By Don Banks | July 13, 2018
As much as any storyline at the heart of the magical season and rise of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, the rapid transformation of Doug Pederson’s head coaching reputation from unproven novice to invaluable leader takes a backseat to nothing.
Pederson’s handling of his talented but unaccomplished team was pitch-perfect all year. He and his staff met every challenge that came their way, be it in the form of overcoming key injuries, or with the use of timely motivational tactics, inventive play-calling and game management.
Coming off his 7-9, last-place record as a rookie head coach in 2016, Peterson joined the ranks of Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Dallas’ Barry Switzer, Washington’s Joe Gibbs and Oakland’s Tom Flores as coaches who captured a Super Bowl title in just their second season.
Though Pederson’s head coaching skills went largely under-appreciated at this time last year, the perception of his standing in the NFL coaching fraternity has been dramatically altered by last year’s spectacular success. While the luster of Philadelphia’s championship season may naturally tend to fade a bit over the course of time, Pederson proved his coaching mettle in dramatic and memorable fashion.
Pederson isn’t the only NFL head coach who comes to mind when I think of the more unsung and under-appreciated members of his high-profile profession. Combing through the NFL’s history, here’s my list of the 10 head coaches whose work hasn’t gotten its full share of credit over the years.
* Tom Flores, Raiders (1979-87): It was really Al Davis’ team. He inherited John Madden’s team. It was Jim Plunkett’s comeback triumph. Or the byproduct of a great defense. And on and on and on. Someone else always gets the credit for the Raiders’ success besides Flores, who went 91-56 in those nine seasons, made the playoffs five times and won Super Bowls in both Oakland (1980) and Los Angeles (1983). Flores kept the Raiders at or near the top of the league while dealing with a nomadic franchise that led an often chaotic existence.
* Dick Nolan, 49ers (1968-75): Everyone thinks the winning started in San Francisco when Bill Walsh arrived, but facts are stubborn things. The 49ers had just one winning season in the six years before Nolan was hired, and then he led them to three straight NFC West titles (1970-72) and two consecutive NFC title games (1970-71) in his first five seasons on the job. The only hump he couldn’t get over was beating Dallas in the playoffs, losing three years in a row to the Cowboys in January.
* John Harbaugh, Ravens (2008-present): Yes, the Ravens have regressed from the lofty standard Harbaugh set from 2008-2012, missing the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. But he helped put a second Lombardi Trophy on the shelf with the 2012 team’s dream playoff run, and his Ravens have consistently been the only AFC club fearless enough to battle and sometimes conquer the dynastic behemoth known as New England. His record includes six playoff berths in his first seven years, a 104-71 mark including 10-5 in the postseason, and only one losing season in 10 years.
* Don Coryell, Rams (1973-77) and Chargers (1978-86): His exciting and offensively-led Cardinals won back-to-back NFC East titles in 1974-75 and earned three straight double-digit win seasons when no one else in the conference could knock off the vaunted Dallas Cowboys. Then he left for San Diego and created his famed Air Coryell attack, leading the Chargers to four consecutive playoff seasons and back-to-back AFC title game appearances in 1980-81. For his offensive innovation alone, he’s worthy of continued Hall of Fame consideration.
* Red Miller, Broncos (1977-80): The Broncos had never won a thing in their sorry 17-season existence until Miller was hired in 1977, but he led those wildly-popular underdog Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance as a rookie head coach that year. Miller’s “Orange Crush’’ defense took the NFL by storm and Denver that season became one of the league’s most memorable Cinderella stories ever. The Broncos went to the playoffs three times and finished 8-8 once in Miller’s four seasons, and his 42-25 mark set the bar that the likes of Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan and other Denver coaches followed.
* Jim Mora, Saints (1986-96) and Colts (1998-2001): Playoffs? Playoffs? Yeah, an incredulous Mora might have given us that epic post-game sound clip in late 2001, but he did know something about the postseason, leading his Saints and Colts teams into January six different times. Alas, his teams lost their playoff opener each time, but his 125-106 (.541) regular-season record in 15 seasons is anything but a punch line.
* Buddy Parker, Lions (1951-56) and Steelers (1957-64): Don’t know much about Parker? He was simply one of the best coaches of his era, taking the Lions (the Lions!!!) to three consecutive NFL championship games in 1952-54, winning two league titles. And then he jumped to the moribund Steelers in 1957, posting four winning seasons and five non-losing records in his eight years in Pittsburgh, which was a feat in and of itself in the pre-Chuck Noll era. Parker went 107-76-9 overall, a .577 winning percentage that still stands the test of time.
* John Rauch, Raiders (1966-68): The guy who coached Oakland after Al Davis and before John Madden went a gaudy 35-10-1 in his three seasons on the job, and that is not a misprint. Rauch’s teams won the AFL’s Western Division in 1967 and 1968, going 13-1 and 12-2 in the regular season. The Raiders won the AFL in 1967, losing Super Bowl II to Lombardi’s Packers in Miami. Again, as was later the case with Tom Flores, everybody but the head coach seemed to get credit for Oakland’s success.
* Bobby Ross, Chargers (1992-96) and Lions (1997-2000): Ross was a successful college coach who made that rare move to the NFL without losing his magic. His Chargers teams (50-36) won the AFC West twice, made the playoffs three times, and earned the franchise’s first and only Super Bowl berth in 1994, with Ross never enduring a losing season in San Diego. He went only 27-32 in three-and-a-half seasons in Detroit, but the Lions made the postseason twice in that span and had just one losing season. By modern-day Lions standards, that’s a glory era.
* Raymond Berry, Patriots (1984-89): For a Hall of Fame receiver, Berry made a pretty damn good head coach. In the first five seasons of his six-year tenure, the Patriots finished with winning records, twice posting 11-5 seasons and earning the franchise’s first Super Bowl berth in 1985. Super Bowls may be commonplace in Foxboro these days, but the Patriots went to exactly one in the game’s first three decades, and it was the soft-spoken Berry (51-41) who led them there.