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Answers in Search of a Question: Fast Track to the Super Bowl?

"We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself." -- Lloyd Alexander.

I love skimming through the comments section of the various fanposts at MHR. The membership is filled with an incredibly knowledgeable group of people. A community of fans who are passionate about their team, and who love to talk about the Broncos. A group that freely and civilly shares thoughts, opinions, insights, questions, humor, angst and doubts. All of that is good. In fact, it is the wonderful dialogues here at MHR that prompt much of what I write. So first off, a word of thanks to each and every one of you.

Okay, the touchy-feeling stuff is done, now onto some football. Actually, this article found its origin in a small comment made by bfree2bronc. He raised the issue of how fast coaches get to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, I did not write down the precise quote at the time I saw it, figuring that I would get back to it later that day, and well . . . we each know how life can suddenly reach out and bite us on the butt and direct our attention elsewhere. So, bfree, and the rest of the writers in that part of the thread, if I misunderstood you, I do apologize.

The gist of the subthread was the belief that McDaniels needs to win now, since coaches either make it to the Super Bowl quickly, or they don't make it at all. I found that to be an intriguing topic and thought I'd take a quick look at it. Quick . . . errr . . . right . . . sure . . . why are these things never simple? LOL Just kidding. I narrowed my examination to those coaches who have won the big game. My rationale was simple and two-fold: (1)It cut the number of coaches in half, and more importantly, (2)The goal is to win the Super Bowl, not just get there. How many Silver Medalists from the Olympics can you name off the top of your head? We want to see our coaches & players win the M--F--ing Super Bowl, not just go and watch the parade.

When I started looking into how fast coaches had made it to the Super Bowl, I did not know what to expect. What I found, I'll share after the fold.

Since it's inception, there have been 44 Super Bowls played. Yet, there have been only 27 coaches who have won it. That was the first surprise. While I realized that many teams had played in more than one Super Bowl, I had not realized that the coaches had endured as well as they had. Or had they? Let's take a look. Please note, though I'm breaking these down into years as Head Coach of the team that won the big dance, I cite each coach based on the first Super Bowl he won. Also, please note that the dates listed reflect the year in which the regular season was played rather than the actual date of the Super Bowl (for example, Sean Payton's date reflects the 2009 season, rather than the 2010 date of the Super Bowl itself).

Coaches Who Did Not Win the Super Bowl Until They're 10th Season as HC of a Team, or Longer:

Hank Stram, 1969 won SB IV, in his 10th season as the Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tom Landry, 1971, won SB VI, in his 12th season as HC of Dallas. Landry won again in 1977, in his 18th season as HC of the Cowboys.
Bill Cowher, 2005, won SB XL, in his 14th season as HC of Pittsburgh.

Coaches Who Won in Their 8th Year
Vince Lombardi, 1966, won SB I, in his 8th season as HC of Green Bay. Lombardi won again in 1967 in his 9th season with Green Bay.
John Madden, 1976, won SB XI, in his 8th season as HC of Oakland.

Coaches Who Won in Their 6th Year
Weeb Ewbank, 1968, won SB III, in his 6th season as HC of the New York Jets.
Chuck Noll, 1974, won SB IX, in his 6th season as HC of Pittsburgh. Noll also won the SB in 1975 (7th), 1978 (10th), and 1979 (11th).

Coaches Who Won in Their 5th Year
Mike Holmgren, 1996, won SB XXXI, in his 5th season as HC of Green Bay.
Tony Dungy, 2006, won SB XLI, in his 5th season as HC of Indianapolis.

Coaches Who Won in Their 4th Year
Mike Ditka, 1985, won SB XX, in his 4th season as HC of Chicago.
Bill Parcells, 1986, won SB XXV, in his 4th season as HC of the New York Giants. Parcells also won in 1990 (8th).
Jimmy Johnson, 1992, won SB XXVII, in his 4th season as HC of Dallas. Johnson won again in 1993 (5th).
Tom Coughlin, 2007, won SB XLII, in his 4th season as HC of the New York Giants.
Sean Payton, 2009, won SB XLIV, in his 4th season as HC of New Orleans.

Coaches Who Won in Their 3rd Year
Don Shula, 1972, won SB VII, in his 3rd season as HC of Miami. Shula also won in 1973 (4th).
Bill Walsh, 1981, won SB XVI, in his 3rd season as HC of San Francisco. Walsh also won in 1984 (6th) and 1988 (10th).
Mike Shanahan, 1997, won SB XXXII, in his 3rd season as HC of Denver. Shanahan also won in 1998 (4th).
Dick Vermeil, 1999, won SB XXXIV, in his 3rd season as HC of St. Louis.

Coaches Who Won in Their 2nd Year
Tom Flores, 1980, won SB XV, in his 2nd season as HC of Oakland. Flores won again in 1983 (5th).
Joe Gibbs, 1982, won SB XVII, in his 2nd season as HC of Washington. Gibbs won again in 1987 (7th) and 1991 (11th).
Barry Switzer, 1995, won SB XXX, in his 2nd season as HC of Dallas.
Brian Billick, 2000, won SB XXXV, in his 2nd season as HC of Baltimore.
Bill Belichick, 2001, won SB XXXVI, in his 2nd season as HC of New England. Belichick also won in 2003 (4th) and 2004 (5th).
Mike Tomlin, 2008, won SB XXLIII, in his 2nd season as HC of Pittsburgh.

Coaches Who Won in Their 1st Year
Don McCafferty, 1970, won SB V, in his 1st season as HC of the Baltimore Colts.
George Seifert, 1989, won SB XXIV, in his 1st season as HC of San Francisco. Seifert also won in 1994 (6th).
Jon Gruden, 2002, won SB XXVII, in his 1st season as HC of Tampa Bay.

First off, a couple of observations regarding the coaches who won the SB in their first year with their team. Seifert, it can be claimed simply inherited a team that had won the SB the previous year under Bill Walsh. Gruden, it has been argued, won the SB in his first year with Tampa Bay because he was fortunate enough to face the Oakland Raiders -- the team he had been the HC of the previous year. Whether or not those claims carry any weight is for the discussion of history to decide.

When we look at these SB winning coaches, and how long it took them to reach that pinnacle of NFL success, a couple of very interesting trends emerge. The SB era can be broken into 4 parts, based on the coaches, their tenure with their team before winning the big game, and the average number of coaches for the NFL teams during that period:
Average Tenure before winning the Super Bowl
Average # of Coaches each NFL team had during this period
8.3 years
1.5 coaches
7.6 years
3.8 coaches
5.5 years
3.1 coaches
4.2 years
4.9 coaches

On the one hand, it can easily been seen that as the SB history progressed, coaches were getting their teams to the SB more quickly than in previous years. In fact, coaches were getting their teams to the SB in almost half the time in '92-'09 than they were in '66-'69. It is interesting to note that this downward tenure trend, and the rise in the number of coaching changes coincided with the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The second shift came shortly after the addition of 2 new teams (Seattle and Tampa Bay) in 1976. It can also be noted that the third period '81-'91 saw a continued decline in the tenure figure, though the number of coaching changes stablized a bit. The addition of 4 new teams in the mid-90's and the deactivation of the Cleveland franchise for 3 years may have contributed to the rapidly shifting coaching scene. Add in the effects of a growing degree of parity among the teams, and the growing importance of free agency, and we can see how team composition and coaching changes created an atmosphere of "get there quickly or not at all."

On the other hand, it can also be seen (if you look at the individual coaches' history) that the coaches with multiple SB wins tended to be the ones who had lengthy tenures with their teams. This is borne out by the fact that of the 12 coaches who have won multiple SBs, not one won their second SB earlier than their 4th season with that team. Three coaches (Shula, Shanahan, Belichick) won their second in their 4th season. Two (Flores and Johnson) won in their 5th seasons. The rest all won in their 6th or later system. Even Seifert who won in his 1st season had to wait another 5 years before winning the SB for a 2nd time. Among the coaches who have won 3 or more SBs (Noll, Walsh, Gibbs, Belichick), none won their third any sooner than their 5th season (Belichick) with most of them having to build their teams until their 10th (Noll, Walsh) or 11th (Gibbs) seasons. Which could lead to a perspective that if you want your team to win multiple SB's you need to keep your coach around for a while.

So the question quickly becomes:

What do we want to see from our Head Coach -- a young genius who gets us to the Super Bowl quickly, only to never return, or one who takes a bit longer, builds us into perennial contenders, and wins us multiple Super Bowls?

Give your opinion in the poll and the comments section.


A Rather Lengthy Footnote

As often happens when looking for patterns among other teams, and thinking about our beloved Broncos, in bouncing ideas around with various people, I found myself considering my own question: What Do I Want to See from McDaniels?

1)I want a coach who builds a franchise that is in the final 8 teams in the playoffs, more years than not -- by a significant degree.

2)I want a coach who, after the season's game film has been fully reviewed, isn't afraid to improve the team by subtraction when warranted.

3)I want a coach who strives to improve himself, and the rest of the coaching staff as much as he strives to improve the players on the team.

4)I want a coach who's going to be around for a minimum of 5 years, and would prefer one who's going to stay well beyond that.

5)I want a coach who brings in quality people, who fully embrace his system/vision, and then trusts those people to implement that vision, from scouting, to free agency, to personnel, to offensive/defensive schemes.

6)I want a coach who demands that all players, coaches, staff -- including himself -- do their utmost to contribute to the success of the team.

IMHO, in McDaniels, we have such a coach. He's a smart, self-critical, self-confident man who demands the best from everyone around him. Name one other coach who had to deal with the kinds of issues that McDaniels had to deal with in 2009. As much as I admire Mike Shanahan, I believe Shanahan allowed himself to get stretched too thin in trying to achieve complete control over the program, and as a result, moved away from what he did best -- offensive game plan. This led to some mistakes when it came to scouting, personnel development, and getting staff and players to buy into Mike's vision. McDaniels came in insisting that the team would be built around a specific vision, and the players responded. Now McDaniels has to teach himself and the rest of the team how to handle the adversity that comes when you lose, and not let that carry over into multiple games.

I agree with the assessment that has been made by many here at MHR that the underlying problems facing the Broncos were far more extensive than simply being a player or two away from the SB, or that it was all the fault of the defense. McDaniels did the unthinkable: he came in and stripped away all of our comforting illusions (remember the claim that we had the 2nd ranked offense - even though we were only 16th in scoring, and far worse in give-aways?). He called a spade a spade, and then offered a solution. A solution that required, and continues to require, a massive realignment of how we see our Broncos, a redefinition of who the Broncos are and who they can be, a solution that demands that we let go of things that we have long held as truisms, and embrace a new truth, a solution that demands that Broncos grow into a team that can dominate once again.