When anyone speaks of sports motivators and great coaches, the list starts and ends with one name… Vincent Thomas “Vince” Lombardi .
The man’s an icon. Just see his hunched-over, silhouetted long jacket and cap and you know who you’re looking at immediately.
I can recite the often played NFL films soundbites like they’re Caddyshack movie quotes.
He’s been the subject of a number of biographies. He’s been the center of a Broadway play and countless ESPN and NFL Films promos. Businessmen and coaches have his books and speeches committed to memory. He’s got a street named after him in Green Bay, won five championships, two Super Bowls, and they even named the championship trophy after him!
But, is he the best NFL coach of all time, as ESPN suggests?
If you’re going to use championships and games won as the measuring stick, the answer is yes. But that’s only one measure and if that’s the only one, Eli must be better than Peyton, right? (the correct answer to that question is WRONG!)
I submit that one William Earnest “Bill” Walsh is the greatest coach of all time. And NO I’m not a 49’ers fan. Walsh coached in a more difficult era. Players jumped from team to team, eliminating the possibility of the Packers dynasty. Defenses had become more sophisticated and role players were starting to emerge in an effort to thwart single-attack teams. And Walsh’s teams brought home three Lombardi trophies, something only a few other coaches (NOT including Vince) had done.
Instead, why don’t we look at the coaching trees from each coach, and how many and to what success their pupils affected the NFL?
- Lombardi Coaching Tree
- Dick Lebeau – Great coordinator, horrible head coach
- Forrest Greg , Bart Starr, Dick Jauron, Lindy Infante… Norb Hecker?
- No championships as head coaches and no real success
- Walsh Coaching Tree
- Geoge Siefert – quiet, reserved, unassuming… two Super Bowl rings (same as Lombardi?)
- Mike Holmgren – 1 Ring, 1 more SB appearance, many more playoff runs with different teams.
- John Gruden – 1 Ring (should have been more if crazy Al Davis didn’t run him off a LOADED Raiders squad)
- Sam Wyche – 1 Super Bowl appearance
- Brian Billeck – 1 Super Bowl ring
- Andy Ried – 1 SB appearance, 4 straight NFL Championship appearances
- Mike Tomlin (1SB ring), John Harbaugh (1 SB ring), Steve Mariucci, Dennis Green, Mike Smith, and something called a Marty Mornhinweg.
There is simply no comparison when you look at it from this angle. Walsh has left a legacy that will continue to affect the NFL for years, possibly decades from today. His coaches have won many championships and ran DEEP into the playoffs. The Hall of Fame players his coaching tree generates will greatly outnumber the dozen or so Lombardi Packers that have graced Canton’s walls.
So, if you’re criteria is a coach who won… a LOT (.754 win %) … in just a few years, produced many great players and Hall of Famers, and set the standard of excellence as the NFL entered the Super Bowl era, Vince Lombardi is a good choice for greatest coach ever.
But, if you’re looking at it as a coach who won… a LOT (.609 win %) … engineered an innovative offensive scheme still in place with playoff teams today, and more importantly, littered the NFL landscape with his pupils who are still winning championships, still producing successful offshoots of the coaching tree, and still moving the NFL forward, Bill Walsh is my choice as the greatest NFL coach ever.
Who you got? Leave comments below.