Guest columnist: Ranking the coaches most worthy of Canton consideration

Clark Judge

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Each weekend this offseason a guest columnist weighs in with thoughts on the NFL – past, present or future. Today it’s historian Ken Crippen, president of the Pro Football Researchers Association, who evaluates the best and brightest coaches – including assistants – worthy of Hall-of-Fame consideration).

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is undecided what it should do with future senior, contributor and coaching candidates, though some persons believe it could split them evenly (one senior, one contributor and one coach) for the next five years.

I disagree with that tactic.

There are far too many qualified seniors and far too few Hall-of-Fame worthy contributor and coaching candidates to do that for an extended period of time. Personally, I would have two seniors every year going forward.

No deviation.

As far as coaches and contributors, I suggest alternate years -- with one candidate a year switching between contributors and coaches (a new category) … and only for a short period of time. There simply aren’t enough candidates to make this permanent.

For 2021, I personally would like to see Lavvie Dilweg and Al Wistert (finalists for the Centennial class) put up as nominees. For a contributor, I would put forth former NFL director of officiating Art McNally. As for the coaches, there are a few choices that I think should be considered. But I believe that if you create a separate coaches’ category, you should include assistant coaches.

And so I will

Here, then, are some of the head-coach-and-assistant-coaching candidates that should be considered. I will list them in alphabetical order so as to not offend anyone … yet. That comes later when I rank the candidates.

JOE BUGEL

With his recent passing, Bugel’s career has been re-examined by the media. However, within coaching circles, his accomplishments are well known. As offensive coordinator, offensive-line coach and assistant head coach with Washington, he helped the team win two Super Bowls in three appearances and elevated its offensive line -- “The Hogs” -- to a household name.

Other than his two stints in Washington (1981-89 and 2004-09), he also spent time with the Detroit Lions (1975-76), Houston Oilers (1977-80), Phoenix Cardinals (1990-93), Oakland Raiders (1995-97) and San Diego Chargers (1998-2001).

In 2002, he was named as one of the 80 Greatest Redskins of all time. In 2018, he was honored by the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) with the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach.

DON CORYELL

Inventor of the high-flying “Air Coryell” passing attack, he put his passing offense on top of the league for six straight seasons. As a head coach, he won five division titles and made the playoffs six times. In 1974, the PFWA awarded him the NFC Coach of the Year. He won it again in 1979, but this time for AFC Coach of the Year.

He was head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1973-77 and head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1978-1986. Over that time, he amassed a 111-83-1 record, not including playoffs.

His head-coaching tree includes the likes of Hall-of-Famer Joe Gibbs, as well as Gunther Cunningham, Jim Mora and Jack Pardee.

ROMEO CRENNEL

Crennel has coached in the NFL in various capacities for 37 years. From special teams coach to defensive-line coach to defensive coordinator to head coach, Crennel left his mark on the league. As an assistant coach, he helped his team to five Super Bowl championships.

With stints under several coaches, including Hall-of-Famer Bill Parcells and future Hall-of-Famer Bill Belichick, Crennel was with the New York Giants from 1981-92, the New England Patriots from 1993-96 and again from 2001-04, the New York Jets from 1997-99, the Kansas City Chiefs from 2010-12 and the Houston Texans from 2014-present. As a head coach, Crennel was with the Cleveland Browns from 2005-08.

In 2003, he was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the PFWA. He was honored by the same organization this year with the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman award for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach.

TOM FLORES

Flores has several “firsts” in his career. He was the first Hispanic starting quarterback in pro football. He was the first Hispanic head coach in NFL history. He was the first minority head coach in the NFL to win a Super Bowl. He was the first head coach to take a wildcard team to a Super Bowl victory (Super Bowl XV). And he and Mike Ditka are the only persons to win Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

Ditka is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Flores won two Super Bowls as a head coach, one as an assistant coach, and one as a player. He had an 8-3 record in the playoffs as a head coach. He was also named AFC Coach of the Year by the PFWA in 1982.

JIM JOHNSON

Jim Johnson was a master defensive coordinator known for concealing his blitzing strategies and punishing opposing offenses.

“He changed the game from a defensive mindset and what defenses could do,” said quarterback Peyton Manning, a Hall-of-Fame candidate in 2021.

Johnson’s defenses ranked first in sacks, second in third-down efficiency, second in red-zone percentage and fourth in fewest points allowed from the years 2000-07 when the Philadelphia Eagles went to four straight conference championship games (2001-2004).

In 2001, his defense did not allow more than 21 points in any contest until a 29-24 loss to the St. Louis Rams in the NFC championship game.

Johnson was defensive coordinator for the Oklahoma Outlaws in 1984 and the Jacksonville Bulls in 1985. Both teams were in the United States Football League (we’re talking about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the NFL Hall of Fame). Johnson was an assistant coach with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals from 1986-93, the Indianapolis Colts from 1994-97, the Seattle Seahawks in 1998 and the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2008.

In 2016, he was honored by the PFWA with the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman award for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach. He was inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame in 2011.

WADE PHILLIPS

In his 37 years in the NFL, Phillips’ defenses ranked in the Top 10 in yardage 19 times, Top 10 in points 12 times, Top 10 in takeaways 12 times, Top 10 in rushing yards 15 times and Top 10 in passing yards 14 times.

Phillips spent time as an assistant or head coach with the following teams: Houston Oilers (1976-80), New Orleans Saints (1981-85), Philadelphia Eagles (1986-88), Denver Broncos (1989-94 and 2015-16), Buffalo Bills (1995-2000), Atlanta Falcons (2002-03), San Diego Chargers (2004-06), Dallas Cowboys (2007-10), Houston Texans (2011-13) and Los Angeles Rams (2017-19).

Phillips is the only two-time winner of the PFWA’s Assistant Coach of the Year award (2011 and 2015). In 2016, he was honored by the PFWA with the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman award for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach.

CLARK SHAUGHNESSY

An innovator on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, Shaughnessy left his mark on pro football. With the three-receiver set, the 5-3-3 defense and his use of unique defensive coverages and blitz schemes, Shaughnessy had a Top Five defense in yards five times and Top Five defense in points four times in his 12 years with the Chicago Bears.

Shaughnessy was head coach of the Los Angeles Rams from 1948-1949 and defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears from 1951-1962.

OTHERS TO BE CONSIDERED (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):

Bud Carson (I had a tough time between Carson and Wade Phillips for my top spots), Gunther Cunningham and Buddy Parker.

Of the coaches mentioned, my top five would be (in order):

1. Tom Flores – When you look at his winning percentage, his playoff record and his Super Bowl victories, Flores stands alone. He, George Seifert, Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin are head coaches who won two Super Bowls and are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When you look at the totality of his pro football career (player, assistant coach and head coach), there is no question that Flores belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2. Clark Shaughnessy – His innovative offensive and defensive techniques helped propel his teams to success. However, a lot of that success can be linked to his role as advisor to a team instead of coach of the team. That makes this one tricky. Is he a more suited for a contributor candidate or a coaching candidate? I decided to put him in as a coach. Even if he contributed as an advisor to a team and not in an official coaching capacity, he is influencing schemes. Regardless, he belongs in Canton.

3. Don Coryell – While an innovator in the league, his lack of playoff success pushes him a little farther down the list in the eyes of selectors. It’s the same reason that hurts Marty Schottenheimer’s Hall-of-Fame chances, although it hurts Schottenheimer more because of expectations for his teams in the playoffs. However, I disagree with limiting Coryell’s and Schottenheimer’s chances due to their playoff records. Coryell belongs in the Hall of Fame for his overall accomplishments.

4. Jim Johnson – He was an innovator with his defensive schemes and truly made it difficult for opposing offenses. To me, he is the first assistant coach that should be inducted (unless you count Dick LeBeau).

5. Wade Phillips – Behind Johnson, Phillips should be considered for his assistant coaching prowess. His head-coaching record in the playoffs is going to work against him with selectors, but he did experience success during the regular season. However, his accomplishments as an assistant coach should be what gets him into Canton.

Honorable Mention: Joe Bugel – His success as an offensive-line coach cannot be questioned. He needs to be honored for his accomplishments in propelling his offenses to success.

Coaches have always been put behind players when it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is time the selectors took a hard look at head coaches and assistant coaches that deserve to be immortalized in Canton.

Ken Crippen is the president of the Professional Football Researchers Association, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to preserving and promoting this history of professional football.

Comments (24)
No. 1-7
brian wolf
brian wolf

Great article Ken ...

Assistants should get recognition, especially when the eligible HC candidates are exhausted, which according to this proposed format, wont be long.

The picks are fine but I would put Bill Arnsparger before any other assistants other than Shaughnessy, who I consider a HC as well. Buddy Ryan also, though Carson might be better.

Other top assistants were Monte Kiffin and Fritz Shurmer on defence, Dick Nolan also a possibility, Ernie Zampese, Sam Wyche, Al Saunders and Dan Henning, though Henning's HC record was terrible, on offence ...

Alex Gibbs, Dante Scarnecchia, Hudson Houk, Jim Hanifan, Nick Skorich on the offensive line ...

Head Coaches I Endorse For The HOF

Shaughnessy
Parker
Collier
Coryell
Flores
Knox
Reeves
Schottenheimer
Shanahan
Seifert
Holmgren

Career Assistants

Arnsparger
Ryan/Carson
Phillips
Zampese
Johnson
Gibbs/Scarnecchia/Bugel

WMcCoy
WMcCoy

Great article Ken... If an assistant ever get's in I would select Shaugnessy, as I think he is considered that on the pro level.
For Head Coach, though I believe Flores should be in I would choose Buddy Parker 1st, for he basically did for the Lions what Jimmy Johnson did for the Cowboys, both winning 2 straight titles, then leaving before the 3rd one...
In fact Parker & Flores were my picks for 2020.

brian wolf
brian wolf

Another great career assistant was Charlie Sumner, who helped develop HOF cornerbacks in Willie Brown, Dave Grayson(future), Mel Blount, Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes(future)

He helped popularize the Bump and Run coverages and his Raiders defense of the early 80s had one of the NFLs best ever pash rushes, with Alzado, Long, Jones and Townsend ...

brian wolf
brian wolf

Revised Coaching List

Head Coaches

Shaughnessy ... Assistant as well
Parker
Collier ... Assistant as well
Coryell
Flores
Knox
Reeves
Schottenheimer
Shanahan
Holmgren
Seifert
Vermeil ... close but okay
Coughlin ... close but okay

Career Assistants Offence

Zampese
Wyche ... hard to ignore his development of Montana and Esiason, No Huddle/Hurry up offences and early inspiration for Gibbs Denver zone blocking schemes
Saunders
Henning ... terrible HC though
Gibbs
Houck
Scarnecchia
Bugel

Career Assistants Defense

Arnsparger ... bad HC record
Carson
Ryan
Sumner
Collier
Phillips
Johnson
Kiffin

Rasputin
Rasputin

I agree completely with your suggestion about what format they should...and definitely SHOULDN'T...adopt going forward.

As for the coaches, the only one I feel strongly about inducting is Clark Shaughnessy given the revolutionary importance of the T formation.

6 Replies

brian wolf
brian wolf

No Coryell, Flores ?

What about two time champions like Parker, Shanahan, Seifert, Coughlin ?

Rasputin
Rasputin

I said Shaughnessy is the only one I strongly support among those listed, not that I'd necessarily oppose all the others.

Flores and Seifert inherited pretty good teams. Seifert's was better, but he also got better results, .648 winning v .527. He even got better results whiffing in his Carolina stint than Flores did in his dismal Seattle tenure. They both had short careers by HoF coach standards, which makes Flores' .527 winning percentage look even worse. Neither did a Jimmy Johnson style complete franchise turnaround, or really contributed innovations that changed the game. And I don't give any extra credit for anyone's ethnicity/race, so Flores' "firsts" in that regard are irrelevant to me. There should be zero affirmative action in the HoF or the whole thing is a joke. The rules say voters also aren't supposed to consider a coach's playing career or vice versa, which is sort of weird since someone can only be inducted once, meaning the greatest coach in history couldn't be inducted if he was already in as a player. But I guess those are the rules. Not that Flores was a HoF quality player anyway.

Among the 2 SB coaches I'd rank Mike Shanahan and Coughlin above those guys. Shanahan built a machine in Denver that contended for the better part of a decade, and featured a running attack that stayed formidable even as it kept changing RBs.

Tom Coughlin didn't inherit anything, taking over the new Jaguars franchise and turning them into a playoff team in his 2nd second season....and the three years after that. He inherited a losing Giants team and again ripped off 4 straight playoff seasons starting his second year, including a monster upset SB win, a Patriots franchise he'd upset again a few years later. Coughlin coached almost twice as long as Flores and posted a slightly better winning percentage of .531, except he posted that same percentage at BOTH the teams he coached.

That said, I'm just not of the school that says you have to induct every coach who wins a SB, or even 2.

Coryell's a solid borderline candidate to me because I value innovation, but the lack of playoff success hurts.

I support Dan Reeves because he made it to 4 Super Bowls with 2 different teams.

Buddy Parker had an overall winning record with all three teams he coached. That says a lot.

Bottom line: I'm not saying "no". I'm just not excited about it. My focus is getting deserving players in, because there are way more of them. I suspect that more than the number of deserving coaches will get in one way or another.

brian wolf
brian wolf

Great calls ...

brian wolf
brian wolf

I like what both you and Ken said in regards to Flores ...

Ken stated that in the TOTA LITY of Flores career, he should get voted in, though like you said Rasputin, it shouldnt matter about ethnic "firsts" and since like you said, a player only goes in once, it shouldnt matter whether its for playing, coaching or contributing ...

Another factor that should help for election, whether as a player or coach is a particular team 's HISTORY

Even if Flores was considered a marginal player, despite being the starting QB for three winning seasons between 63-66 for the Raiders, the fact that he coached on ALL Raiders championships should carry weight, especially if voters can read between the rules and look at the Totality or Summation of a career and contributions to team's histories ...

JeffS76
JeffS76

I largely agree. I've never seen Flores as a HOF caliber coach. Wouldn't grossly offend me if he's elected, but not at the top of my radar for the reasons you listed. I think the ethnic "first" is certainly noteworthy but doesn't magically elevate him to HOF status. I agree with you on Coughlin - I think he is worthy and I hope he gets in eventually. I think Reeves and especially Holmgren are also pretty strong candidates, much better than Flores. Shaugnessy and Coryell don't really belong as head coaches in my mind, but I think they qualify as contributors. I initially assumed that the new contributors category in 2014 would allow an easier pathway for people like Coryell but I was obviously wrong - he can continue to indefinitely take up space among the annual finalists.

brian wolf
brian wolf

I agree Jeff, but in both Flores and Coryell's cases, we are talking about owners who played crucial roles in both of they're success or failure besides hiring them ...

When Flores got the Raider job, despite watching his QB Stabler win clutch games as an assistant coach, the owner Al Davis sent the Snake to the Oilers in Flores second season, for a better armed Dante Pastorini, who Houston coach Bum Phillips had given up on.

Pastorini breaks his leg early in the season and Flores relies on backup Plunkett to come in and play well, which he does all the way to a championship. It helps that the Raiders defense stones three of the NFL's best QBs in the postseason.

Though Flores and Plunkett are joined at the hip and win another SB in 83/84, Owner Al Davis is convinced that Marc Wilson is the better QB and he finally takes the job from an aging, more often injured Plunkett.

In the meantime, while Flores is trying to get Wilson to take the Raiders back to the SB between 85-87, his star running back Marcus Allen is having fumbling problems, which frustrates Davis enough to go after Bo Jackson, which causes a rift and distraction between Davis and Allen that affects the team in 87 ... After the season Flores is fired but did Davis really think that Marc Wilson, an 80s QB version of his former 60s QB Dick Wood, was going to inspire his teammates to win it all ?

Then there is Coryell ...

Like I stated before, he resurrects a moribund St Louis Cardinals team, with an exciting offensive scheme after years of mediocrity, then gets fired by Owner Bidwell after a 7-7 season.

He goes to the Chargers where his team leads the NFL in total offence for six of seven years but its Owner, Klein gets RID of HOF talent like Dean and Johnson on defense and Jefferson on offense, which affects the teams chances at a championship.

Plawren2
Plawren2

Any updates out of the Hall Board meeting today regarding election process for 2021 and beyond-number of seniors? how coaches will be handled?

billyw
billyw

I would put Dante Scarnecchia fairly high on Ast. Coach's who should be in HOF.


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