The Mount Rushmore of NFL coaches

mount rushmore
In the midst of the NFL offseason, cover32 will debut a series of new segments to hype up NFL fans for the start of the 2017 season. The Mount Rushmore series follows the doppelgangers, roundtable, and debate series. 

(Previous Mount Rushmore: Owners, Offensive Line Prospects, Worst Uniforms, Quarterbacks, Celebrations)

The ‘Mount Rushmore of Sports’ arguments may be cliche, but they sure are a lot of fun. Sports writers, talk shows and podcasts could (and often do) spend weeks debating the pros and cons of crowning the four most poignant icons on a given sports topic. One of those most hotly debated topics is coaching.

The NFL has long been blessed with its share of legendary sires of the sidelines.  From its inception, and through two mergers, NFL coaches have left indelible marks on the league, and most importantly on the teams by which they are employed. Since 1920, 485 men have been granted the privilege of owning the title of ‘NFL Head Coach.’  But that has not deterred many a sports pundit from attempting to select the four most iconic of that elite group.  It’s a daunting task, for sure. Here is my attempt…let the games begin!

Since 1920, 485 men have been granted the privilege of owning the title of ‘NFL Head Coach.’  But that has not deterred many a sports pundit from attempting to select the four most iconic of that elite group.  It’s a daunting task, for sure. Here is my attempt…let the games begin!


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Honorable Mentions:

The coaches on my Honorable Mention list would be on anyone’s top ten coaches list. Some may argue they could be rated higher than those on the Mount, based on pure coaching ability. I think the argument can be made for any of these great coaches.  However, please remember that this Mount Rushmore was determined by my opinion of overall impact on the NFL…not just wins, losses and statistics.

For example, I would rank Don Shula as no worse than fourth on my list of all-time coaches. The fact that he had only two losing seasons in his entire career solidifies that ranking. However, my interpretation of ‘Mount Rushmore’ is based primarily on iconic contributions to the game.  Of course, debate on this topic is the fun of it and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Let’s start with the coaches that barely missed the cut… (and I mean, barely!)
  • Chuck Noll: With four Super Bowl titles for the Pittsburgh Steelers on his very impressive resume, it was very hard to list Noll merely as an Honorable Mention, making him my hardest cut.
  • Tom Landry: The Dallas Cowboys legendary coach, and one of the classiest to ever patrol the sideline, won two Super Bowl titles in ‘Big D’ and was as equally hard of a cut as Noll.  Landry is, and always will be, a coaching legend.
  • Bill Parcells: Won two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants. Parcells rarely gets the credit he deserves for helping to instill a winning culture in New England, where he led the Patriots to a Super Bowl appearance and laid the foundation for one of the Patriots greatest acquisitions (We will get back to that one in a little bit.)
  • Curly Lambeau: The most iconic football stadium in the country (Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI)  is named after Lambeau, and for good reason. He won six titles as a head coach and is tied with George Halas for the most all-time championships.
  • Joe Gibbs: This may cause an eye roll, but Gibbs won three Super Bowls, each with different quarterbacks (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien). That’s a pretty impressive feat.
  • Don Shula: Shula is among the best of the best. He is the winningest coach in NFL history with 328 victories. He won two Super Bowls and was the man who engineered the only undefeated team in NFL history, the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
The “FDR” spot:

One of the most common debates on the actual Mount Rushmore in South Dakota is that it should be updated to include a carving of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR).  In the ‘Sports Rushmore’ argument, the “FDR” spot is reserved for someone that is above an honorable mention and would get the spot if a fifth carving was commissioned.

For this ‘Rushmore,’ the spot goes to George Halas.

Halas, who was known as “Mr. Everything,” was best known for his time as head coach of the Chicago Bears. He was also a player, owner and overall pioneer of many modern coaching techniques.  He was the first to hold daily practices, watch film to learn weakness about his opponents and put his coaches in the press box. Halas finished his coaching career with an overall record of 324-152, winning six NFL championships.

The Mount:

  • Vince Lombardi: The most coveted trophy in the sport is named after Lombardi, and the honor is well-deserved. While he is best known for coaching the Green Bay Packers to victories in Super Bowls I and II, he also won three league championships in the pre-Super Bowl Era. Lombardi was 105-35-6 overall in his coaching career, including a 9-1 record in the playoffs.Lombardi’s legacy stretched far beyond the sidelines. He was the first of his kind, as the true architect of the Green Bay dynasty.  In addition to head coaching duties, Lombardi was his team’s general manager and head scout. He was also a key figure in the NFL during the civil rights movement. Lombardi was determined to ignore any prejudice that existed in the league at that time and welcomed players of all races. He refused to do business with anyone if they did not treat all of his players equally.
  • Bill Walsh: Although his career longevity wasn’t as robust as others, Walsh was as instrumental of an NFL figure as anyone associated with the league. He was the inventor of the West Coast offense and has often been called the ‘father of the modern game.’  His legacy includes one of the most extensive coaching trees in history.Walsh won three titles in eight years with the San Francisco 49ers, coaching such prolific Hall-of-Famers as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott. Walsh, himself, was elected to The Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. He finished his career with a record of 102–63–1, including an impressive run as one of the greatest postseason coaches of all time.
  • Paul Brown: Few have been credited with more contributions to the game than Paul Brown. He established his legacy by winning four All-America Football Conference (AAFC) titles in four years. Some may consider that these victories should not count at the NFL level. However, once the league merged with the NFL, his Browns team dominated there as well. He won three NFL titles in his first six years.Brown is also credited with a number of football innovations. He was the first coach to hire a full-time staff of assistants in order to test players on their knowledge of a playbook. His inventions include the modern face mask, the use of a practice squad and the draw play. Perhaps his greatest contribution was his role in breaking professional football’s color barrier. At a time when it was nearly unheard of, Brown brought in some of the first African-Americans to play pro football in the modern era.  He was instrumental in founding two franchises – the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals.
  • Bill Belichick: There haven’t been many sports figures that are as polarizing as Bill Belichick. He is a genius to some and sinister to others. However, Belichick has undoubtedly earned the ‘Rushmore’ honor. He has led the New England Patriots to 14 AFC East division titles. As well as 11 appearances in the AFC Championship Game. He earned Coach of the Year honors in 2003, 2007 and 2010. Belichick has coached the Patriots to seven Super Bowl appearances, winning five titles, which is an NFL record. His appearance in Super Bowl LI was the Patriots’ ninth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, which is the most of any team.Belichick is the NFL’s longest-tenured active head coach and currently ranks fourth all-time in regular-season wins at 237. He is first in playoff wins with 26. He is also the only head coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowl championships in a four-year span. In addition, Belichick serves as his team’s General Manager and has managed to keep his team in constant contention for a Super Bowl title. The team’s model is often imitated but has yet to be duplicated. Most impressively, in an era that is designed to ensure parity through the league. Many consider Belichick and his quarterback, Tom Brady, to be one of the greatest coach/QB duos of all time; making the Patriots a modern-day dynasty.

Some of you will agree with me. Some of you will not. But let’s face it…that’s what makes this argument great. Every NFL fan has almost certainly given the ‘Mount Rushmore’ treatment to their favorite teams and positions. Today, I thank you for letting me provide you with my Rushmore of the sidelines.  The only question that remains is…’What’s your’s?”

– Mike D’Abate, is a Staff Writer for cover32/Patriots and covers the New England Patriots. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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