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How long until Super Bowl winning head coaches leave the team?

Gary Kubiak left Denver one season after leading the Broncos to victory in SB50, how common is this and how much of an affect did it have on the current state of the Broncos?

NFL: Denver Broncos-Minicamp Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Because of health reasons Gary Kubiak stepped down as the head coach of the Denver Broncos after the 2016 season. He remains the last coach to lead the Broncos to the playoffs. On twitter a commenter made a good point when he mentioned the Broncos lost a first ballot Hall of Fame QB to retirement and a SB winning head coach in the space of two years. He pointed out that this had never happened before. He then went on to make an ass of himself so I blocked him, but his point remains valid.

You know me, this sent me to history books to research some things:

  1. How long do SB winning head coaches stay with the team that they led to SB victory?
  2. How do teams fare after SB winning coaches leave the team?
  3. How many QBs got voted into the HoF on the first ballot? (not going to answer this one)
  4. (really 2a) How many of those QBs left the team soon (or immediately after winning the Lombardi trophy? (some discussion of this will occur)

The last one is easy since only two QB have left the team via retirement immediately after winning - John Elway and Peyton Manning.

This piece is mostly going to focus on questions one and two. Generally the head coaches who leave soon after winning a Super Bowl do so for personal reasons and not because of “poor job performance” (duh!).

There have been 35 different head coaches to win a Super Bowl - thirteen men have done it more than once.

SB Winning Head Coach SB Victories Years after SB Win HC left Team
Vince Lombardi 2 0
Weeb Ewbank 1 5
Hank Stram 1 5
Don McCafferty 1 2
Tom Landry 2 11
Don Shula 2 22
Chuck Noll 4 12
John Madden 1 2
Tom Flores 2 4
Bill Walsh 3 0
Joe Gibbs 3 1
Mike Ditka 1 7
Bill Parcells 2 0
Jimmy Johnson 2 0
George Seifert 2 0
Barry Switzer 1 2
Mike Holmgren 1 2
Mike Shanahan 2 10
Dick Vermeil 1 0
Brian Billick 1 7
Bill Belichick 6 still there
Jon Gruden 1 6
Bill Cowher 1 1
Tony Dungy 1 2
Tom Coughlin 2 4
Mike Tomlin 1 still there
Sean Payton 1 11
Mike McCarthy 1 8
John Harbaugh 1 still there
Pete Carroll 1 still there
Gary Kubiak 1 1
Doug Pederson 1 3
Andy Reid 1 still there
Bruce Arians 1 1
Sean McVay 1 still there

A value of zero in the “when they left” column means that they left the team after winning the Super Bowl and before the start of the next season (team had new HC in season after winning SB). Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells (after his second), Jimmy Johnson (after his second) and Dick Vermeil all did that. Joe Gibbs, Bill Cowher, Gary Kubiak and Bruce Arians all lasted one season after their wins before leaving their respective teams.

This means that the Broncos are not in a situation that is uncommon insofar as their SB winning head coach left soon or immediately after hoisting the Lombardi trophy.

I’ll dig deeper into the QB question next week, if there is enough interest.

For those who want the Broncos to hire Sean Payton because he is on this list of SB winning HC’s, know that no head coach has ever won the SB with two different franchises. There are a five men who have led more than one team to the SB and Chiefs head coach, Andy Reid, is one of them. So is former Bronco head coach, Dan Reeves.

Interestingly enough there are two men who could join that group of five this season in Doug Pederson (with the Jaguars) and Mike McCarthy (with the Cowboys).

Now on to the underlying question - how much of a negative affect did Kubiak’s departure have on the Broncos organization? To answer that we need to look at other teams that have “lost” their head coach soon after winning it all.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers won the first two Super Bowls; then Vince Lombardi left the team. Over the next 15 seasons, they made the playoffs twice, losing in the divisional round both times. They went from January 1968 to January 1983 without winning a playoff game. While our drought of playoff appearances seems dire, the Broncos have a long way to go to match the post-SB win post-HC loss misery of the Packers from the last century.

The Packers had four winning records from 1968 to 1992. They wandered in the wilderness of loss for many many years after winning SB II.

Like some coaches you will see later, Lombardi retired only to come back to the NFL not long after. Unlike those other guys, Lombardi would only last one season as the head coach in Washington in 1969 before he was “retired”. He died of colon cancer in early September 1970 before the start of the Season. He was 57.

San Francisco 49ers

Bill Walsh “retired” after his 49ers barely edged the Bengals in SB XXIII, but the 49ers machine chugged along quite nicely after Walsh left the team. (Walsh came out of retirement in 1992 to be the head coach of Stanford for three seasons.) The 49ers won the next Super Bowl (obliterating the Broncos) under new head coach George Seifert. They proceeded to make the playoffs in eight of the nine following seasons winning another Super Bowl in 1994 (against the Chargers in their lone SB appearance) and losing in the NFCC four times (three of those four teams won the SB with the only exception being the 1997 Packers who lost the Broncos).

Obviously the 49ers did not lose much when Walsh retired.

New York Giants

Bill Parcells led the Giants to their second Super Bowl victory at the conclusion of the 1990 season (beating Buffalo) and then he “retired”. Similar to Kubiak, Bill Parcells cited health concerns for his departure from the Giants. He was out of the NFL for three seasons before being enticed out of retirement to take the head coaching job for the Patriots.

After Parcells departure the Giants missed the playoffs the following two seasons, but had an 11-5 record under HC Dan Reeves in 1993. That team beat the Vikings in the Wild Card round, but that would be the Giants only playoff win for another seven seasons, until they made it to the SB following the 2000 season (losing badly to the Ravens).

Good, but not HoF-good, QB, Phil Simms, would play his final season in the NFL that season after “leading” the team to both of their previous century SB wins. Late-career Simms is not unlike 2015 PFM in that both were smart game managing QBs that relied almost exclusively on their brains to compensate for their failing bodies. Simms had missed the majority of the ‘91 and ‘92 seasons with injury before playing 16 regular season games in 1993. 1993 was also the final season of Lawrence Taylor’s HoF career.

Dallas Cowboys

Jimmy Johnson was the head coach for the Dallas Cowboys dynasty in the 1990s, but he left the team after they won their second SB in a row over the Bills at the conclusion of the 1993 season - prior to the 1994 season. Johnson left Dallas because he had a falling out with the owner of the team. In a similar manner to the Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson’s “retirement” would only last a few years before he was back as an NFL HC.

Barry Switzer took over as head coach and led to the team to the playoffs in three of his four seasons as HC including one SB victory (over the Steelers). Switzer was fired after the Cowboys went 6-10 in the 1997 season. That was the final year that, first-ballot HoF QB, Troy Aikman, was able to play all 16 regular season games, but it was also the second season of his decline and the first year that he didn’t make the Pro Bowl after six straight selections. Honestly, he had no business making the Pro Bowl the year before when he threw 12 TDs and 13 INTs.

Since winning the Super Bowl after the 1995 season, the Cowboys have not advanced beyond the divisional round, although they have a chance this year. Also they have not had back-to-back losing seasons since 2002-2003 which is pretty impressive.

St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams

The Rams left LA after the 1994 season (where they had moved to from Cleveland). They spent 21 seasons in St. Louis before returning the left coast and LA in 2016. Their second stint in the Midwest was a very successful stretch at least for a time. The won their first Super Bowl after the 1999 season with Dick Vermeil as their head coach (although they did win the NFL championship twice back when there were like four teams in the league in the 40s ands 50s). Dick Vermeil left the team immediately after the SB victory.

Vermeil said he foolishly left the Rams because he wanted to spend time with his family and didn’t want to cut some of the aging veterans he had grown fond of. In hindsight, all he needed was a vacation. “Poor decision — I made a mistake,” Vermeil said of leaving the Rams.

Vermeil would be a head coach after one season away returning to take the HC job in KC.

Mike Martz would take over the the “greatest show on turf” and lead the Rams for five (and some of a sixth) seasons. The Rams would make the Super Bowl once (losing to the Patriots) during this span, but they would make the playoffs every year but two with Martz as the HC. They would only have two losing seasons under Martz despite having a first ballot HoF QB, Kurt Warner, leave the team after the 2003 season. They actually made the playoffs twice with Marc Bulger as their starting QB. Bulger was a 6th round pick that turned himself into a Pro Bowler.

2004 would be the last time that the Rams would make the playoffs for a very long stretch. They would not return to the playoffs until 2017 with Sean McVay as their head coach in his first season as a head coach. The Rams did not have a wining season from 2005 until 2017 and only finished 8-8 twice during that span. They were one of the worst teams in the league for a little more than a decade before they found a head coach to right the ship in McVay. Counting interim head coaches, they had five head coaches after firing Martz and before hiring McVay: Joe Vitt, Scott Linehan, Steve Spagnuolo, Jeff Fisher and Jim Fassel.

Counting interim head coach Jerry Rosburg, the Broncos have only had four since Kubiak left the team, but our stretch in the playoff desert has not been as long as the Rams after their appearance in 2004.

Washington Commanders

Joe Gibbs led Washington to their last SB win at the conclusion of the 1991 season (beating Buffalo). He would spend one more season as their head coach before “retiring” for family reasons. His team would make the playoffs the season after winning the Lombardi trophy but lost in the divisional round. Unlike the other coaches who only stayed away from the NFL for a short time, Gibbs would not return to the NFL until he was hired again as the head coach in Washington for the 2004 season. During that time that he was not their HC, the team would have seven losing seasons and make the playoffs only once (losing in the divisional round after wining their wild card game).

Their two playoff appearances are two more than the Broncos have post-SB win, but their streak of futility is somewhat similar as they finished 9-7 the season after hoisting the Lombardi and then were either an average or bad team over the next seven seasons - finishing anywhere from 3-13 to 9-7. They finally got back to double digit wins in 1999 under Norv Turner (10-6) before another prolonged stretch of mediocrity led to their luring Gibbs back into the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Bill Cowher led the Steelers to victory in the Super Bowl that concluded the 2005 season (beating the Broncos in the AFCC). He stayed one more season with the team, similar to Kubiak, before retiring after the Steelers went 8-8 in the 2006 season and missed the playoffs. He retired after that trying season and actually stayed retired, opting for the broadcast booth instead of the sideline.

That 2006 season would be 3rd year QB, Ben Reothlisberger’s, worst career season. He led the league in interceptions with 23 while only throwing for 18 TDs. His passer rating of 75.4 was a career low. It was the first season where he was forced to throw on a regular basis because the Steeler running game and defense both regressed significantly relative to the year before.

Cowher was replaced by a little known coach named Mike Tomlin who had spent one season as the defensive coordinator of the Vikings. Prior to that he had been the driving force behind the dominant secondary's of the Bucs as their DB coach during their first dominant stint in the early 2000s (Tampa 2 defense).

The Steelers struck gold in Tomlin as their head coach despite his lack of head coaching experience at any level (or NFL coordinator experience). Tomlin was only a decade removed from being a player at FCS school, William and Mary. Tomlin has never led the Steelers to a losing season and has gotten to double digit wins in 9 of 16 seasons at the helm of the Steelers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After luring Tom Brady out of retirement to come play in Florida, Bruce Arians guided the Bucs to their second Super Bowl victory as a franchise at the conclusion of the 2020 season. Arians stuck with the team for one more season before retiring (again - he’d done it once before in Arizona) for health reasons. The Bucs actually had a better record the season after wining the SB (10-6 vs 13-4), but they were upset in the divisional round by the eventual SB champion Rams.

The Bucs went 8-9 this season and yet still made the playoffs because they had the best record in the NFC South (the rest of the division finished 7-10). They lost last Sunday to Dallas in the only true blowout game of the, now SUPER wild card weekend (which did live up to the hype with some very exciting games).

It’s possible that Tom Brady, who will be a first ballot HoF QB, will finally retire (and stay retired this time). That would mean that the Bucs would be the only other team to lose both their SB winning HC and first ballot HoF QB in back-to-back seasons. Brady’s contract for 2023 has been voided according to So Tom Brady is a free agent, which means he could return to the Bucs if he chooses to avoid the pull of the evil one in Loss Vegas (Josh McDaniels, who did think I was talking about?). He could also just retire, but either way the odds of him coming back to Tampa in 2023 are slim given how much of a cap hit he would be at that point.

Concluding Thoughts

There is almost no precedent to the dire straits in which the Broncos find themselves almost seven years after winning the Lombardi trophy. If you use that somewhat random distinction about losing a first-ballot HoF QB and SB winning head in back-to-back seasons, there is no precedent, but there most likely will be team in similar waters (Tampa Bay) if FYTB does not come back to Tampa for the 2023 season.