The shelf life of a multiple-championship coach

Hardly a day goes by that some Media Type doesn’t wonder — on radio, TV or in print — whether Tom Brady will win another Super Bowl. To which I reply: Never mind Brady. Will Bill Belichick win another Super Bowl? Coaches have an expiration date, too.

And the Man in the Grey Cotton Hoodie may have passed his. No coach, after all, has won the Lombardi Trophy later than his 18th season in an NFL head job (the Cowboys’ Tom Landry in 1977). Belichick is in his 20th — five with the Browns, 15 with the Patriots. So if he wins his fourth title, he’ll set a modern record for shelf life.

Yes, Tom Coughlin was 65 when his Giants took the championship in 2011, three years older than Belichick is now. And yes, that made him the oldest Super Bowl-winning coach. But it was “only” his 16th season as a head man. He’d have to capture a third title to top Landry.

And yes, Dick Vermeil was 63 when his Rams ran off with the Lombardi Trophy in 1999, a year older than Belichick is now. But because of a lengthy sabbatical, it was only his 10th season as a head coach. (Age, I’m convinced, is less important than the Number of Years in a Head Job — the pro football equivalent of dog years.)

Here’s a chart I put together of the coaches who’ve won multiple championships in the Super Bowl era. It’s followed by a second chart of those who won multiple championships before the Super Bowl. Weeb Ewbank straddles the two periods, but I included him in the first group because, well, when you’ve coached Joe Namath, you have to be considered a modern coach. How many quarterbacks have been more “mod” than Broadway Joe?

Anyway, these are Belichick’s true peers, more so than one-timers like Tony Dungy (’06 Colts), Bill Cowher (’05 Steelers) and Hank Stram (’69 Chiefs), among others.

SUPER BOWL ERA

Coach Team(s) Years Titles 1st Title Last Title Span (Seasons)
Tom Coughlin Jaguars, Giants 18 2 12th season 16th season 5 (2007-11)
Bill Belichick Browns, Patriots 20 3 7th season 10th season 4 (2001-04)
Mike Shanahan Broncos, 2 others 20 2 5th season 6th season 2 (1997-98)
George Seifert 49ers, Panthers 11 2 1st season 6th season 6 (1989-94)
Jimmy Johnson Cowboys, Dolphins   9 2 4th season 5th season 2 (1992-93)
Joe Gibbs Redskins 16 3 2nd season 11th season 10 (1982-91)
Bill Parcells Giants, 3 others 19 2 4th season 8th season 5 (1986-90)
Bill Walsh 49ers 10 3 3rd season 10th season 8 (1981-88)
Tom Flores Raiders, Seahawks 12 2 2nd season 5th season 4 (1980-83)
Chuck Noll Steelers 23 4 6th season 11th season 6 (1974-79)
Tom Landry Cowboys 29 2 12th season 18th season 7 (1971-77)
Don Shula Colts, Dolphins 33 3 6th season 11th season 6 (1968-73)
Weeb Ewbank Colts, Jets 20 3 5th season 15th season 11 (1958-68)
Vince Lombardi Packers, Redskins 10 5 3rd season 9th season 7 (1961-67)

One of the things that’s interesting about this chart is the span of seasons in which these coaches won titles. Belichick has one of the shorter ones — four (from 2001 through ’04). Only two guys have reached double digits: Ewbank (11, from the ’58 Colts to the ’68 Jets) and Gibbs (10, from the ’82 to the ’91 Redskins).

None of these 14 coaches, though, went a decade between championships. (Ewbank also won in ’59 with the Colts, and Joe also won in ’87 with the Redskins.) That’s what Belichick is trying to do — and if he succeeds, he’ll be the first in the Super Bowl era to pull it off.

It was different in the old days. The Bears’ George Halas, of course, owned the franchise, and other coaches, like Packers founder Curly Lambeau, practically had tenure. So in the next chart you see longer spans — 43 seasons for Halas (though he coached in “only” 35 of them), 20 for Jimmy Conzelman (though he coached in the NFL in only eight of them, leaving to take jobs in college ball and baseball) and 16 for Lambeau. (The thing about Conzelman is, he won titles with the single-wing Providence Steam Roller in 1928 and the T-formation Chicago Cardinals in ’47. That’s staying power. That’s adaptability.)

PRE-SUPER BOWL

Coach Team(s) Years Titles 1st Title Last Title Span (Seasons)
George Halas Bears (Staleys) 40 6 2nd season 36th season 43 (1921-63)
Paul Brown (+ AAC) Browns, Bengals 25 7 1st season 10th season 10 (1946-55)
Paul Brown (NFL only) Browns, Bengals 21 3 1st season 6th season 6 (1950-55)
Buddy Parker Lions, 2 others 15 2 3rd season 4th season 2 (1952-53)
Greasy Neale Eagles 10 2 8th season 9th season 2 (1948-49)
Jimmy Conzelman Cards, 4 others 15 2 7th season 14th season 20 (1928-47)
Curly Lambeau Packers, 2 others 33 6 9th season 24th season 16 (1929-44)
Ray Flaherty Redskins 7 2 2nd season 7th season 6 (1937-42)
Steve Owen Giants 23 2 4th season 8th season 5 (1934-38)
Guy Chamberlin Canton, 2 others 6 4 1st season 5th season 5 (1922-26)

But then, this is Bill Belichick we’re talking about, the winningest coach of his time. He’s returned twice to the Super Bowl in recent years and come up empty but, being Bill, may yet get another shot. The odds are against him, though, and sometimes those can be as hard to overcome as a miracle David Tyree catch in the final seconds.

Source: pro-football-reference.com