George Seifert hasn’t been on the Hall-of-Fame radar since he left the NFL following the 2001 season. But he should be now, and here’s why.
He was just elected to the Hall’s Class of 2021 as the first coaching candidate, and good for him. He’s deserving. He was the first Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl (he won two), and he compiled an 83-53 record -- including 8-3 in the playoffs -- with the Raiders.
But if Tom Flores qualifies, why not Seifert?
The easy answer is: Because he wasn’t a social pioneer like Flores. Except that isn’t a necessary qualification for election to Canton. What happened on the football field is. And what happened when George Seifert was head coach of the San Francisco 49ers was that he was just as successful as Tom Flores.
In fact, he was more … and the envelope, please.
He won more regular-season games (114-97), lost fewer (62-87) and had a better winning percentage (.648-.527). In fact, Seifert has a better regular-season winning percentage than all but four of the 20 winningest coaches of all time. Only George Halas (.682), Don Shula (.677), Bill Belichick (.673) and Paul Brown (.672) are better.
Three of them are in Canton, and Belichick will be.
So why not Seifert? Beats me. The guy hasn’t been a Hall-of-Fame finalist. Not once.
Ah, but there’s where the plot thickens. Critics will tell it’s because a) he won with Bill Walsh’s players and b) look what happened when he left the talent there and went to Carolina. Nothing, that’s what. So, in their eyes, he was exposed.
Except look what happened with Flores: He won with John Madden’s players, then did zippety-do-dah when he went to Seattle. He was 12-36 in three years there where Seifert was 16-32 in three years with the Panthers.
I know, Seifert was 1-15 one season. Well, Flores was 2-14. Yet a dismal second act didn’t sabotage his Hall-of-Fame chances. It shouldn’t sabotage George Seifert’s, either.
Nevertheless, critics try to denigrate Seifert’s accomplishments by pointing out that his first Super Bowl victory was in the immediate aftermath of Walsh’s tenure, with Seifert taking over after Walsh stepped aside in 1989. But Flores won in his second year after succeeding Madden in 1979, so the situations aren’t all that dissimilar.
Except Seifert didn’t just win a Super Bowl. He shredded his opponent, a 55-10 demolition of Denver – with Hall-of-Fame quarterback John Elway, no less – in the most lopsided victory in Super Bowl history.
Of course, Flores did the same thing in Super Bowl XVIII, supporters will tell you, when he routed defending Super Bowl champion Washington with a different team than he had three years earlier. And they’re right. At the time, the Raiders’ 38-9 triumph was the biggest in the game’s history.
Then Seifert and the 49ers came along six years later.
But he didn’t stop there. He won Super Bowl XXIX in a runaway, too, hammering overwhelmed San Diego 49-26, and this just in: It wasn’t with Bill Walsh’s players. Yes, Jerry Rice was in the lineup. So was John Taylor. But the quarterback had changed. So had all but two of the remaining starters from Super Bowl XXIV, including none on defense.
Do the math: That means there were 18 new faces; 20, if you count punter Klaus Wilmsmeyer and kicker Doug Brien.
By contrast, Flores won his second Lombardi Trophy with the same quarterback (Jim Plunkett) as in 1980 and 11 more of the same starters -- or over half the team from three years earlier. And that’s not including punter Ray Guy and kicker Chris Bahr, who were there for both games.
Now, let me reiterate: That is not to disparage Flores’ accomplishment. The record speaks for itself. Bill Cowher didn’t win two Super Bowls, yet he was elected to the Hall’s Centennial Class of 2020. Nope, it’s to point out that George Seifert deserves more than he’s gotten from Hall-of-Fame voters.
He won twice as many division championships as Flores (6-3), won more playoff games (10-8), was in more conference championship contests (5-2) and in eight seasons with the 49ers won a staggering 77 percent of his regular-season games (98-30). Flores won 61 percent of his with the Raiders.
What’s more, Seifert never won fewer than 10 in any season with San Francisco, averaging 12.2 victories per year and three times finishing 14-2. Plus, he won 34 more games in his career than Jimmy Johnson (80), who was whisked into Canton as part of the Centennial Class, and had a better winning percentage (.648) -- even with Carolina -- than Walsh (.609).
And lest you forget … it was George Seifert who flummoxed Dan Marino in Super Bowl XVIII. He was the 49ers’ defensive coordinator then, and it was his job to devise a game plan to keep Marino from dissecting his secondary as he had virtually every opponent that season.
In only his second year as a pro, Marino in 1984 set nearly every NFL single-season passing record, with more TD passes (48), completions (362), 300-yard games (9), 400-yard games (4) and yards (5,084) than anyone in league history. His touchdown record would stand 23 years; his yardage mark another 24 seasons.
He was supposed to be unstoppable. But Seifert and the 49ers flummoxed him with a 4-2-5 nickel defense, sacking him a then-career-high four times (he’d been dropped 13 all season) intercepting him twice and holding him to one TD pass and a season-low 66.9 passer rating.
Final score: San Francisco 38, Miami 16.
"What (Seifert) did was very important to history," said historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal. "He was someone who emphasized nickel linebackers more than anyone. So he was an innovator. Yet he gets no credit for it."
After the loss, Marino conceded that the 49ers “played great defense all the way around.” Well, that was George Seifert’s defense. So consider him one of the architects of the victory. The same goes for Mike Holmgren, then the 49ers’ offensive coordinator.
Holmgren is considered a viable Hall-of-Fame worthy candidate and is on Canton’s short list. But George Seifert? Not anywhere to be found.
He should be now.