Quick now: Name three current NFL head coaches on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory.
Bill Belichick is a no-brainer. Six Lombardi Trophies and 280 victories make him one. Then there’s Kansas City’s Andy Reid … provided, of course, that Le’Veon Bell’s not counting the ballots. But then who?
The Steelers’ Mike Tomlin? Maybe. He’s 1-1 in Super Bowls, has seven division titles and never had a losing season in 14 years of coaching. All I know is that he’s won as many Super Bowls as Bill Cowher, has a better winning percentage (.650-.623) and only four fewer victories.
And Cowher’s in Canton.
Or how about the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll? He’s 1-1 in Super Bowls, too, with as many career wins (145) as Tomlin. And let’s not forget New Orleans’ Sean Payton, who put the Saints on the map with a .638 winning percentage, won seven division championships (including the last four) and brought home the franchise’s only Lombardi Trophy.
But let me throw another name at you, one you might not consider. What about Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians?
He’s a two-time NFL Coach of the Year. He won 60 percent of his starts (67-44-1) and more games (9) as an interim head coach than anyone in league history. He has two Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach. And he just defied the odds by winning a Super Bowl with a 43-year-old quarterback somewhere no team in NFL history ever won one.
Its own stadium.
Granted, the sample size for Arians is comparatively small. Seven years as a full-time head coach and most of another as an interim. But don’t blame Arians. He wasn’t offered a job until he was 60 … and look what he’s done with it: He had four non-losing seasons in five years in Arizona, where he produced a .614 winning percentage, including three stretches with 10 or more victories, and put the Cards in an NFC championship game. Then he moved on to Tampa Bay where, in his second year, he pushed the Bucs to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
And then beat Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in succession.
That deserves some kind of recognition, and maybe it’s inclusion in this conversation. No, he’s not a candidate for the third spot. At this juncture, I’d say that position probably goes to Tomlin. But it’s a crowded field, and Arians is making a push to be included. What’s more, if he wins another Super Bowl … and, yes, the clock is ticking … he might just catapult himself all the way to the third spot.
I’m serious. Jimmy Johnson coached nine seasons and had a .556 winning percentage. He also won only 80 games. But he won back-to-back Super Bowls and is credited with building a Dallas team that won a third, with Barry Switzer.
"My view," NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal said of Arians, “is that he’s not on a Hall-of-Fame path right now. But if he wins back-to-back titles, it changes – and that accomplishment vaults him into Hall-of-Fame territory due to the rarity of that feat.”