The Canton Worthy: Head Coaches
On the eve of the Super Bowl, the National Football League will announce the newest members to its Hall of Fame. There are 15 finalists.
Among those 15 are two head coaches, four offensive linemen, one defensive lineman, three safeties, two corners, one tight end, one wide receiver and one running back.
In a series of four articles, I’m going to break down the candidates based on four categories: Coaches, Linemen, the Secondary and the Playmakers.
In today’s first article, I’m looking at the two head coaches who made the final cut.
Tom Flores: Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, 1979-1987 & Seattle Seahawks, 1992-1994
In nine years as the head coach of the Raiders, Tom Flores led the team to two Super Bowl victories. With his Raiders winning Super Bowl XV in 1980, Flores became the first minority head coach to take home the league’s ultimate prize. Another incredible feat is that Flores’ Raiders won the Super Bowl once while in Oakland (Super Bowl XV) and once while in Los Angeles (Super Bowl XVIII). Overall with the Raiders, he went 83-53 and 8-3 in the playoffs, winning the AFC West on three separate occasions to go along with his championship rings.
His success, though, would not continue in his second stop with the Seattle Seahawks. Between 1989-1991, he was the team’s president and general manager. In those three seasons, Seattle never reached the playoffs, going a collective 23-25. Between 1992-1994, Flores was the team’s head coach and general manager, and it got worse. After going 2-14 in 1992, the Seahawks went 6-10 in each of the next two seasons. As Seattle’s head coach, Flores went a horrendous 14-34.
There are 23 head coaches in the National Football League Hall of Fame. Only six of them finished with fewer than 100 career victories. Of those six, four finished their coaching careers before 1951. The two remaining head coaches are Vince Lombardi (who won five championships, including two Super Bowls) and Bill Walsh (who won three Super Bowls). Unfortunately, Flores is not on their level.
Don Coryell: St. Louis Cardinals, 1973-1977 & San Diego Chargers, 1978-1986
And, for that matter, neither is Don Coryell, an offensive-mastermind who brought into football a new air with his high-octane offenses. Coryell started off coaching the woeful St. Louis Cardinals for five seasons. He even took them to the playoffs twice, in 1974 and 1975. Both trips were one-and-done. With the Cardinals, Coryell managed to go 42-27-1 with only one losing season.
Then he headed to San Diego, where he made waves in nine years leading the Chargers. Mainly with quarterback Dan Fouts at the helm, between 1978-1986, the Chargers finished in the top five in yards eight times (including leading the league five times) and in points scored five teams (leading the league three times). “Air Coryell,” as his offense came to be known, was critical to the team’s success. But he only took the Chargers to the playoffs four times, winning a collective four playoff games, losing in the AFC Championship game twice. His final years were mediocre with a high being an 8-8 record in 1985. He was fired after a 1-7 start to 1986.
In the end he finished with a 111-83-1 record and went 3-6 in the playoffs with zero championship appearances. For comparison’s sake, there are only three head coaches in the Hall of Fame with zero championships. Two of those coaches, Marv Levy and Bud Grant, took their teams to four Super Bowls. The third, George Allen, reached the Super Bowl once, but finished with a much higher winning percentage (.712) than Coryell (.572).
While Coryell’s offense may have changed the league—for a time, at least—it just isn’t enough to justify enshrining him in Canton.