Gary Myers, author of Coaching Confidential, picks the top 15 coaches of the Super Bowl Era

Gary Myers explains why Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll and 13 other NFL coaches are the best of the best.

Coaching Confidential chronicles a year in the life of an NFL head coach. But not just one head coach. A composite portrait is drawn through interviews with at least 20 current and former head coaches (including Super Bowl winners such as Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin, Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy, Sean Payton, Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, and Joe Gibbs). While all these coaches great in their own right, Gary Myers picks the top 15 of the Super Bowl Era and explains what makes them the best of the best.

By Gary Myers

So many of the great coaches from the Super Bowl era are portrayed in Coaching Confidential. Their goal is to reach the mountaintop, which means standing at the podium at midfield after the Super Bowl holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Only then does all the hard work, long hours, and family sacrifice seem worthwhile.

Who are the top coaches from the Super Bowl era? Here’s my top 15:

Vince Lombardi: The NFL named the trophy after him, so you know he had to be pretty good. Lombardi won Super Bowls I and II with his great Packers team. He’s still the standard by which all coaches are measured.

Bill Walsh: The greatest offensive coach in the Super Bowl era. He won three Super Bowls in his ten years with the 49ers, and the team he built won two more with George Seifert, including one in the first year after he retired. He always regretted leaving the 49ers too soon.

Chuck Noll: He’s the only coach to win four Super Bowls, and he did it all in one decade with the Steelers in the ’70s. He built a powerhouse in Pittsburgh and won his championships in a time when the competition was much tougher.

Bill Belichick: Now here’s a pretty impressive résumé: He’s 3–2 in Super Bowls as the head coach of the Patriots, 2–0 as an assistant with the Giants and 0–1 as an assistant with the Patriots. One more Super Bowl victory and he ties Noll for most ever.

Joe Gibbs: He won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, none of whom are in the Hall of Fame: Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien. Gibbs had an offense that was hard to stop regardless of who was at the game’s most important position.

Don Shula: He’s the winningest coach in NFL history and made it to the Super Bowl six times and won the championship twice. Here’s why he dropped down a few spots in the rankings: he coached Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, for thirteen years yet the Dolphins made it to just one Super Bowl. That was in Marino’s second season, and Miami lost.

Tom Landry: Sometimes it’s hard to believe the Cowboys won only two championships with Landry. He took them to five Super Bowls, and his three losses were all heartbreakers. He also came close to getting to about three more.

Bill Parcells: He won two Super Bowls with the Giants, lost a Super Bowl with the Patriots, nearly reached the Super Bowl with the Jets, and took the Cowboys to the playoffs. He’s the only coach to take four different teams to the playoffs. Of course, not too many coaches get the opportunity to coach four different teams.

Jimmy Johnson: The Cowboys won back-to-back titles in Johnson’s fourth and fifth seasons, but then he quit in a messy divorce with owner Jerry Jones, giving up the chance to be the first coach to Super Bowl three-peat. Those Cowboys teams were so young and talented that Johnson might have won five titles if he had stuck around. He inherited a 3–13 team from Landry in 1989 and had the Cowboys in the Super Bowl in his fourth season. What makes that so impressive is it came in the pre–free agency era when quick turnarounds are not as prevalent as they are today.

Tom Coughlin: He was nearly fired by the Giants after the 2006 season and then responded by winning the Super Bowl the next season over the undefeated Patriots. He beat Belichick and the Patriots again four years later. Those two victories may eventually get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mike Shanahan: He was an assistant on three Broncos teams that lost the Super Bowl and part of the staff of the 49ers that won their last Super Bowl in 1994 before a successful run as the Broncos head coach. He won back-to-back Super Bowls in Denver in the final two years of John Elway’s career.

Mike Holmgren: The Packers were good enough during Holmgren’s seven seasons in Green Bay that he probably should have been better than 1–1 in the Super Bowl with Brett Favre as his quarterback. He later coached in Seattle and lost his only Super Bowl.

Marv Levy: He and Minnesota’s Bud Grant are the only coaches to lose four Super Bowls. What makes Levy’s dubious achievement in Buffalo even more remarkable is that he lost his in four consecutive seasons. It’s going to be a long time before any team even gets to four straight Super Bowls again.

Dick Vermeil: He lost a Super Bowl with the Eagles and then nearly twenty years later won a Super Bowl with the Rams. He left the Rams a couple of days after winning the title, an emotional decision he wishes he could have back.

(tie) Tom Flores and George Seifert: Their stories are similar. Flores won two Super Bowls with the Raiders. Seifert won two with the 49ers. Flores was overshadowed by Al Davis. Seifert inherited a powerhouse team from Walsh. Neither ever received the credit he deserved. I also considered Dan Reeves for this last spot. He made it to three Super Bowls with the Broncos and one with the Falcons. But he was 0–4 and his teams were outscored 170–59.

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