NFC West: Sid Gillman

video
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.

Any ranking for the 20 greatest coaches in NFL history would leave off at least two of the 22 enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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 Insider 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.
Richter familyAP Photo/Ron SchwaneThe bust of former Ram Les Richter is unveiled by his son, Jon, and daughter, Anne, on Saturday.
The testimonials for Marshall Faulk have flowed freely surrounding his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Les Richter's legacy is tougher to access.

Both were Rams legends, Faulk in St. Louis and Richter during the team's days in Los Angeles.

Improbable as it sounds, Richter might have been the more versatile player. He went into the Hall of Fame for his prowess as a linebacker, but he also played on the offensive line, served as the team's deep snapper and spent his first three seasons doubling as the Rams' kicker. Like Faulk, Richter transcended the traditional confines of his position.

Former Rams linebacker and NFL coach Jack Pardee summed up Richter well:
"Before Sid Gillman started throwing the football around, the NFL was all run game, and most teams played a 5-2 front. Les was one of the first true middle linebackers who could defend the run and the pass. He was an All-Pro and was the best in the business for a number of years. You talk about smart, he was the valedictorian at Cal, and calling the signals on the field and making the adjustments, that all went along with kind of establishing a new position. Les was a new breed of middle linebacker, which was part lineman and part defensive back. He could really cover, and that was the difference between him and the group in front of him."

Richter died last year. His son, Jon, accepted on his father's behalf during Hall of Fame proceedings Saturday. The Rams have posted a tribute video featuring Jon's thoughts. I recommend checking it out, along with a couple stories from the Los Angeles Times.
Andy Robustelli's passing this week focused attention on the New York Giants teams he helped turn into champions.

Rightfully so.

[+] EnlargeAndy Robustelli
AP PhotoThe Los Angeles Rams went 8-3-1 with Andy Robustelli, but fell to 4-8 the next season when he went to the New York Giants.
I also wondered whatever would compel the Los Angeles Rams to trade such an outstanding player months after Robustelli helped them reach the 1955 championship game. The answer, that Robustelli wanted to be closer to his Connecticut roots, contrasted with current NFL norms. The world is much smaller in the age of easy communication and 6-hour flights between New York and Los Angeles.

Differences between then and now came into sharper focus Wednesday when I reached out to one of Robustelli's teammates on that 1955 Rams team.

Ron Waller, 78, went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie running back, although he was much more than that in an era of 33-man rosters and 12-game seasons.

Waller rushed for 716 yards and seven touchdowns, caught 24 passes, returned 14 punts and averaged better than 27 yards on his 17 kick returns. He went to camp as a running back, then left for three weeks to play defensive back under Curly Lambeau in the College All-Star Game (his team beat the pros). Upon returning to the Rams, Waller opened the season at receiver, only to switch back to running back when Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch came out of retirement. Tom Fears was another Hall of Fame receiver on that team.

The smaller rosters of that era favored versatility over the specialization of the current NFL game.

Robustelli was one of the Rams' best defensive players back then. The defense fell off statistically once the Rams traded him to the Giants before the 1956 season.

"It was a great loss for us at that position," Waller said.

Blaming the Rams' slide from 8-3-1 with Robustelli in 1955 to 4-8 without him the next season, however convenient, would miss the bigger story. Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin clashed with coach Sid Gillman over which man would call the plays. Gillman benched Van Brocklin for most of the 1956 season. The Rams weren't the same.

"Van Brocklin, who has been known to run the same unsuccessful play three times simply to prove that it can work, does not take kindly to the strict sideline direction of the Paul Brown school of coaching," Tex Maule wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1958, "and often Gillman's messages, via shuttling linemen, only irritated Van Brocklin."

Robustelli got out of Los Angeles at just the right time. He was 30 years old and would win six conference titles with the Giants by the time he played his final game at age 39.

Waller, much younger, didn't fare so well with Rams management. Attempts to parlay his early success into a better contract went nowhere.

"I went in to management -- we didn't have agents back in those days -- and told them I wanted $15,000 for my second-year contract," said Waller, who had earned $8,000 in salary with a $1,000 bonus as the 15th player chosen in the 1955 draft. "And the general manager, who was Pete Rozelle, believe it or not, said, 'Son, you gotta be in the league a long time before you ever make $15,000."
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says another postseason appearance by the Cardinals could be a sign Ken Whisenhunt is on his way to a Hall of Fame career as a head coach. Whisenhunt: "In my last nine years (coaching) in the league, we've been to two Super Bowls, 5-6 championship games and won the division 6-7 times. That's what drives me. When you get a group of guys to believe in something and actually be successful, when you get a town to respond the way this town has supported us . . . there's nothing else like it. Look at where we were four years ago." Winning Super Bowls, plural, would help the Hall of Fame credentials. Current Hall of Fame coaches: Paul Brown, Jimmy Conzelman, Joe Gibbs, Bud Grant, Curly Lambeau, Tom Landry, John Madden, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Guy Chamberlain, Ray Flaherty, Sid Gillman, Greasy Neale, Steve Owen, Don Shula, Marv Levy, George Halas, Hank Stram, Weeb Ewbank, Vince Lombardi and George Allen.

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."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider