What Makes a Coach Great?
Bud Grant once said:
“A good football coach needs a patient wife, a loyal dog, and a great quarterback, but not necessarily in that order.”
These words of wisdom from the legendary Minnesota Vikings head coach speak volumes of truth. Many a “great” coach rode their success on the heels of a great quarterback. In the NFL, pretty much every savvy fan knows that more than any one ingredient, you need a franchise caliber QB to win a Super Bowl. Sure, every ten years a team wins with a great defense and an average quarterback (Bears 80s, Tamp Bay 90s, Ravens 2000s, Broncos 2010s). But Lombardi trophy winners are almost always forged on the arm of the Hall-of-Fame quarterback at the helm: Bart Starr, Len Dawson, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rogers, and the list goes on.
So am I arguing that what makes a great coach is a great quarterback? No, and this is where I pull the bait and switch – its the opposite! What makes a great coach is how he does when he DOESN’T have a great quarterback. What better gauge is there of a coach when he can produce wins and championships without a great quarterback? It’s largely why Joe Gibbs made quick entry into the Hall of Fame. He won 3 Super Bowls with 3 different quarterbacks, only one was above average (Joe Theismann). The other two are not household names, strong-armed but oft-inaccurate Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien, the great deep ball passer whose accolades end there. Joe Gibbs was known for “building championship teams with many players who have had mediocre to average careers while playing for other NFL teams”.
The Case For Belichick
So am I telling you that because Bill Belichick had Tom Brady during his glory years was the main reason he was successful? No! In my view, what solidifies the argument for a coach’s greatness is how well he does without a marque quarterback. In 2008 when Tom Brady missed the entire season, the Patriots went an impressive 11-5. As many witnessed recently, the Pats did just fine without Brady for the first 3 weeks of the 2016 season.
Another remarkable feat is the Belichick-led Patriots to year-after-year build no-name defenses. How many defenders can you name on the Pat’s Super Bowl teams? This is a sure testament to the success of the coaching. They are almost always drafting in the bottom of the round, and sometimes not at all (deservedly so due to spy-gate) . When they do draft they often look like geniuses. Look at the 2008 draft. The names are hardly recognizable and mostly busts until you get to the 11th pick that year, the Patriots pick, which happened to be Jarod Mayo, who won rookie defensive player of the year. Their offense is also a similar cast of no name characters, with only hall-of-fame talents Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski perking the ears of the layman NFL fan.
The Best All-Time NFL Coaches
So who is the best all-time NFL coach? Names that immediately will come to mind are Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Belichick. A solid case could be made for any one of these guys. So who is my pick? Only because Joe Gibbs’ last ride as the Redskins coach after returning from his NASCAR hobby was less than spectacular, I give the ever so slightest nod to Bill Belichick.
“We have no leadership. They rule by herd. Nobody is in charge. It reminds me of a bunch of cows.” -BUD GRANT