This NFL season has had its share of pre-season favorites who have fallen on hard times. One of them, the Dallas Cowboys, recently replaced the overmatched Wade Phillips with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Most pundits predict, baring an amazing run by the ‘Boys, that Garrett is only a short-timer. There are several Super Bowl-winning coaches available on the free agent market, including Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden.
The reasoning for hiring one of these guys seems self-evident. They have proven that they’re capable and talented, and they have the experience of bringing a team all the way. The problem? History doesn’t bear out that this is a great benefit in the NFL. Only five coaches (Bill Parcells, Don Shula, Dick Vermeil, Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves) have brought two different franchises to the Super Bowl; only Shula and Vermeil won it with their second team. No coach has ever won the Super Bowl with different teams. Most coaches have won it early in their first job.
Let’s look at the numbers.
Winners in their first head-coaching job:
Vince Lombardi: 8th, 9th years (won the NFL Championship in his 4th year)
Don McCafferty: 2nd year
Tom Landry: 11th, 17th years
Chuck Noll: 6th, 7th, 10th, 11th years
John Madden: 8th year
Tom Flores: 2nd, 5th years
Bill Walsh: 3rd, 6th, 10th years
Joe Gibbs: 2nd, 7th, 11th years
Mike Ditka: 4th year
Bill Parcells: 6th, 10th years
George Seifert: 1st, 6th years
Jimmy Johnson: 4th, 5th years
Barry Switzer: 2nd year
Mike Holmgren: 5th year
Brian Billick: 2nd year
Bill Cowher: 14th year
Mike Tomlin: 2nd year
Sean Payton: 4th year
Winners in their second head-coaching job (years are as a head coach overall):
Weed Ewbank: 11th year (won the NFL Championship with the Colts in his 5th year)
Don Shula: 9th, 10th years
Mike Shanahan: 5th, 6th years
Dick Vermeil: 10th year
Bill Belichek: 7th, 9th 10th years
Jon Gruden: 5th year
Tony Dungy: 11th year
Tom Coughlin: 12th year
No coach in their third-plus job has ever won a Super Bowl.
18 of the 26 Super Bowl winning coaches (69%) won their Super Bowl with their original team. 19 of the coaches won their first Super Bowl in their first 8 years as a head coach (73%).
Chasing Super-Bowl winning coaches is usually a fool’s errand. Ditka, Seifert, Gibbs (and, I’m guessing, Shanahan) all had disasterous tenures with their next teams. Other coaches have done alright, but never reached their former glory. Plus, successful coaches cost way more, both in dollars and years, than coordinators. If you’re an NFL owner, you’re much better off hiring a promising and hungry coordinator for a third of the price than going after a big name.
So stick with Garrett, Mr. Jones… the odds are with you.