Tom Coughlin and the Most Underappreciated Coaches in NFL History

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 6, 2012

Tom Coughlin and the Most Underappreciated Coaches in NFL History

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    The life and career of an NFL head coach is one filled with twists, turns and uncertainty at any corner.

    Take for example New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.

    At the beginning of the season, Coughlin's Giants were picked by many to either finish second or third in the NFC East and on the outside looking in to the postseason. Critics scoffed at the notion that Eli Manning could ever be considered elite and pointed at the Giants' many holes as reasons for why they would finish looking up at Philadelphia and Dallas.

    The Giants would then start off the season with a bad loss to the cellar-dwelling Washington Redskins before bouncing back and winning six of their next seven to start the season off at 6-2 before losing four straight and falling to 6-6.

    At this point, the now annual question of whether Tom Coughlin was on the hot seat in New York would start getting thrown around by the media until the Giants finished off the season with victories in three out of their last four games to win the NFC East, leading to their status today as Super Bowl champions for the second time in the last four years. 

    The fact that questions about Coughlin's job security always come up is a by-product of coaching a team in the top media market in the country but is also a sign of how underappreciated Tom Coughlin has been in his coaching career.

    Coughlin isn't the first successful NFL head coach to be underappreciated, nor is he the last.

    Here's a look at Tom and some other head coaches throughout history who's work tends to fall through the cracks in the eyes of many fans and experts.

Tom Flores

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    Tom Flores had some big shoes to fill when he was named the successor to John Madden as Raiders head coach in 1979.

    Madden at the time was the winningest coach in Oakland Raiders history and just three years before his retirement, leading the Raiders to their first Super Bowl victory.

    Flores, however, would wind up topping Madden in Super Bowls. In his second year as Raiders head coach, Flores would lead them to Super Bowl XV and a victory in that game over the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Flores and the Raiders then moved to Los Angeles in 1982, and only one season would go on to win Super Bowl XVIII.

    Flores would serve as head coach of the Raiders until moving into the front office in 1988, but one year later, he would leave to take on the role of president and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.

    After a brief return to coaching from 1992-1994 with Seattle, Flores was fired after three disappointing seasons.

    However, despite his lack of success in Seattle, Flores finished his coaching career at 105-90, including an 8-3 record in the playoffs.

    He's the second winningest coach in Raiders history behind John Madden and is also the first minority to win a Super Bowl.

    Yet, Flores isn't in the Hall of Fame, as he joins Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells and George Seifert as the only eligible coaches with two Super Bowl victories that aren't enshrined in Canton.

Weeb Ewbank

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    Weeb Ewbank had a remarkable head coaching career.

    His first NFL head coaching job was with the Baltimore Colts in 1954. An assistant in Cleveland under the legendary Paul Brown, Ewbanks was recommended for the job by Brown to Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom.

    After taking over the Colts, he would lead them to NFL championships in 1958 and 1959. His 1958 championship with Baltimore came in what was considered "The Greatest Game Every Played" against the New York Giants.

    But by 1962, Colts owner Rosenbloom had thought that the Colts had slipped from where they were in years past and fired Ewbank in order to hire Don Shula as head coach. Shula would be the youngest head coach in NFL history at that time.

    Ewbank was then hired by the AFL's New York Jets in 1963. It was considered a difficult and challenging job as the Jets had not put together a winning season in the AFL in their first three years, but Ewbank would turn the team around, thanks in part to the acquisition of Joe Namath of course.

    In 1968, Ewbank would become the first head coach to win championships in two different leagues as the Jets would win the AFL. However waiting for them in Super Bowl III was his successor and former team—the Baltimore Colts.

    From here came Namath's guarantee, then the Jets defeating the Colts 16-7. Ewbank was now the first coach in pro football history to win an NFL, AFL and Super Bowl championship (and also the last since the merger would be completed in 1970).

    Ewbank is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but nowadays you won't hear him named as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. This despite the fact that he has won two NFL championships, an AFL championship and Super Bowl III and went 134-130-7 for his career, including 4-1 in the playoffs.

    Also passed over is his contribution to the game. Being a former NFL head coach going into the AFL as well as coaching the first AFL head coach to win the Super Bowl, one would think that Ewbank would be credited more for helping to further validate the legitimacy of the AFL, however his name isn't often brought up.

    Then again, when your quarterbacks were Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath, it's very easy for some fans to brush off your success as the product of your quarterbacks, but even then, Unitas' numbers weren't as good after Ewbank left Baltimore.

Bud Grant

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    Often overlooked as one of the great coaches in NFL history is long-time Vikings head coach Bud Grant.

    Grant took over the Vikings in 1967 after a distinguished career as a head coach in the CFL where he won four Grey Cups as coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 1957-1966.

    Just two years after taking over the Vikings, he would lead them to their first NFL championship before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV.

    Grant's coaching approach was that of a disciplinarian who would show little emotion during games. It was Grant's belief that football was a game of controlled emotions and that a coach would lose his players if they were to panic on the sidelines during games or become too emotional.

    Grant would also force the Vikings to practice outdoors in the winter to get used to the weather at Metropolitan Stadium and wouldn't allow heaters on the sidelines during the games. A far cry from today where teams often scurry into the practice bubble at any hint of a shower or snow flurry.

    While coach of the Vikings, Grant would lead the team to four Super Bowls, however, they lost each one of them. His shortcomings in the big game overshadow his success.

    Grant is the winningest coach in Vikings history with a record of 168-105-5 and is the first coach to ever win coach of the year in both the CFL and NFL.

Don Coryell

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    Don Coryell is the only man on this list to never have made a Super Bowl appearance.

    It makes him overlooked and underappreciated for the innovations he's brought to the game during his 14-year coaching career with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers.

    Coryell was hired by the Cardinals in 1973, and in his second year with a franchise that hadn't been to the playoffs in 26 seasons, he led them to their first of two consecutive NFC East championships.

    The Cardinals would post three consecutive double-digit win seasons from 1974-76 and two division titles. However, the Cardinals would often falter in the postseason. The two division titles would be the Cardinals' last until moving to Arizona in 1988, and even then, they would have to wait another 20 years before winning another division championship.

    In 1978, Coryell would become head coach of the San Diego Chargers. This was a pseudo-homecoming for Coryell as he was the head coach at San Diego State prior to taking over the Cardinals.

    While in San Diego, Coryell would reach the playoffs four consecutive years, winning three straight division titles but always fell short in the postseason.

    However, his Chargers offense, dubbed "Air Coryell" was one of the top offenses in the NFL in the late-70s and early-80s, leading the NFL in passing from 1978-1983.

    Coryell would finish his coaching career 111-83-1, but his poor playoff record is partly the reason why he hasn't been enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    However, he's an innovator who's style of play is seen often in the NFL today. One could say that he was a man who coached before his time, and it's interesting to think how Coryell's Cardinals and Chargers teams would fair in today's pass-heavy NFL as opposed to the more defensive NFL of his era.

Don Shula

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    He's the NFL's winningest coach with a record of 347-173-6, a four-time coach of the year award winner, two-time Super Bowl champion and has the most Super Bowl appearances by one coach with six as well as 14 division titles.

    No one is saying Don Shula is underrated. I've heard people say he's overrated (especially considering his early-90s Dan Marino-led teams could never get over the hump), but rarely is he ever considered underrated. Yet, I believe he's underrated and underappreciated.

    Shula is rarely mentioned up there with the likes of Walsh, Landry, Noll, Lombardi and even Belichick. The volume of victories puts him atop the list with most wins, yet, he isn't considered one of the greatest of all time outside of South Florida.

    With the resume he has, I don't understand why. His teams went to the Super Bowl in three different decades, and in his fourth decade of coaching, his teams were always contending. In 36 years of coaching in the NFL, he's only had two losing seasons, and he's the only head coach to ever go undefeated during an NFL season.

    So what does he have to show for it? An expressway in Miami-Dade County that's always congested during rush hour to the point that if you live in Miami and have to drive the Shula expressway, you curse his name daily due not only to the congestion but also to the high toll price (which is second to alcohol in the number of suspended licenses in Miami-Dade County due to the failure to pay). 

    The only two trophies named after him are for the NFL's High School Coach of the Year as well as the "Shula Bowl" which is the name for the College Football rivalry between Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.

    But none of that bothers me as much as the fact that if you're discussing great NFL head coaches and bring up his name, you will likely get brushed off as other football fans continue to extol the virtues of Lombardi, Landry, Walsh et al.

    He's very appreciated in Miami, thanks in part to the Dolphins' decline from big-time team under the Shula-era to one of the most mismanaged teams in the NFL, but outside of Miami, he's just a guy who's two sons couldn't cut it as a head coach in their opportunities (David in Cincinnati and Mike at the University of Alabama where he was replaced by Nick Saban, then the Dolphins head coach) and for his steak houses.

    Coach Shula deserves a lot better than that. He's a legend and should be up there with the rest of the great head coaches. He might not be the greatest of all time, but he should at least be in the discussion.

Tom Coughlin

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    We finish the list with the inspiration: the two-time Super Bowl champion Tom Coughlin.

    Coughlin has had success everywhere he's gone. He took over the Jacksonville Jaguars two years before they would play their first game and would lead them to four postseason appearances in their first five seasons, including a berth in the AFC Championship Game in only their second year of existence.

    His peak with the Jaguars came in 1999 as he would lead them to a 14-2 record—the best record in the NFL. However, they would fall short to the Tennessee Titans (the only team that beat the Jaguars all season in 1999) in what was their second and final AFC Championship Game appearance.

    Since Coughlin left the Jaguars after the 2002 season, the Jaguars have only made it back to the postseason twice.

    In 2004, Coughlin would return to the NFL to coach the New York Giants—a team where he served as a wide receivers coach from 1988-1990 (when he left to become the head coach at Boston College). Since taking over the Giants have made five post-season appearances, won three division titles, and have two Super Bowl championships.

    With any other team in any other city, Coughlin would be a coaching legend, and when he does eventually end his stellar coaching career, history will look at him as one of the best head coaches of his era.

    However odds Coughlin will get a one-year grace period in 2012, and if the Giants fail to repeat, then come 2013, you'll see the questions as to whether Coughlin is on the hot seat again and questions as to whether he's lost control of the players.

    The Bill Cowher-to-New York rumors will spring up again, and stories of him losing control of his players will pop out of Giants camp from "sources."

    That's how you know someone is unappreciated; if in his own town, questions about job security dog him being one of the most successful coaches in the NFL. Overall he's 139-110 with five division titles combined between the Jaguars and Giants and nine playoff appearances. But, when things tend to go bad for the Giants, it seems like Coughlin is no different from any run-of-the-mill underachieving coaches. 

    He doesn't deserve that. And with two Super Bowl championships to his name as a head coach, hopefully for Coughlin it will come to an end.