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PFW's top five coaches who DESERVE an NFL championship


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The ring's the thing

Deserving champions abound on sidelines

By Ken Bikoff (kbikoff@pfwmedia.com)

June 16, 2003

Gregg Popovich is one of the good guys in the NBA. No, he might not be the friendliest fella when it comes to dealing with the referees and he has a temper that rivals just about anyone in sports. But he is regarded as one of the more approachable and interesting people to speak to in the NBA and is a favorite of reporters throughout pro basketball.

That’s why it was good to see the Spurs win a second title for Popovich, who also earned a ring during the lockout year in 1999. David Robinson, one of the NBA’s all-time greats, got to go out with a win — the Admiral is retiring this year — and Pop got another ring. It was a feel-good kind of night. Not that I had anything against the Nets. Far from it. But Popovich grew up in the same area that I did, and it’s always good to see the local boy doing well.

But Pop’s title got me thinking about the current crop of NFL coaches who are certainly deserving of a title but haven’t quite climbed to the mountaintop. Oh, some have come close, but they may have been lacking the roster talent or the luck to win their final game of the year. Not all of them are great coaches, and they might not be stocked with personality, but all of them fill the mold of a coach who has been successful in a very difficult business to be successful in. That success, of course, comes without a ring, but they all have the potential to finally grab a title in the very near future.

So who are the top five coaches who deserve to get champagne sprayed in their eyes until they are as red as Andy Reid’s head in the fourth quarter of a playoff game? Here are my picks, although these aren’t the only guys who are deserving of a ring. They are the coaches who have been through the wringer and still come out with a smile.

Steve Mariucci, Lions

When Mooch was coaching the 49ers, he was handed the task of keeping the team afloat while the salary-cap sins of the past ran their course. All he did in his six years with the Niners was take them to the playoffs four times, win three postseason games, win a pair of NFC West titles and finish second in the division twice. This despite losing future Hall of Famer Steve Young and having to replace him with a no-name guy from Canada named Jeff Garcia and dealing with the constant distraction of Terrell Owens. He now lands in Detroit where he can rebuild with a young team that could be dangerous in a couple of seasons and where the expectations and recent past history don’t hang over the franchise like Nate Newton over a bag of weed. Mariucci has won with class in the past, and just surviving the pressure cooker in San Francisco makes him worthy of a ring.

Bill Cowher, Steelers

Talk about a guy who had to deal with expectations. Cowher replaced Chuck Noll, a guy who hadn’t done much beside win four Super Bowls and make the Steelers the team of ’70s while becoming a local legend, in 1992 and had his team in the Super Bowl just a couple of seasons later. Cowher was born to be a football coach, and his teams have always been old-school all the way. He also has been to the playoffs eight times in 11 years, all despite the fact that he didn’t have a consistent quarterback to turn to beyond choking Pro Bowl seasons out of Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart during his tenure. And he has been classy all the way, keeping his prodigious chin up in bad times and not turning on his players. That’s what a coach is supposed to be.

Tony Dungy, Colts

Dungy actually gets knocked for being too good of a guy. But consider that he took a sorry Buccaneers team that had posted double-digit wins once in 20 years and reeled off three campaigns of 10-plus victories in his six seasons with the franchise and set the table for Jon Gruden to win a Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Dungy landed in Indianapolis — where success isn’t a constant — and won 10 games without the luxury of a running game. Dungy is known as a defensive coach, and his teams have never finished out of the top 10 in fewest points allowed. And he has done it while relating well to his players and avoiding the controversies of finger pointing when things go bad. But somehow Dungy is considered a lesser coach by some people because he hasn’t been able to win deep into the playoffs. Never mind that Dungy never has had what anybody considered to be the best team in the league and he hasn’t been loaded with prime talent. All he has done is earn playoff berths and keep teams winning year after year.

Jeff Fisher, Titans

In nine seasons with the Oilers/Titans, Fisher has had to deal with moving, playing his home games in an unfamiliar stadium outside of what was supposed to be his home area and faced some of the highest highs and lowest lows in league history. Through it all, Fisher has kept his teams at .500 or better in six of his seasons and came one yard short of possibly winning a Super Bowl. The 2000 playoffs were enough to make a man quit altogether, with the Music City Miracle rocketing Fisher to levels of joy not previously recorded in human history to the aching feeling that three more feet at the end of the Super Bowl could have made him a champion. Fisher is an intense guy who will go to war with his players, all while enduring the barbs of critics who feel he has outstayed his welcome with the team. It isn’t easy to be successful in that type of surrounding, but Fisher has found a way.

Herman Edwards, Jets

Satan doesn’t sit on a seat as hot as Edwards holds during the football season. The stereotype of the New York media being the toughest in the country is as true as people from Indiana loving John Mellencamp. Edwards could save a child from a burning car, and someone would complain about how he did it. But Edwards has never wavered from the plan he walked into the job with, and despite having to replace a veteran in Vinny Testaverde with an unproven kid in Chad Pennington, the Jets have two straight playoff appearances. Bill Parcells raised the bar for the franchise in his three-year stint with the team, and Edwards has kept it high despite the fans and media picking apart his every move. He believes in himself, and he demands that his team believe in him as well. I know I do. His speech when he was announced as the Jets’ head coach in 2001 made me want to run through a brick wall for him. If this guy coached anywhere else in the country, he would be considered some kind of god, but the glare of the spotlight in the Big Apple makes some people believe that he has underachieved. He’s in for a big test this year.

Two more good guys to keep an eye on for the future — Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio. They both are tough coaches who are getting their first opportunities to be head coaches, and everything from their past performances shows that they will be coaches to watch.

Decent read. I posted in hopes of stimulating some discussion b/c it seems like everyone has been spending the day posting on the fake Jets game thread:doh:

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Mooch had tallent. I wouldn't put him on the list.

One guy I would put on there that isn't is Marty. He's hated here and viewed as a coach who just can't win the big one, but who wouldn't have handed off to Byner. If Byner hadn't fumbled, Marty's whole career would be looked at in a different light. Sad.

The comments on Cowher and Edwards seem spot on. I'd love to have either coaching my team. Fisher and Dungy are both great coaches too, and only a step below Cowher and Fisher.

In truth, I'd trade Spurier for any of the four.

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Cowher is one of my all-time favorites. I'd love to see him win a few.

Fischer's been a good coach for a long time... I just don't think he "deserves" a Super Bowl trophy. He's young too.. I'm sure he'll win a few.

Herman Edwards has coached 2 years and went 9-7 last year. Give it a rest. At least for now.

Mooch and Dungy. It really doesn't take this guy much to be on his Christmas list. Three or four 10-win seasons... and apparently you should have a free pass to the Hall of Fame.

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my heart doesn't ache for Edwards, he has only been around a short time.

Cowher and Fisher have made the most of poor situations, teams whose owners can't spend top money on free agents. Each year these guys actually have to count on draft picks and retreads to rebuild their teams, and they do it :)

Dungy I don't think is multi-faceted enough to win a title, not unless he changes his approach. He is like George Allen in that he believes he can win a Super Bowl concentrating on defense and special teams and leaving the other third of the team to someone else to manage 100%.

You can't do that. Even coaches who are offensive or defensive specialists have to review what happens on the other side of the ball and make good choices of coaches and personnel.

In Tampa, Dungy hired dud offensive coordinators and and continued to go with certain players that the team ultimately jettisoned to win under Gruden.

Marvin Lewis may have himself been shafted by the Bucs last year, but I don't get the feeling he is such a 'good' guy in the sense he has been on the up and up in his own dealings with first the Ravens after the fiasco and then the Redskins.

He signed on the dotted line eagerly enough and then pouted about having to do a lot of extra things along the way in Washington with a rookie coach.

What did he expect for all that money? :)

He was being paid for his leadership as much as for his X's and O's for the defense.

He should have known that.

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Seems to me the only people who deserve a trophy are the ones who win one. So, to be on this list merely means you gotta pick up the pace, slacker!

In regards to Bill Cowher, wow, how many chances does a guy get? Thufferin' thuccotash!:drool:

~Bang

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Marty's record and coaching performances during the playoffs eliminates his name from the list. Reid may suffer the same fate if he doesn't start bringing his "A" game to the championship contests.

I agree about Cowher. I believe he's gotten the most out of the available talent.

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I like a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. Cowher is tough. In different ways, he and Spurrier are similar. We know Steve wears his heart on his sleeve too, he just goes a step further and tells you when hes good. I hope he is doin some talkin this year!

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Originally posted by Bang

Seems to me the only people who deserve a trophy are the ones who win one. So, to be on this list merely means you gotta pick up the pace, slacker!

In regards to Bill Cowher, wow, how many chances does a guy get? Thufferin' thuccotash!:drool:

~Bang

That is the bottom line and as far as Cowher goes he had his chance against the cow$hits and Neil Odonnell blew it

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Cowher's a no-brainer on that list, and I'll take Mooch too. Just watch how SF does this year without him.

Dungy's a great guy but his teams seem a bit punchless. Fischer's a good coach, but saying he 'deserves' a title is a stretch. And heaven help us all, this Hermlove has gone too far. One game over .500 last year and he'd be a "god" anywhere else?

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