By Don Banks | Feb. 1, 2019
ATLANTA — Super Bowl LIII is now mercifully close to unfolding and still the most intriguing angle to the Rams-Patriots showdown is the unprecedented half-his-age coaching matchup of 33-year-old Sean McVay versus 66-year-old Bill Belichick, who Sunday night can become the youngest or oldest coach, respectively, to ever win a Super Bowl.
The veteran defensive mastermind matching wits with the youthful offensive savant is about as stark a coaching contrast as you can ever hope for in a Super Bowl, and it got me wondering what history reveals when it comes to the value of previous Super Bowl head coaching experience squaring off against a Super Bowl novice?
Here’s the bottom line: In terms of significance, it’s pretty much a 50-50 proposition. This is the 24th Super Bowl that matches a head coach with a previous Super Bowl on his resume (Belichick, eight actually) against a head coach working his first Super Bowl (McVay). And in the first 23 such encounters, the coaches with some Super Bowl experience have prevailed 12 times, while the first-timers have won 11. That’s a mere .522 winning percentage in favor of the Super Bowl-veteran coaches, or in other words, a flip of the coin.
Of the other 29 Super Bowls that don’t fit the script on the coaching matchup front, here’s the breakdown: Sixteen games have featured both head coaches making their Super Bowl debuts, with the most recent being Gary Kubiak’s Denver Broncos dispatching Ron Rivera’s Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif., three years ago.
The other 13 Super Bowl pairings came with both head coaches having been there before, with the most recent example coming four years ago in Glendale, Ariz., when Belichick’s Patriots overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to nip Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks, denying them the honor of winning back-to-back Lombardi Trophies (or at least Malcolm Butler denied them).
To no surprise, Belichick has been on both sides of this equation a lot in recent years, because as you may have heard, his Patriots are making their fourth Super Bowl trip in the past five seasons, and sixth in 12 years. Rinse, repeat.
Giving hope to Rams partisans everywhere, Belichick owns a far-from-infallible 3-2 mark when holding the Super Bowl experience edge over his coaching opponent, having lost just last year to Super Bowl coaching novice Doug Pederson of the Eagles, in Minneapolis.
Alas, the year before, it was Belichick’s Patriots, of course, who posted the Super Bowl comeback for the ages, digging out of a 28-3 third-quarter hole to stun Atlanta in overtime in Houston. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the first-time Super Bowl participant — at least as a head coach — whose team let it slip away.
Belichick has also won Super Bowls in which he held more experience against then-Carolina head coach John Fox (2003 season) and then-Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid (2004). Belichick was victorious in the novice-versus-novice situation of coaching against the Rams’ Mike Martz 17 years ago in New Orleans, earning his first Super Bowl ring with New England.
But he lost to his ex-fellow-Giants assistant and Super Bowl novice, Tom Coughlin, when Coughlin’s G-Men stunned the football world by knocking off the 18-0 Patriots in the 2007 season. Four years later, the two teams and coaches had their rematch, and New York won again.
Overall, the recent trend favors McVay coming out on top, because Super Bowl first-time head coaches have won four of the past five matchups against coaches with Super Bowl experience, over a span of the last 11 years.
That list includes Pederson over Belichick last year, Carroll’s Seahawks besting Fox’s Broncos in 2013, Mike McCarthy and his Packers coming out on top of the Steelers and Mike Tomlin in 2010, and the aforementioned Coughlin-Belichick showdown in 2007. The only outlier was Quinn’s Falcons with their epic collapse two years ago against New England, and it took something that historic to reverse the trend.
It’s worth noting that each of those winning first-time Super Bowl coaches (as well as Quinn) made the Super Bowl within the first five years of their tenures with their team, as has McVay. His sterling record in his first two seasons with the Rams is 26-9 overall, including a 2-1 playoff mark. At the same point in his Patriots’ tenure, heading into that first Super Bowl matchup with the Rams in early 2002, Belichick was just 18-16 overall.
Will Super Bowl coaching experience be decisive this year? We’re about to find out when McVay and Belichick take center stage Sunday night, calling the shots for the Rams and Patriots players who will settle matters on the field.