NFL: The 14 Most Underrated Coaches in NFL History

Brian Wright@@BrianWright86Correspondent IIJuly 19, 2011

NFL: The 14 Most Underrated Coaches in NFL History

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    When listing pro football's all-time greatest coaches, some names are immediate headliners: Lombardi, Landry, Shula and Walsh.

    Then there are the coaches who don't get as much recognition in the annals of NFL history.

    The 14 coaches presented are overlooked because either they were successful but never won a championship, were not as notable as another coach that led the same franchise or they simply didn't have an unforgettable personality.

14. Joe Gibbs

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    Despite his second stint with the Redskins not turning out as well as many would have liked, Gibbs is still ranked among the top 10 coaches of all-time.

    But what many overlook is the varying personnel that he used to get his three Super Bowl rings. More specifically, he was able to win titles with a revolving door at quarterback.

    Vince Lombardi won a handful of championships with Bart Starr as his signal-caller. Bill Walsh won three with Joe Montana.

    Gibbs won his trio of trophies with a different QB in each Super Bowl run. Considering that the quarterback is the most important position on the field, being able to win on a consistent basis even with the changes on his roster deserves added praise.

13. Tony Dungy

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    Dungy's only losing season in 13 years came during his rookie campaign in 1996. Eventually, he took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the doldrums and into the 1999 NFC Championship Game, where they were edged by the eventual Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.

    Two years later, Dungy transitioned nicely to Indianapolis. After four straight seasons of 10 or more victories—but without a ring—the Colts won Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears, making Dungy the first African-American head coach to win a professional football championship. 

    In all, Dungy reached double digits for wins in a season on 10 occasions.

12. Marty Schottenheimer

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    Marty Schottenheimer will forever be known as a coach who failed to win the big games and his playoff record of 5-13 is a black mark that may keep him from the Hall of Fame.

    Still, one can't overlook the fact that he won a boatload of regular season games in order to get into those postseason contests. He was 200-126-1, compiling the sixth most victories in NFL history.

    He also was great at reviving previously downtrodden franchises. Marty made the Cleveland Browns into a Super Bowl contender in the 1980s, gave the Kansas City Chiefs their first division title in 22 years and turned the San Diego Chargers from a doormat to a power.

11. George Seifert

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    While it's true that he won with Bill Walsh's old players to a Super Bowl triumph in his first season as head man with the San Francisco 49ers, George Seifert did a fine job of keeping them on top of the NFL landscape for the majority of the 1990s.

    The soft-spoken Seifert never had a losing season while leading the Niners (it was hard to with Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice at your disposal) and captured another Lombardi Trophy in 1995 at Super Bowl XXIX.

    Unfortunately, he went out with a whimper—losing his final 15 games as head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2001.

10. Chuck Knox

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    Knox coaxed winning clubs in three different locations.

    His first job came as the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams from 1973-77. In those five seasons, Knox saw his Rams teams win five divisional titles and average nearly 11 wins per campaign.

    Knox then performed wizardry in Buffalo, where he reached the playoffs twice in five years. The same magic was performed with the Seattle Seahawks. Seven years removed from expansion, the Seahawks made it to the AFC title game.

    The playoffs, however, were not kind to Knox. He made the playoffs in 11 of his 22 seasons manning the sidelines. However, he lost four conference championship matches, including three straight with Los Angeles from 1974-76.

    His second tour of duty with the Rams, beginning in 1992, didn't fare as well. That, though, shouldn't diminish his ability to revive struggling teams into instant success.

9. George Allen

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    Before Chuck Knox made the Rams an annual contender, George Allen did the same. From 1966-70, his teams won two division crowns.

    After five fine seasons in L.A., Allen moved on to the spot that he is more noted for.

    Prior to Allen taking over, the Washington Redskins had only one over-.500 campaign since 1956. In 1972, Allen's "Over the Hill Gang" beat the hated Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship and D.C. had a Super Bowl appearance to celebrate.

    For 12 years as an NFL head coach, Allen never won a Super Bowl, but he never had a team with a losing record. So it only makes sense that his .712 winning percentage ranks fourth all time.

8. John Madden

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    John Madden is one exception to the criteria presented in the introduction.

    Madden led the Oakland Raiders to a win in Super Bowl XI over the Minnesota Vikings—the franchise's first championship. He is also one of the great personalities in the sport's history. But it what he did off the field that created his notoriety with fans and overshadowed his coaching excellence.

    He started out leading the Raiders in 1969 at age 33—and went 12-1-1 in that first season at the helm. Madden finished his 10-year coaching career with a 103-32-7 mark and the best winning percentage for any coach who has served for at least a decade (.763).

7. Marv Levy

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    With superb resiliency, Marv Levy guided the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive conference championships—a feat that probably won't be done again.

    What everyone remembers, though, is that the Bills fell flat in all four Super Bowls they appeared in.

    Still, the numbers and accomplishments Levy posted in Buffalo show that his team—led by Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith—was the best in the AFC from 1988-96. During that stretch, the Bills won seven Eastern Division titles and were over the .500 mark in all but one of those seasons.

    Levy retired after 1997 and will be hard to surpass as the greatest coach in Bills history.

6. Curly Lambeau

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    Only legends get stadiums named in their honor—and Curly Lambeau is no exception.

    Lambeau was the first head coach of the Green Bay Packers, a position he held for 29 seasons (1921-49). During his tenure, the Packers won the NFL Championship on six occasions. That's tied for the second-most league titles for a head coach.

    In all, Lambeau's 226 victories rank fourth in pro football history—trailing only Don Shula, George Halas and Tom Landry.

5. Tom Flores

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    He is the most misremembered of all the head coaches to have multiple Super Bowl rings.

    On a team known for brashness and bravado, Tom Flores was far more understated. But that didn't diminish his ability to keep his group of Oakland Raider outlaws in check.

    The Raiders trumped the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV, 27-10. Then, three years later, they crushed the favored Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII.

    Flores doesn't have a stellar winning percentage (.527), but the fact that he has two world titles should not be forgotten.

4. Weeb Ewbank

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    He's not on this list because of his win-loss record, as his overall mark is just a game over .500. Weeb Ewbank, though, deserves praise for having won three NFL titles and, more importantly, having been the winning coach in the two most significant games in history.

    He was on the sidelines as the head man of the Baltimore Colts in their 1958 championship victory—a game that captivated the nation by being the first ever to go into sudden-death overtime.

    Just over 10 years later, Ewbank led the New York Jets to Super Bowl III against the Colts. His quarterback—Joe Namath—made the guarantee and made true on that promise. And pro football hasn't been the same since.

3. Paul Brown

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    In terms of most championships won, Brown is the leader with seven. He is fifth all-time in wins with 213.

    But his legacy is far from over right there.

    Not only is credited with founding the Browns franchise, but the team is named after him as well. After being unjustly fired from Cleveland by new owner Art Modell, Brown sought revenge by founding the Cincinnati Bengals.

    He coached the Bengals for their eight seasons and won two division crowns.

    Brown's 25-year coaching career spawned other great head coaches that worked under him—including Bill Walsh and Don Shula.

2. Bud Grant

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    For 18 seasons (1967-85), Bud Grant was the stoic face of the Minnesota Vikings' successes.

    His overall record 158-96-5 and his teams finished under the .500 mark only three times. Under Grant's leadership, the Vikings captured a staggering 11 divisional titles as well as four conference championships.

    Not winning a Super Bowl probably tarnishes his legacy a bit, but what is certainly true is that no other coach in franchise history ever made the Vikings more of a consistently dominant force in the NFC than Bud Grant did.

1. Chuck Noll

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    Chuck Noll has never been one for the spotlight. In fact, he rarely makes any public appearances at all.

    However, he can't hide from being partially responsible for taking a team that had never been to the playoffs before and then transforming them into a dynasty.

    From 1972-79, he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to eight division titles and four Super Bowls—the most for any coach in NFL history. Upon retirement after the 1991 season, Noll coached for 23 years and compiled 193 victories.

    In a sport where its figures are judged mainly by the championships they've won, Noll having the four Super Bowl rings deserves him to have far more praise when discussing the greatest coaches of all time.