NFC West: Hank Stram
Bill Walsh checks in at No. 2 on ESPN's list of Greatest Coaches in NFL History, leaving the as-yet-unnamed Vince Lombardi as the obvious No. 1.
Walsh, of course, led the San Francisco 49ers to three of their five Super Bowl victories. He revived the franchise with a blueprint that became standard operating procedure across the league. He blazed trails in minority hiring and produced a coaching tree with branches still growing in the game today.
I highly recommend checking out Seth Wickersham's piece on Walsh from January. Wickersham focused on the coaching guide Walsh wrote.
"[Bill] Belichick once referred to it as football 'literature,' but it's more like a textbook -- 550 pages, 1.8 inches thick, 3.2 pounds, loaded with charts, graphs and bullet points," Wickersham explained. "For example, Walsh includes 57 keys to negotiating contracts ('The negotiator's need for food and sleep can affect his/her ability to function effectively'), 13 pages of sample practices and 108 in-game scenarios."
The video above features Walsh's own thoughts on characteristics great coaches possess. Unpredictability on and off the field is one of them.
The chart below shows won-lost-tied records and number of championships won for the top 20 coaches on ESPN's list, courtesy of Pro Football Reference. The winning percentages listed reflect victories plus one-half ties, divided by total games. For Walsh, that works out to 92.5 victories divided by 152 games, or .609.
The ballot I submitted for our "Greatest Coaches" project left off eight of them: Guy Chamberlin, Jimmy Conzelman, Weeb Ewbank, Ray Flaherty, Sid Gillman, Bud Grant, Greasy Neale and Hank Stram.
That seems outrageous. However, there were only 20 spots available, and many coaches appeared interchangeable to me outside the top 10 or 12. Current or recently retired head coaches such as Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer deserved consideration, in my view, but including them meant leaving out others. I also thought Chuck Knox should be in the discussion even though he's long retired and not a Hall of Famer.
Putting together a ballot was difficult. There's really no way to fully analyze the jobs head coaches have done. We must consider won-lost records over time, of course, but little separates some of the coaches further down the list. I figured most panelists would go with Lombardi in the No. 1 spot, but I'm not sure whether that was the case.
Herm Edwards revealed his ballot previously. We agreed on George Halas at No. 1. He put Lombardi second. I went with Paul Brown and Curly Lambeau after Halas, followed by Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, Belichick and Chuck Noll to round out the top 10. The choices got tougher from there.
Edwards had Bud Grant, Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer in his top 20. He did not have Steve Owen, Holmgren or Cowher. I easily could have justified swapping out some of the coaches toward the bottom of my ballot for others not listed. Edwards and I both had Coughlin at No. 15. Our rankings for Lombardi, Landry, Walsh, Shula, Gibbs, Belichick, Madden and George Allen were within three spots one way or the other. I had Brown and Lambeau quite a bit higher than Edwards had them.
I tried to balance factors such as winning percentage, longevity, championships, team-building and impact on the game. The coaches I listed near the top of my ballot were strong in all those areas. There was room lower on my ballot for coaches whose achievements in some areas offset deficiencies in others.
Halas was a straightforward choice at No. 1 for me. He coached the Chicago Bears for 40 seasons, won six championships and had only six losing seasons. The Hall of Fame credits him as the first coach to use game films for preparation.
"Along with Ralph Jones, his coach from 1930 through 1932, and consultant Clark Shaughnessy, Halas perfected the T-formation attack with the man in motion," Halas' Hall of Fame bio reads. "It was this destructive force that propelled the Bears to their stunning 73-0 NFL title win over Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game and sent every other league team scurrying to copy the Halas system."
Brown was my choice at No. 2 because he won seven titles, four of them before the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950, and he revolutionized strategy while planting a massive coaching tree. Lambeau edged Lombardi in the No. 3 spot on my ballot. He founded the franchise and won with a prolific passing game before it was popular. His teams won six titles during his 31 seasons as coach.
ESPN has revealed the coaches ranking 13th through 20th based on ballots submitted by Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo and me.
The eight coaches, beginning at No. 13: Jimmy Johnson, Coughlin, Grant, Stram, Levy, Gillman, Shanahan and Dungy.
Gillman was an interesting one. He spent 10 of his 18 seasons in the AFL and had a 1-5 record in postseason, but there is no denying his impact on the passing game. Like other coaches rounding out the top 20, his case for inclusion was strong, but open for debate.
Pat Summerall never developed a signature call during four decades broadcasting NFL games for CBS and Fox. "Unbelievable" might have been as close as he came.
That probably wasn't by accident.
For Summerall, who died Tuesday at age 82, the broadcasts always seemed to be more about the games than what he had to say about them. That could also explain why I couldn't immediately think of a memorable call Summerall made during the 25 or so years I watched him on TV.
The San Francisco 49ers were the dominant NFL team through the 1980s, when Summerall began his memorable run with John Madden in the booth. The 49ers remained one of the best through most of the 1990s as well. But as things turned out, Summerall wasn't on the call for some of the 49ers most memorable moments.
Vin Scully and Hank Stram had the call for CBS on "The Catch" back in early 1982.
Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen were behind the microphones for NBC when Joe Montana drove the 49ers downfield to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.
Summerall and Madden did have the call for Steve Young's winning touchdown pass to Terrell Owens against the Green Bay Packers following the 1998 season.
"Three-man rush and Young stumbles on the way back and fires up the middle," Summerall said as the play unfolded. "Pass is caught by Owens. Owens made the catch."
Eleven seconds passed before Summerall or Madden said anything.
"This is amazing," Madden said.
Another 15 seconds passed while 49ers players celebrated and the Candlestick Park crowd roared.
"Three seconds left," Summerall finally said.
A few more seconds went by.
"Terrell Owens was having a rotten day," Madden said, "but on one play here, does he make up for it."
Madden then described the coverage on the play before Summerall spoke up.
"Perfect pass," Summerall said, his first words in 18 seconds.
"Holy moley!" Madden said.
"Three seconds left as they line up for the extra point," Summerall said just as the kick sailed through, "and it's 30-27, San Francisco."
"And the 49ers are getting the monkey off their back today," Madden said.
"Unbelievable," Summerall said.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com wonders whether rookie Daryl Washington could get on the field this season while Gerald Hayes recovers from back surgery.
Also from Urban: Adrian Wilson is replacing Bertrand Berry on the Cardinals' in-house podcast.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals do not appear close to signing either of their top two draft choices, but there's little reason for alarm. The deals should be relatively straightforward. Somers: "Cardinals General Manager Rod Graves has been traveling and [unavailable] for comment this week, but I'm hearing the Cardinals aren't far along in contract talks with (Dan) Williams or linebacker Daryl (Washington), their second-round pick. That's not unusual, however. Camp is still a week away, and the two deals should not be complicated ones."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill is due in court again Friday. O'Neil: "Hill is in his sixth year with the Seahawks. He was suspended last week for the season-opening game against San Francisco for violating the NFL's policy on substance abuse. Whether he faces additional league punishment for this incident could depend on the outcome."
John Morgan of Field Gulls says T.J. Houshmandzadeh enjoyed a strong season in 2009. Houshmandzadeh increased his yards per reception, breaking a trend in the other direction. Morgan: "As a player, T.J. was very good in 2009. He is a number one possession receiver, so to speak. He is more of a complementary downfield threat, but so be it. He earns tons of targets and maintains a high catch percentage, and if his stats declined in 2009, I saw no indication that his performance did."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides a Rams overview. Thomas: "Even in this so-called 'baseball' town, and even with all the recent losing by the Rams, the selection of (Sam) Bradford has created a mild buzz in St. Louis. Ticket sales are up over last year, although several games could still be blacked out locally. No one is dreaming of a playoff berth, but improvement is expected."
Also from Thomas: The Rams could bring in former Missouri receiver Denario Alexander, who was cleared medically this week, according to his agent.
Turf Show Times' Tevin Broner outlines three keys for the Rams this season: Bradford, the defensive line and the receivers.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com thinks tight end Nate Byham and running back Anthony Dixon could be lesser-known players to watch at 49ers training camp. Maiocco: "Dixon is an impressive-looking player. He has quick feet and nice moves for a big man. But the 49ers want to see less dancing and more north-south running. If he lowers his pads and runs with power, he has a chance to make his way up the depth chart."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com previews the 49ers' defense heading into camp. Price: "Tthe 49ers' 5-1 record against the NFC West was largely because of a stingy defense which allowed 10.2 points per game against the division, tops by any NFL team against its division in 2009. From top to bottom, the 49ers defense features play-makers and game-changers at all levels of the field."
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with 49ers legend Jerry Rice, who spoke with reporters Thursday during a Hall of Fame conference call. Brown: "These days, Rice's preparation involves the speech he'll have to give on induction day, when former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. will present him. Rice was vague about the status of his speech-writing efforts but acknowledged that he's been checking in with other Hall of Famers for advice."
Let's say you sorted the qualifying coaches by highest winning percentage.
Vince Lombardi would be at the top. The Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt would be tied for second.
This goes to show how precious playoff victories can be, even for coaches with long track records. The great Bill Walsh enjoyed 10 playoff victories during his career. Whisenhunt can claim his fifth Saturday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Mike Holmgren expects to be back in the NFL by 2010, either as a coach, executive or both.
If he does walk away from coaching after 2008, the Seahawks' regular-season finale will determine whether Holmgren posts one of the five worst final-season records for Super Bowl-winning head coaches.
Beating the Cardinals in Week 17 would leave Holmgren with a 5-11 record and .313 winning percentage this season. The alternative: 4-12 and .250, worse than Weeb Ewbank's final season with the New York Jets.
I have a hard time thinking Holmgren will let his coaching career end with such a poor record. He'll have options after taking off the upcoming season, as he has promised his wife he would do.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Mike Holmgren has never lost more than 10 games in a season as an NFL head coach.
The Seahawks will have to win their final four games to make that statement hold up into the offseason.
The chart, updated since we last touched on the topic, shows Holmgren rocketing up the list of Super Bowl-winning coaches to suffer dismal records in their final seasons.
We still do not know if 2008 will mark Holmgren's final season as an NFL head coach. He plans to sit out the 2009 season. That would make him 62 years old heading into the 2010 season, young enough to make another run, albeit at the expense of time with the grandchildren.
Holmgren's teams have suffered losing records three times in his 17 seasons as a head coach. The Seahawks were 6-10 in 2000 and 7-9 in 2002.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks' struggles this season could place Mike Holmgren on a short list of Super Bowl-winning head coaches who suffered through horrible final seasons.
Holmgren hasn't decided whether to coach again once he steps down from the Seahawks after this season. If the Seahawks fail to win at least three of their final six games and Holmgren stays retired, he would supplant Weeb Ewbank on the list of five Super Bowl-winning coaches with the worst winning percentages in their final seasons.
Part of me suspects Holmgren might enjoy retirement enough to simply walk away from the game and possibly dabble in broadcasting. Another part of me says Holmgren couldn't resist taking a Bill Parcells-type job, if offered. And then part of me wonders if he would make one last run at a head-coaching job, perhaps armed with more control over personnel.
What will the future bring for Holmgren once he steps down from his current job after the season?