resurrect a team with an aging QB in Layne at Pittsburgh, then tried to win with an aging Ed Brown but couldn't.

He deserves to be the next Head Coach enshrined ...

WMcCoy
WMcCoy

Great article Clark...
Buddy Parker was one of my picks for the centennial class...then with the tv production annoumcements of Cowher & Johnson I felt sick...In my opinion no other coaches belong until Parker gets in, but knowing how pre 60's get treated I'm not holding my breath.

donhutson
donhutson

Great article and I completely agree! I think 1 thing that hurts his case is that everyone always thinks of Unitas when they think of the beginning of the 2 minute offense. Maybe Unitas perfected it or advanced it but it was Layne/Parker who started it.

1 Reply

brian wolf
brian wolf

Absolutely ...

In fact, Layne's use of the two minute offense allowed Detroit to beat Unitas's Colts in a crucial 1957 game, overcoming a 27-10 deficit.

This win allowed Detroit to play SF in a western division playoff, after the 49ers had also beaten the Colts on a last minute TD pass from John Brodie.
By this playoff game, Layne was injured and Rote came in and led the Lions to victories over the 49ers, then the Browns, to give Detroit its third championship in six years.

What a learning experience for the Baltimore Colts. Had they won these two crucial games against Detroit and the next to last game against SF, they may have started their own three-peat of championships ...

I love NFL History ...

brian wolf
brian wolf

This coaching voting committee has its hands full with these next four years, after nominating Flores for 2021 but they cant forget older, deserving coaches as well like ...

Parker
Shaughnessy
Shaw
Collier

Not to mention other non championship coaches in ...

Coryell
Reeves
Schottenheimer
Knox

As well as one and two time champions with ...

Seifert
Shanahan
Coughlin
Holmgren
Vermeil

A lot of great coaches ...