Big-game coaches

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 25, 2006

By Cold, Hard Football Facts publisher Kerry J. Byrne
There are many instances when the Cold, Hard Football Facts brazenly mock conventional wisdom, poking their popular nemesis in the chest with a steely, data-filled finger of gridiron knowledge and daring it to fight back.
Conventional wisdom typically slithers away, another victim humiliated by the superior firepower of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
But then there are those rare occasions when the Cold, Hard Football Facts digest all the data and draw a curious conclusion: Conventional wisdom is right on the money.
This is one of those times.
We decided to take a look at the coaches we want leading our team into the postseason – those coaches whose teams routinely elevate their play in the icy maelstrom of playoff football. By the same token, we wanted to see which coaches can be counted on to fold their tents when the sh*t gets heavy.
The results, you will see, simply confirm what many of us already suspected: Some coaches build teams for the 16-game regular-season run. Others build teams for the gridiron-gladiator death battle of the NFL playoffs.
The postseason matters
This is an important study for one very sound reason: More so than in any other sport, the postseason matters in pro football. The names that echo with the deepest ring of authority do so because they got it done when it counted most. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth probably don't belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame based upon regular-season numbers. But toss in eye-popping postseason performances that helped lead Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, and they ended up on the express lane to NFL immortality.
Former Cincy quarterback Ken Anderson, meanwhile, set numerous NFL milestones. He still holds the records for single-season completion percentage (70.6 in 1982) and career postseason completion percentage (66.3). But he never won a Super Bowl, and his tremendous career has been all but forgotten by Hall of Fame voters.
The same phenomenon applies in the coaching ranks. George Allen (pictured here with the Redskins) won an amazing 71.2 percent of his games (116-47-5) in a career that spanned 12 years and two teams (L.A. Rams and Washington). He fielded one of the most dominant regular-season clubs in NFL history, the 1967 Rams, and was a two-time NFL Coach of the Year. He never had a losing season. And among coaches with 100 career victories, only Vince Lombardi (.739) and John Madden (.759) won a greater percentage of their games.
But Allen's teams never got it done in the postseason. He went just 2-7 in the playoffs and, as a result, one of the winningest coaches in NFL history is never brought up when the time comes to list the all-time greats. That mighty 11-1-2 Rams team of 1967? It got routed by the 9-5 Packers, 28-7, in the first round of the playoffs.
Fast forward to today: Bill Belichick has won just 56.3 percent of his games as a coach with two different teams – far below the rate of success Allen had in the regular season. But even though Allen is now in the Hall of Fame, few mention him in the same breath as Belichick because one has three championship rings and the other has none.
This is what we did to determine today's best and worst big-game coaches: We compared the regular-season record with the postseason record of every current NFL coach. We then ranked them based upon the differential between the two numbers. The coaches with much better records in the postseason sit high up on the list. The coaches with much better records in the regular season sit low down on the list. (The entire chart can be found here.)
Of course, we did not include the NFL's seven coaching rookies (Sean Payton in New Orleans, Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, Rod Marinelli in Detroit, Scott Linehan in St. Louis, Gary Kubiak in Houston, Brad Childress in Minnesota and Eric Mangini with the N.Y. Jets).
We also dismissed any coach with fewer than two postseason games under his belt. It's simply not fair to include in the comparison someone whose postseason winning percentage is .000. This left off the list Mike Nolan in San Francisco, Romeo Crennel in Cleveland, Nick Saban in Miami, Lovie Smith in Chicago, Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, Marvin Lewis in Cincy, and Dick Jauron in Buffalo.
We were left with 18 well-seasoned NFL coaches, guys with enough experience to earn a prominent place in our petri dish of pigskin analysis.
For the most part, our study yielded results that merely confirmed what many of us suspected. Even though there is little here in the way of new findings, it is sometimes nice to see the wisp of conventional wisdom carved into the bedrock of NFL annals with the chisel we call the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
Bill Belichick is the best big-game coach in football today
Yes, it's a shocker. On our list of 18 coaches with more than one game of postseason experience, Belichick ranks just 13th in regular-season winning percentage (.563), behind such legends as Jim Mora Jr., Art Shell and Dennis Green.
When it comes to the postseason, however, nobody's close. In fact, in the entire history of football, Belichick's .846 (11-2) postseason winning percentage is second only to Vince Lombardi's .900 (9-1) among coaches with 100 or more overall career victories. It's also .283 points ahead of his regular-season record. Last season was not a memorable one in New England, but the 10-6 Patriots earned one dominant playoff victory and went just as far in the postseason as the 14-2 Colts.
Marty Schottenheimer wets the bed in the playoffs
Another surprise. But it's pretty ugly when you see it all laid out in the harsh, inalterable reality of raw numbers. Schotzy boasts a clean .600 career winning percentage. Not bad considering he's also coached more games (310) for more years (20) with more teams (four) than anyone in pro football today. But he's dead last when playoff time rolls around. His postseason winning percentage is a mere .294 (5-12) – more than .300 points below his regular-season performance.
Joe Gibbs, not Belichick, may be the best coach in football
The format of our list gives short shrift to Gibbs, a Cold, Hard Football Facts favorite who joins Belichick as the only three-time head-coaching champion active in the NFL today. And, of course, he's the only Hall of Famer working an NFL sideline.
Gibbs has the best regular-season winning percentage of any active coach (.648) – yet his teams have still elevated their performance in the postseason, winning 17 of 23 games (.739) in a career that includes 14 seasons and dates all the way back to 1981. His awe-inspiring postseason winning percentage is .091 points higher than his awe-inspiring regular-season winning percentage.
There's plenty of blame to go around in Indy
Tony Dungy has earned something of a free pass from the Cold, Hard Football Facts, which have directed their ire over Indy's repeated postseason failings at its highly overrated quarterback.
But the head coach warrants more blame. After all, he's now proven that he can't win in the postseason with two teams. He's won just 5 of 13 playoff games (.385), after posting a regular-season record of 102-58 (.638) – an ugly differential of -.253.
Among active coaches, only Hall of Famer Gibbs has a better regular-season mark. The most damning indictment of Dungy is that Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl the year after he left – a Cold, Hard Football Fact eerily reminiscent of Tennessee's NCAA national title the year after Manning left for the NFL. The one-and-done implosion of the 14-2 Colts last season is another dishonorable mention in a playoff career filled with postseason lowlights.
It's not quite Schottenheimer-level playoff futility, but it's pretty damn close.

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