The Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s board of trustees on Friday approved a plan that, for the next four years, changes its selection process to make it easier for coaches and more difficult for seniors to reach Canton.
Here’s how: Under the new guidelines, in addition to five modern-era inductees the Hall will elect no more than one senior, one contributor and one coach per year from 2021-24. Then, after four years, that process will be revisited … much as it was Friday.
The news is not unexpected, and there are two ways to look at it. If you’re someone like former Raiders’ coach Tom Flores, it’s welcome. He and Don Coryell were considered serious candidates for the Centennial Class but failed to make it. Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson were chosen instead, with an angry Flores afterward telling ESPN he was “kind of disgusted” by the decision.
But if you’re any of the dozens of qualified seniors waiting to hear their names called, it’s devastating. It means the Hall just made it more arduous to reduce a glut of Hall-of-Fame worthy players that has been gridlocked for decades.
And it did it for the second time in six years.
Rewind the videotape to 2014, when the Hall created the contributor category at the expense of seniors. From 2004-14, there had been two senior candidates per year, but that changed from 2015-19. During that five-year period, it had two every other year -- alternating with contributors -- but one less (8-7) than contributors in total.
That ended in 2020 with the Centennial Class, a process that revealed just how many qualified seniors there are for Canton. The hope was that it would awaken Canton to the need to restore two per year. The reality is that it won’t happen.
At least not until 2025.
Nevertheless, Friday’s move will be … and should be … embraced by frustrated Coryell and Flores fans. Both coaches have been finalists for Canton, with Coryell named six times (including the Centennial Class) and Flores twice (including the Centennial Class), and both were considered serious contenders for Canton in the one-time class. In fact, Flores told ESPN that, prior to the vote, Hall-of-Fame president and CEO David Baker told him he was “almost a shoo-in.”
Except he wasn’t. He and Coryell fell short again.
Which provoked the question: If they couldn’t be elected when they had their own category … if they were passed over for coaches who had a combined one year as finalists prior to the Centennial Class … then what chance did Don Coryell or Tom Flores have going forward? Answer: None … not until coaches were removed from the modern-era class and included in a separate category.
Well, that just happened. Now, the door has been opened not just to those two but others, like Dan Reeves, Dick Vermeil, Buddy Parker, Clark Shaughnessy and Mike Holmgren.
And that’s good for them. But the fallout is not so sanguine for seniors. Considering the raft of qualified candidates, they should have more – not fewer – opportunities to reach Canton, and that won’t happen for at last four more years. Yeah, I know, the Hall’s Centennial Class aimed to reduce the backlog of qualified seniors by naming 10 to one class.
But it reduced it by only a fraction.
According to our Rick Gosselin, there are still 59 all-decade seniors not enshrined. Worse, many haven’t even been finalists. Former Dallas wide receiver Drew Pearson was one of them, not having his case discussed until finally, mercifully, he was chosen as one of 20 finalists for the Centennial Class.
But he wasn’t elected, the only first-team all-decade offensive player from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s and one of only two first-team all-decade choices, period, from that era not enshrined. Heck, second-team wide receiver Harold Carmichael was chosen over Pearson for the Centennial Class, prompting a disappointed Pearson to say “(the Hall) broke my heart.”
He wasn’t alone. Former Denver linebacker Randy Gradishar, another Centennial Class finalist and leader of the Broncos’ “Orange Crush” defenses of the 1970s, cried after he didn’t make it – saying they were “tears from being discouraged and frustrated.”
I can only imagine what he thinks now.
When the Hall last year sent its preliminary list of candidates to Centennial Class voters, it included over 200 seniors, 42 contributors and 13 coaches. In other words, there were four times as many seniors on the list as there were coaches and contributors combined.
That tells you what you already know: There's a substantial imbalance of qualified seniors to coaches and contributors.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame stands for history and was built on a foundation of great players and great teams. But many of those great players continue to be penalized at the expense of others, and I wish I knew why. I just know there are far, far more qualified seniors for Canton than there are coaches and contributors. Yet the Hall’s board of trustees must believe it substantially reduced the queue with its one-time election of 10 seniors to a Centennial Class.
Except it didn’t.
Had the Hall not tinkered with seniors at all and left them at two per year from 2015-24, there would be 20 candidates up for election that decade. Instead, it manipulated the class three times. First, it reduced its numbers with the creation of a contributor category. Then it increased it with 10 inductees in the Centennial Class. Now this.
Result? The maximum number of senior inductees from 2015-24 will be increased by exactly one – to 21.
Bottom line: Consider Friday’s news a victory for coaches in general and Don Coryell and Tom Flores in particular. And for that I’m happy. Both are Hall-of-Fame worthy. But consider it a setback – no, a significant blow – to the passel of qualified seniors waiting to hear from Canton.
And crushed now that they have.