Lords of the Rings: the NFL's 10 greatest coaches

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 11, 2010



By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Potentate of Pigskin
 
The death of Don Coryell earlier this month spawned a wave of "is he or isn't he a Hall of Famer" talk around the inter-webs.
 
We gave the final answer last week: he's a Hall of Famer only to those who let the emotions of his death cloud their reason. Emotion, fortunately for you, is not in our vocabulary (well ... except for denying that we have any emotion ... but you get the point). For our part, we're more than happy to induct Coryell into the Hall of Very Good. It's the only reasonable answer.
 
In any case, all the talk about great coaches got us thinking about the best in history. It's a tough business, this coaching gig: bad coaches live on a very short, constricting leash while average is not good enough in the eyes of fans or history. Only a few coaches have proven they can win consistently year after year (Landry, Shula) or win so explosively over such a short period (Lombardi, Walsh) that they burn their image into the history of the game.
 
So here's what we did to determine the best ever: we looked at those coaches who won most consistently, who won most spectacularly, and/or who left the greatest imprints on their teams and on the sport itself. We then ran all the data through our state-of-the-art Commodore 64-powered database and spit out the 10 best coaches in history.
 
You can argue with the order, but it's hard to debate the final 10. Consider that our list of 10 coaches have combined to win 37 of the 90 championships in NFL history (that's eight shy of half, for those of you keeping score at home).
 
10. Joe Gibbs
Washington, 1981-92; 2004-07
Career record: Regular season, 154-94-0 (.621); postseason, 17-7 (.708)
Championships: 1982, 1987, 1991
 
Best year: 1991. The Redskins had the otherwise mediocre Mark Rypien at quarterback, journeyman battering ram Earnest Byner at running back and a defense with just two Pro Bowlers (Darrell Green, Charles Mann). Yet they went 14-2, absolutely dominated the NFL (485 PF-224 PA), and destroyed the Bills in the Super Bowl, 37-24 (it was 37-10 in the fourth quarter before the Bills tacked on two late TDs). The 1991 Redskins remain today one of the most dominant teams in football history and arguably the powerhouse with the dimmest star power. Great coaching held it all together.
 
Overview: Gibbs famously won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks (Joe Theismann in 1982, Doug Williams in 1987 and Rypien in 1992). Actually, it was four: Jay Schroeder took most of the snaps in the 1987 season, even though Williams started the Super Bowl.
 
It's impressive enough as it is. But it's not as if his quarterbacks were Unitas, Morrall and Griese, as they were for Don Shula. Gibbs turned four otherwise average quarterbacks into highly productive players just long enough to squeeze Super Bowl-winning seasons out of each of them. Every other coach on our list was paired with at least one Hall of Fame quarterback.
 
Along the way, Gibbs revitalized the Redskins franchise, was the architect of The Last Old School Team the NFL has seen, but also won with effective passing attacks, and dominated his opponents in two Super Bowls.
 
Not bad for a NASCAR owner.
 
9. Bill Belichick
Cleveland, 1991-95; New England, 2000-present
Career record: regular season, 148-92-0 (.619); postseason, 15-5 (.750)
Championships: 2001, 2003, 2004
 
Best year: 2001. New England's 2003 and 2004 teams were better than the 2001 team. But the 2001 campaign was officially the year in which Belichick earned his "genius" label, winning a Super Bowl with a team of, at the time, no-name talents on both sides of the ball, especially on offense, where they were led by an inexperienced second-year quarterback. The season ended with one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history.
 
Overview: Many fans and players today – including his own – refer to Belichick as the best coach in history. He's a great coach, but not the best ever. Though maybe someday he could claim that title.
 
But Belichick has done great things. Like Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh three decades earlier, Belichick has changed an organization once defined by its embarrassments and turned it into one defined by success.
 
He's won prolifically in New England (126-52; .708, including playoffs) and stands today as the only coach to win three Super Bowls in four years. He's also the architect of the only 16-0 season in NFL history, though the quest for history went down in the fiery Hindenburg of defeat for Belichick called Super Bowl XLII, one of the great choke jobs in the history of football. With a win that day, Belichick would be somehwere in the top five coaches today. So it was a epic loss and, so far, his organization has never quite recovered.
 
The most impressive part about Belichick's resume is that he has won consistently at the very same time that the league has purported to "level the playing field" for all teams. The Patriots are the dominant franchise of the salary-cap era and Belichick can take a great deal of credit: he's largely responsible for the concept of player "value" in modern pro football. Some teams will pay double for a guy with star power; in Belichick's system, you better get double the production for double the money, otherwise it's a bad move, no matter how big the name on the back of the jersey.
 
The Patriots have finished with at least a tie for the best record in their division for an NFL record nine straight seasons (twice losing the division crown on tiebreakers). Not even Tom Landry's Cowboys or Vince Lombardi's Packers could make that claim. The Patriots could make it 10 straight seasons leading the division this year.
 
Regardless, under Belichick's leadership, the Patriots seem poised to be a consistent contender in the years ahead and he stands today as the only active coach likely to end his career as one of the 10 best at his craft in the history of the sport.
 
8. Don Shula
Baltimore, 1963-69; Miami, 1970-95
Career record: Regular season, 328-156-6 (.678); postseason, 19-17 (.528)
Championships: 1972, 1973
 
Best year: 1972. The first, last and only team to march through an entire NFL regular season and postseason without a single blemish on their record. The 1972 Dolphins were No. 1 in scoring offense, No. 1 in scoring defense and won most of their games with wrinkly 38-year-old career back-up Earl Morrall at  quarterback. Sure, the 'Fins faced a schedule so soft and cushy that you could have used it as a dorm room futon. Regardless, the feat speaks for itself and grows more impressive every year.
 
Overview: Shula won more games than any coach in NFL history, a mark of 328 victories unlikely to be matched any time soon: Among active coaches, Bill Belichick is the closest to challenging Shula's record, and he boasts a mere 148 victories. Not even close.
 
The only knock on Shula, really, is that he didn't win more championships. His Colts were embarrassed by the Jets in Super Bowl III, one of the two or three biggest upsets in NFL history, and he ceded too much control to his gunslinger quarterback Dan Marino in the 1980s and 1990s, costing some very good teams better opportunities to win Super Bowls. More balanced teams would have had more postseason success.
 
Still, Shula cranked out victories with machine-like efficiency, suffering just two losing seasons in 33 years as a head coach. Amazing. The 1972 season, as noted above, speaks for itself. Most interestingly, the Super Bowl champion Dolphins of 1973 may have been better even than the unbeaten Super Bowl champion Dolphins of 1972.
 
Many fans believe that Shula "lost it" in his later years. The Cold, Hard Football Facts say otherwise: the Dolphins enjoyed four straight winning seasons, and three playoff appearances, in his final four years.
 
The only thing we see that's "lost it" is the Miami organization in the wake of Shula's departure. This once-consistent NFL contender boasts just three playoff victories and zero conference titles in the 15 years since losing the 8th best coach in NFL history. Miami won 17 playoff games and five conference titles with Shula at the helm.
 
7. Bill Walsh
San Francisco, 1979-88
Career record: regular season: 92-59-1 (.609); postseason, 10-4 (.714)
Championships: 1981, 1984, 1988
 
Best year: 1981. Walsh's 1984 49ers were more dominant, but 1981 was his greatest season. It took Walsh just three years to literally rebuild the 49ers from inept, punchless NFL also-rans into Super Bowl champions; The improvement in passing offense that Walsh inspired under the direction of Joe Montana is well documented.
 
Less well documented – documented only by the Cold, Hard Football Facts – is the fact that Walsh put in place in those three short years the other critical element of NFL success: an incredible pass defense that would dominant just as much as the passing offense over the next decade. The 1978 49ers were an embarrassment on pass defense. The 1981 champions 49ers were a stifling shutdown pass defense. (We chronicled Walsh's impact on both sides of the passing game in this CHFF epic here last year.) The 1981 season represented a rare and brilliant piece of coaching.
 
Overview: Walsh was a glorious, fiery comet of NFL coaches. He burned through the NFL before quickly fading from sight in just 10 years, but nobody will forget the blazing show of greatness that his teams displayed in that single decade.
 
He not only won at a prolific rate, he changed the fortunes of an organization, setting in motion one of the great strings of success in NFL history. He took the teachings of his mentors, Paul Brown most notably, fortuitously became a head coach at the very dawn of the Live Ball Era (1978-present), when NFL offenses began to emerge from prehistoric seas on awkward webbed feet, and he quite literally changed the way the game of pro football is played.
 
Before Walsh's 49ers, NFL offenses generally attacked defenses with a long, high-risk aerial assault intended to stretch opponents vertically. Walsh's offense (the misnamed West Coast offense) was a low-risk, high efficiency game that stretched defenses horizontally, as well. It's led to a revolution in our concept of passing efficiency and productivity and it's been the dominant form of passing offense in the game today, largely utilized in one form or another by every team in the NFL (except, perhaps, by the Raiders).
 
Walsh also left an incredibly stable system in his wake: the 49ers won two more Super Bowls under his former assistant, George Seifert, including a dominant Super Bowl run in the team's first year without Walsh (1989). It was 15 years after Walsh's departure that the organization finally fell upon hard times. The only thing keeping him from a spot higher on the list is his short tenure. We can only wonder what he might have done with 20 or more years at the helm.
 
6. Chuck Noll
Pittsburgh, 1969-91
Career record: regular season, 193-148-1 (.566); postseason, 16-8 (.667)
Championships: 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979
 
Best year: 1972. Sure, the Steelers would win four Super Bowls later in the decade. But the 1972 season marked one of the great watershed years in pro football history and certainly the most important year in the long history of Pittsburgh football. The Steelers, to put it bluntly, were an embarrassment to pro football for four decades.
 
Then in 1972, they were suddenly a force to reckon with, winning 11 of 14 games in the regular season and then capturing the very first postseason victory in franchise history, courtesy of rookie Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception. The organization has never looked back: it's now one of the NFL's bedrock franchises, it's consistent in its leadership, from ownership to coaches and, yes, despite recent troubles, even to quarterbacks. It's consistently competitive on the field: the Steelers are rarely down and out for any long stretch of time, and they boast more Super Bowl trophies than any other team. The rise of the franchise began under Noll, in that fateful 1972 season.
 
Overview: Not everyone considers Noll a great game-day coach. We're not sure if he was or he wasn't. He also bumbled through a decade of mediocrity in the 1980s. But we do know this: Noll can always point to the hand with the four Super Bowl rings anytime he wants to end a debate.
 
What is not debatable is that Noll might have been the best drafter in history. He harvested one Hall of Famer after another, back before coaches had Mel Kiper to tell them what to do (f*ck, if it were up to us, Chuck Noll would be the world's resident draft expert).
 
It all began with Mean Joe Greene in the 1969 draft, Noll's first, continued with Terry Bradshaw in the 1970 draft and then Franco Harris in the 1972 draft. And then came the mother of 'em all: Pittsburgh's utterly unbelievable four-Hall of Famer haul of 1974 (Mike Webster, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann). It's no coincidence that the Super Bowl victories started rolling in that very same year.
 
So debate his game-day greatness all you want, quibble over the bouts of mediocrity in the 1980s. But you can't argue with the quality of the players he put on the field for more than a decade or the Super Bowl championships he harvested with those laborers.
 
Noll's greatest achievement, though, is making the Steelers synonymous with victory – a status that the organization continues to hold today, four decades after he took the helm. It's no small feat when you consider that for the four decades that preceded Noll's arrival, the Steelers were synonymous with futility.
 
5. Earl "Curly" Lambeau
Green Bay, 1921-49; Chicago Cardinals, 1950-51; Washington, 1952-53
Career record: regular season, 226-132-22 (.631); postseason, 3-2 (.600)
Championships: 1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944
 
Best year: 1929. Football historians would like us to believe that Vince Lombardi's Packers of the 1960s are the only team to win three straight championships and that Don Shula's Dolphins of 1972 are the only undefeated champs in NFL history.  
 
They're wrong on both counts.
 
Several teams went unbeaten in the pre-title game era (1920-32) and Lambeau's 1929 Packers were the last of them: they went 12-0-1 and won the NFL championship by virtue of the league's best record. They were a dominant club, too, outscoring opponents by a combined 198-22. Perhaps more impressively, it was the first of three straight NFL titles for Green Bay. It's a feat the Packers organization has accomplished twice, while no other franchise can make the claim even once.
 
Of course, the big difference is that the Lombardi's Packers and the 1972 Dolphins accomplished their feats in the title game/playoff era, which began in 1933. Lambeau's Packers of 1929-31 merely had to have the best record at the end of the year to claim to be champs.
 
Overview: There's a reason why the NFL's most famous arena is called Lambeau Field, folks. Curly Lambeau was one of the great coaches and pivotal figures in NFL history. Modern fans know about the arena that bears his name and that spits out more bratwurst per capita than any stadium in the country.
 
But the man himself seems lost to history. It's too bad. Curly Lambeau made the Packers what they are today: consistent winners through the decades and a bedrock franchise in North American sports history.
 
He played, he coached and he won prolifically. In fact, he joins Papa Bear Halas as the only two coaches in history to win six NFL titles. Not bad for the Coach Who Time Forgot.
 
He put greatness on the field, too: Don Hutson is arguably the greatest receiver in history, and inarguably the most dominant receiver in history. He scored 99 touchdowns through the air during an era when a team was lucky to generate 10 or 12 passing touchdowns in a season. He was a revolutionary figure in football history, and he did it all under the watchful eye of Curly Lambeau. Hutson's primary batterymate, Arnie Herber, was one of the first quarterbacks inducted into the Hall of Fame (though he was not exclusively a QB).
 
Fans may be inclined to discount Lambeau's three straight titles from 1929 to 1931 because there was no postseason. But keep in mind that Lambeau's legacy didn't die with the onset of the title game era. In fact, Lambeau  led his Packers to five appearances in the first 12 NFL championship games, winning three of them. Dude could coach.
 
He also played back and end for Green Bay's first nine teams (1921-29), meaning he was both a coach and player on the last team before the 1972 Dolphins to negotiate an entire NFL season without a loss. We don't recall Shula suiting up for the 'Fins. But we might have been drunk that day.
 
4. Tom Landry
Dallas, 1960-88
Career record: regular season, 250-162-6 (.607); postseason, 20-16
Championships: 1971, 1977 
 
Best year: 1977. Probably the best team in franchise history, the 1977 Cowboys went 12-2 before dominating three straight opponents (Bears, Vikings, Broncos) in the postseason by a combined score of 87-23. The Broncos were literally overwhelmed in Super Bowl XII, as quarterbacks Craig Morton (a former Dallas signal caller) and Norris Weese combined to complete 8 of 25 passes for 61 yards with 4 picks. It was probably the single-most dominant pass-defense performance in Super Bowl history.
 
Overview: Landry's mastery as a coach looks more impressive to us each time we take a peek back at his record.
 
Consider what he built: The Cowboys today are the winningest franchise in NFL history (.580 ... the slipped past the Dolphins last year) and Landry is almost singularly responsible for its undisputed status as America's Team.
 
He was the expansion team's first coach in 1960 and struggled in the early years (0-11-1 that first season). But by 1966, the Cowboys were winners and then consistent championship contenders. They've rarely looked back since.
 
Landry fielded teams with winning records an amazing 20 straight seasons (1966-85) and reached the playoffs in 18 of those campaigns. The Cowboys, Landry's fedora and the Dallas cheerleading smokeshows all became national icons during Landry's reign, when Dallas routinely contended for championships unlike any other team in history.
 
From 1966 to 1982, Landry's Cowboys played in the NFL/NFC title game an amazing 12 times. No other franchise, let alone a single coach, has reached 12 conference title games in the Super Bowl Era. Pretty much each January, in the biggest games of the year, you could count on the Cowboys to be there for nearly two straight decades.
 
The big knock on Landry, of course, is that for all his success his team won just two championships. But remember, he lost two NFL championship games to Vince Lombardi's dynastic Packers and then lost two Super Bowls to Chuck Noll's dynastic Steelers. It wasn't exactly the 2007 Giants that were besting Landry's club. Plus, all four  losses were dramatic title tilts and the Cowboys were one play away from winning three of them.
 
Much of what we see in the NFL today, meanwhile, is largely Landry's doings: the 4-3 defense, for example, still dominates the NFL today, a half-century after Landry almost single-handedly invented it as an assistant with the Giants.
 
He was also an offensive master, too: a year or two ago, we pieced together a list of the most prolific passing seasons in history, based upon the most telling indicator of success: passing YPA. We were stunned, really just stunned, to find that one Dallas quarterback after another made the list under Landry's leadership. Roger Staubach, Danny White, Dandy Don Meredith and even little Eddie LeBaron all stand high on the list of most prolific passers in history, based upon YPA. Truly impressive.
 
Landry really did it all: he was an innovator on offense, he was an innovator on defense, he fielded consistent winners and he's single-handedly responsible for making the Cowboys America's Team. To this day, the Cowboys are the most popular franchise in North American sports, thanks to Landry's influence.
 
3. George Halas
Chicago, 1920-29; 1933-42; 1946-55; 1958-67 
Career record: regular season, 318-148-31 (.682); postseason, 6-3 (.667)
Championships: 1921, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1946, 1963
 
Best year: 1933. Halas took a few years off from coaching in the early 1930s, but returned to a new era of the NFL in 1933: it was the first year in history that would feature a postseason. Halas's Bears marched through the campaign with a 10-2-1 record, winning a lot of close games in an era marked by ferocious defense (Chicago's average game that year was a 13-8 victory).
 
In the the first postseason game in NFL history, the Western champ Bears battled the Eastern champ Giants. The Bears edged the Giants, 23-21, in a watershed game in pro football history, and one filled by spectacular plays, especially by the standards of the era. Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski threw the winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. It's only fitting that Halas himself could claim victory in the first NFL championship game.
 
Overview: Papa Bear is probably the single most important figure in the history of the NFL, an original player, owner and coach who left his imprint on every facet of the league today. Along the way, he was a pretty damn fine coach, with one of the best won-loss percentages in league history, and one of just two men who can claim to have won six NFL titles as a coach (Curly Lambeau is the other).
 
The Bears today have won 693 games, far more than any other team (Green Bay is second with 654 wins; N.Y. Giants 626; Washington a far distant fourth at 541). Despite being in the NFL for all 90 seasons of the league's existence, the Bears still enjoy the third-best winning percentage of any NFL franchise (.577), behind only Johnny-come-lately franchises Dallas (.580) and Miami (.579).
 
Halas is largely responsible for all of those numbers. His very first team, the 1920 Decatur Staleys, went 10-1-2; his relocated 1921 Chicago Staleys won the NFL championship by virtue of their 9-1-1 record (they became the Chicago Bears the following season). And, as noted, Halas coached the Bears to victory in the very first NFL championship game in 1933.
 
Halas coached 10 years in the NFL – four different times! It seems 10 years was his limit. Not all his departures were by choice: Halas missed three and a half years at the height of his coaching career (he was in his mid- to late-40s), to serve in the military in World War II.
 
In addition, Halas coached probably the two most dominant teams in regular-season history. The 1934 Bears went 13-0 and outscored their opponents 286-86. The 1942 Bears went 11-0 and outscored their opponents by an astounding 376-84 margin. Yet somehow, both teams lost in the NFL championship game. (Halas coached only the first five games of 1942 before being called up for military service.)  
 
And, finally, Halas coached an amazing 24 Hall of Fame players, from George Trafton in 1920 to Gale Sayers in 1967. It's a legacy that's hard to top.
 
2. Vince Lombardi
Green Bay, 1959-67; Washington, 1969
Career record: regular season, 96-34-6 (.738); postseason, 9-1 (.900)
Championships: 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967
 
Best year: 1967. The 1962 Packers were more dominant than any other Lombardi team; in fact, they remain one of the great dominant powers in NFL history. But the 1967 team is the one that sealed the Lombardi Legend and sent him out of Green Bay on top of the known football universe.
 
The 1967 Packers secured their record-setting string of three straight NFL championship game victories in dramatic fashion, with a last-second win over the Cowboys in the legendary Ice Bowl. Then they dominated the Raiders in Super Bowl II to claim the first two trophies that now bear the name Lombardi itself (an honor alone that speaks to the Lombardi impact). Not a bad end to end your nine years in Green Bay.
 
Overview: What do you say? Lombardi is more than a coach. He's a singular personality in American sports who entered the realm of national icon -- a friend to President Kennedy who was eulogized at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan -- and whose name today is largely synonymous with success, determination, victory and old-fashioned American values.
 
Lombardi quotes still pepper inspirational meetings and the national consciousness 40 years after his death, and his imprint on the game itself is virtually impossible to top.
 
Screw it: we can't contain the Lombardi Legend in words any better than NFL Films already has. Here's how they put it (cue the Voice of God):
 
"Lombardi: a certain magic still lingers in the very name. It speaks of duels in the snow and cold November mud ... Lombardi believed in the old-fashioned virtues which were stamped all over his teams: hard work, second effort, loyalty and love. His genius was that he was able to inspire so many players to grasp these ideals. This man stood for everything that was solid and successful in American sports. He remains for many the very heart of pro football, pumping hard right now."
 
show video here
 
Lombardi was known as a difficult taskmaster, but he was beloved by virtually every man who ever played for him. Perhaps the greatest thing that you can say about his coaching skill is that almost every player on his roster was better with Lombardi as coach than they were without him. Even Bart Starr, one of the few players for whom the Cold, Hard Football Facts sheds an emotion, was clearly a better quarterback with Lombardi working in his corner.
 
But most importantly for our purposes, Lombardi won and he won prolifically. He boasts the best winning percentage in NFL history (min. 100 games), the best postseason winning percentage in NFL history, and he led his Packers to the league title game in six of his nine seasons with the team, winning five of those six NFL championship games.
 
1. Paul Brown
Cleveland, 1946-62; Cincinnati, 1968-75
Career record: regular season, 213-104-9 (.672); postseason, 9-8 (.529)
Championships: AAFC: 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949; NFL: 1950, 1954, 1955
 
Best year: 1950. Brown's Browns dominated the second-rate AAFC for all four years of its existence (1946-49). But this was no second-rate power. He immediately proved that his Browns were ready to hang and bang with the big boys when Cleveland finished second in scoring defense (12.0 PPG) and captured the NFL championship during its very first year competing in the old established pro league.
 
Cleveland did it in style, too: they beat the Giants, 8-3, in a rare conference tiebreaker playoff game and then scored 10 fourth-quarter points, including a last minute field goal by Lou Groza, to beat the Rams, 30-28, in the 1950 NFL title game. It was quite a victory over a legendary opponent: the 1950 Rams remain the most prolific scoring machine in NFL history (38.8 PPG). But Brown found a way to outscore them. It was a magical end to a magical season and an incredible five-year title run for the Browns.
 
Overview: There are a few things you need to know about Paul Brown while considering his place atop the pantheon of coaches.
 
One, his Browns from 1946-55 are easily the greatest  dynastic power in pro football history: they won all four AAFC title games, as noted above (1946-49), and then the NFL title in 1950. They also played for the NFL title in record six straight seasons from 1950 to 1955, winning three of those championships games. Each one is an accomplishment unmatched in pro football and NFL history.
 
Two, Brown was the father of not one but two NFL franchises: the Browns and the Bengals. Again, accomplishments unmatched in pro football history.
 
Three, both franchises enjoyed their greatest success with Brown at the helm. Cleveland posted winning records in 16 of 17 years with Brown as its coach and played for the league title in an unbelievable 11 of those 17 years (four AAFC, seven NFL title games). But then football villian Art Modell bought the team in 1961 and, under the delusion that he knew football better than Brown, fired the coach after the 1962 season.
 
This once dominant Cleveland power has never recovered: the Browns have played in just two NFL title games in the 48 years since Brown was booted out of town by Modell, both of them in the immediate aftermath of Brown's dismissal, both with Brown's assistant Blanton Collier leading the team and both with Brown's players taking the field.
 
If Modell wasn't such a d*ck-wad, Brown might have enjoyed another 15 or 20 years coaching in Cleveland.
 
Cincinnati, meanwhile, has enjoyed two conference titles since Brown last coached for them in 1975. But don't forget that Brown was the team's president during those Super Bowl years. The organization, meanwhile, certainly fielded their most consistent winners with Brown on the sidelines. Cincy reached the playoffs three times in its first eight years – not bad for an expansion franchise. They've made six more playoff appearances in the 35 years since Brown was the coach.
 
The organization has gone into a tailspin since he died: two playoff appearances and zero playoff victories since  Brown's death in 1991. In fact, Cincinnati's last playoff victory came in 1990, Brown's last year with the organization.
 
Four, Brown is, without question, the singular football personality in the football mad state of Ohio, smack dab in the heart of the Gridiron Breadbasket. He played schoolboy ball as the quarterback at legendary Washington Massillon, spitting distance from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and the million-dollar stadium there is named for him. In fact, he replaced as Massilon's quarterback a guy named Harry Stuhldreher, who went on to become one of the famed Four Horseman of Notre Dame.
 
Brown then played at both Ohio State and at the University of Miami, the so-called Cradle of Coaches; he coached at Ohio State, and he both founded and coached the state's two NFL franchises. No individual in the nation has had a greater impact on the football culture of an entire state.
 
Five, Brown left a legacy of coaching success in his wake, a massive coaching tree, that's simply unmatched in the history of football, and perhaps in the history of North American sports.
 
Ara Parseghian is one of the most successful coaches in college football history and he led mighty Notre Dame to undefeated seasons and national championships in 1966 and 1973. He played for Brown in Cleveland.
 
Blanton Collier's Browns humiliated Johnny Unitas and the Colts, 27-0, in the 1964 NFL title game. They lost to the Packers in the 1965 title game, the franchise's last chance at a championship. Collier was Brown's assistant.
 
Weeb Ewbank won arguably the two most important games in NFL history: his Colts beat the Giants in the 1958 championship game, the so-called Best Game Ever; and his 1968 Jets beat Don Shula and the Colts in Super Bowl III, considered by many the greatest upset in history. Ewbank was a Brown assistant.
 
Bud Grant made the Vikings a dominant power in the 1960s and 1970s and led the team to four NFC titles. He played for Brown in college.
 
Don Shula coached two different teams to the Super Bowl, won six conference titles, won two Super Bowls, fielded the only 17-0 team in NFL history and is No. 9 on our list of greatest coaches ever. He played for Brown in Cleveland.
 
Bill Walsh won three Super Bowls, made San Francisco synonymous with modern success in the 1980s, revolutioned the game of football, coached two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and is No. 7 on our list of greatest coaches ever. He coached under Brown in Cincinnati. In fact, what we know today as Walsh's West Coast offense was pioneered by Brown and some insist that it should be called the Ohio or Cincinnati Offense.
 
Chuck Noll made the laughingstock Steelers synonymous with pro football success, won four Super Bowls in six years, fielded some of the greatest defenses in history, may have been the best drafter the NFL has ever seen and is No. 6 on our list of greatest coaches in history. He played for Brown in Cleveland.
 
Finally, here's the truly amazing part: an endless list of team and individual records in the NFL can be traced directly to Brown's influence:
  • The undefeated Dolphins of 1972? Shula was a Brown Man.
  • Jim Brown's Ruthian dominance of the NFL and his record 5.2 YPA on the ground? He played for Paul Brown.
  • The dominant Steel Curtain of the 1970s, including the best pass defense in modern NFL history? Noll was a Brown Man.
  • Dan Marino's record 5,084 passing yards in 1984? Marino's coach, Shula, was a Brown Man.
  • San Francisco's dominant passing teams of the 1980s and 1990s, including the two greatest passing seasons ever? Walsh studied under Brown.
  • Otto Graham's career record 8.62 YPA through the air? Paul Brown.
  • The first 1,000-yard tandem ball carriers of Jim Kiick and Larry Csonka with the Dolphins. That's right, Shula, via Brown.
  • Terry Bradshaw's amazing record of 11.1 YPA in four Super Bowls? Did it under a Brown man.
  • Steve Young's career passer-rating record (96.8)? He did it in the Paul Brown School.
  • Peyton Manning's record 121.1 passer rating in 2004? Yup, his head coach, Tony Dungy, came up in the Paul Brown School.
  • The best rushing team in history, the 1963 Browns (5.7 YPA)? They set that mark under Collier, a Paul Brown Man.
  • Finally, 19 of 44 Super Bowls have been won by head coaches brought up in the Paul Brown School.
It's actually no contest, folks. Paul Brown is the greatest coach in pro football history, with an influence that began in the 1940s and continues to reveraberate around the league, in the standings, and in the record books today.

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