Jim Harbaugh and the 11 Greatest Rookie Head Coach Performances
Jim Harbaugh is having a storybook season in his first year with the San Francisco 49ers, but he isn't the only rookie coach who has flourished in the NFL.
In fact, there were a number of rookie coaches that have had both regular season and playoff success.
A few coaches even managed to bring their teams to the Super Bowl, or they had the top record in the NFL before the Super Bowl began.
So, while it is easy to get caught up in the 49ers' promise, one must remember that Harbaugh isn't the first rookie head coach to get the job done, and he almost certainly won't be the last.
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Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints 10-6
Bill Cowher, Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5
Potsy Clark, Portsmouth Spartans 11-3
Dick Rauch, Pottsville Maroons 10-2
Chuck Knox, St. Louis Rams 12-2
Dennis Green, Minnesota Vikings 11-5
Bobby Ross, San Diego Chargers 11-5
Steve Mariucci, San Francisco 49ers 13-3
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6
Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins 11-5
Jim Mora Jr., Atlanta Falcons 11-5
George Halas, Decantur Stanleys 10-1-2
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers 13-3
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Jim Harbaugh's season is yet to be done. To truly be deserving of a spot on this list, he will need to get a playoff victory.
However, Harbaugh did turn around a team that was just 6-10 last season. He revitalized the career of his quarterback, Alex Smith, and the San Francisco 49ers defense is one of the best in the NFL.
The team easily won the NFC West with its 13-3 record. The 49ers are ranked second overall in the NFC, and they have clinched a first-round playoff bye.
So far, Harbaugh's rookie season has been a scorching success.
John Madden, Oakland Raiders 12-1-1
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In 1969, the legendary John Madden became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Two years earlier, coach John Rauch led the team to the Super Bowl, but the Raiders lost to the Green Bay Packers and Vince Lombardi, 33-14.
The merger that combined the American Football League (AFL) with the NFL was still one season away from being finalized, yet the champion of the AFL began playing the NFL champion starting with the first Super Bowl in 1967.
So Madden took over an already successful team, but he helped the Raiders to a 12-1-1 record (first in the AFL West).
Madden didn't get to the Super Bowl, though. The Raiders lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL championship game, 17-7.
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens 11-5
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Brian Billick won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, but that wasn't enough to keep him around past the 2007-08 season,
In the 2008-09 season, John Harbaugh took over as the head coach for the Ravens.
He had control of a veteran defense with stars like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but the offense was led by rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco.
Harbaugh managed an 11-5 regular season record in his first year (good enough for a wild-card playoff berth), and the Ravens won two playoff games before losing to their divisional rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC championship game.
Barry Switzer, Dallas Cowboys 12-4
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Barry Switzer became the Dallas Cowboys head coach before the 1994-95 NFL season after Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones decided to part ways.
This situation was unique. Johnson had won two consecutive Super Bowls, but disagreements over how to run the team with Jones led to his demise.
Switzer had an excellent team that included offensive powerhouses Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, and like Johnson's, Switzer's teams had success.
Coach Switzer went 12-4 and finished first in the NFC East, but the team lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game.
Bill Callahan, Oakland Raiders 11-5
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After Jon Gruden was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bill Callahan became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders before the start of the 2002-03 season.
Gruden oversaw significant improvement during his tenure with the Raiders. The team went to the playoffs two straight years, including an AFC championship loss to the Baltimore Ravens (the eventual Super Bowl champions) in 2000, and a controversial loss in a 2001 divisional playoff game to the New England Patriots due to the Tuck Rule.
The team continued its improvement under Callahan. In his first season, Callahan had an 11-5 regular season record and brought the team to the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Raiders ran up against the Buccaneers and their former head coach, Gruden, in the big game.
Oakland lost to Tampa Bay, 48-21.
Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts 14-2
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Jim Caldwell didn't have an easy task in his first season as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. He followed the success of Tony Dungy.
Dungy took the Colts to the playoffs in each of the seven seasons he was there, including winning the Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears in 2006-07 season.
Caldwell's 2009-10 season didn't disappoint the Colts' fan base, though. He went 14-2 (he decided to sit Peyton Manning and the rest of his starters the last two games of the regular season), and Caldwell managed to get the Colts to their second Super Bowl appearance in just four seasons.
However, the Colts didn't end up taking the title. They lost to the New Orleans Saints, 31-17.
Red Miller, Denver Broncos 12-2
Red Miller didn't have a very long tenure as an NFL head coach. He was only with the Denver Broncos for four seasons, but he made quite an impact while he was there.
For the 1977-78 season, Miller won 12 games and lost only two. The Broncos won the AFC West under Miller, and after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs, they went on to play in the Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys.
But the Tom Landry-coached Cowboys were too much for the Broncos to handle, and Denver lost the game, 27-10.
Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns 10-2
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After the Cleveland Browns' four straight All-American Football Conference (AAFC) Championships under Paul Brown, the AAFC merged with the NFL.
Paul Brown had no problem keeping up his success. In Brown's first season in the NFL, he coached Cleveland to a 10-2 record and an NFL championship.
Brown would go on to win two more NFL championships during his time in Cleveland, and the coach is considered one of the game's greatest minds..
He helped give berth to the modern offense, and numerous players learned enough under Brown to become coaches themselves.
Guy Chamberlin, Canton Bulldogs 10-0-2
Guy Chamberlin was only 28 years old when he became the head coach of the Canton Bulldogs. He does have something that separates him from the others I've mentioned.
Like a majority of coaches on this list, Chamberlin was also a football player. So, what is the difference? He played for the Bulldogs in 1928 as well. He was a player-coach.
In Chamberlin's first season as the Canton coach, the Bulldogs were 10-0-2 and became the NFL champions.
Don McCafferty, Baltimore Colts 11-2-1
Don McCaffery had one of the best seasons of any rookie head coach in the history of the NFL. He only coached in the NFL for four years, and his first season was by far the most successful.
McCafferty became the coach of the Baltimore Colts for the 1970-71 season. He finished the regular season with a 11-2-1 season.
In the playoffs, led by quarterback Johnny Unitas, the Colts beat the Cincinnati Bengals then the Oakland Raiders before going to face the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl.
Even with Unitas injured and quarterback Earl Morrall taking over, the Colts were able to beat Tom Landry's Cowboys, 16-13, and squeak out a Super Bowl victory.
George Seifert, San Francisco 49ers 14-2
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After the San Francisco 49ers' 1988-89 Super Bowl-winning season, head coach Bill Walsh left the team and retired from football.
George Seifert, the team's defensive coordinator, was picked to take Walsh's place for the 1989-90 season.
Seifert inherited a fantastic team, and he had two of the greatest players in NFL history on the 49ers offense, Jerry Rice and Joe Montana.
Coach Seifert and the 49ers went 14-2 in the regular season. In the playoffs, the team beat the Minnesota Vikings, 41-13, the Los Angeles Rams, 40-3, in the NFC championship game, and then the Denver Broncos, 55-10, in the Super Bowl.