When the AFL-NFL merger was finalized in 1970, the NFL featured nine Hall of Fame head coaches and would have had a tenth if Vince Lombardi hadn’t died that year.
The nine were Paul Brown, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Bud Grant, Don Shula, Weeb Ewbank, John Madden, Hank Stram and George Allen.
Flash forward to the upcoming NFL season.
At the moment, there is one sure fire Hall of Famer on the sidelines – Bill Belichick – although there’s always a chance a younger coach may emerge.
The league doesn’t have the larger-than-life figures who were great leaders on the sidelines. They have too many play-callers who don’t know how to manage the game.
Two of the last three Super Bowls illustrated that fact. Even though Belichick’s Patriots won both games, it was a really a case that their opponents lost them.
Three years ago, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called for the infamous second down pass from the New England one with less than a minute left and the Seahawks having a time out left. Coach Pete Carroll didn’t overrule him. Russell Wilson threw the interception that cost the Seahawks back-to-back titles.
Last February, Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (pictured above) and coach Dan Quinn gave a seminar on not understanding how to manage the game with a big lead as they couldn’t hold a 28-3 margin.
They must not remember how Houston lost a 32-point lead at Buffalo in the 1993 playoffs because they couldn’t run the ball with the lead with their Run ‘N Shoot offense.
They must not remember how Bill Cowher would shut down the offense in Pittsburgh with a 10-point fourth period lead and run down the clock.
Atlanta still had the game in hand with under five minutes left with a 28-20 lead and the ball on the New England 22. All they had to do was run the ball three times and kick a field goal to seal the deal.
Instead after a first down run lost a yard, Shanahan called two pass plays. A sack and an offensive holding call took them out of field-goal range and the Falcons had to punt. Their defense was gassed from being on the field too much, and New England scored and got the two-point conversion to tie it. Once they won the overtime toss, the game was over because the Atlanta defense had nothing left.
On the previous series, with a 28-12 lead, Atlanta had a third-and-long-one at its 37. If they had run the ball, they could have punted and forced New England to go the length of the field to score. Instead, Shanahan called a pass, and New England got a sack fumble for a short field that enabled the Patriots to score the touchdown and two-point conversion that made it 28-20.
The Falcons also could have put it away at 28-9 when Belichick tried the risky move of an onside kick.
At that point, New England needed two touchdowns, two two point conversions and a field goal to tie the game. They got it because Atlanta didn’t know how to manage the game.
The Falcons took over at the New England 41 after recovering the onside kick. But a holding call on a running play and an incomplete pass and a sack ended that drive.
Three sacks – one a sack fumble – and two holding calls were devastating for the Falcons in their last three drives.
Those two games changed history. Instead of being 3-4 in Super Bowls, the Patriots are 5-2 and Belichick and Tom Brady are being hailed as the best coach quarterback-coach ever. Nobody remembers Lombardi and Bart Starr won five titles and Brown won seven – four in the old AAFC.
The Seahawks could have won back-to-back Super Bowls and had a shot at becoming the first team to win three in a row. Now they’re dealing with the speculation that they’re still haunted by that failure. Bevell may never get a head-coaching job, and the loss may have cost Carroll a shot at the Hall of Fame.
Atlanta would have been shooting for its second Super Bowl in a row this year. Instead, they are trying to become the first Super Bowl loser since 1972 to win it the next year.
Shanahan went on to get the San Francisco head-coaching job, where he’ll get another chance to show he’s not a top shelf coach. Steve Sarkisian replaced Shanahan after coaching Alabama’s offense in the national-title loss to Clemson. Sarkisian had philosophical differences with Nick Saban and was criticized for not running the ball more, so not much may change for the Falcons.
Meanwhile, both Seattle and Atlanta will always think of what might have been if not for Super Bowl coaching blunders.