The road to Canton is paved with victories and championships for coaches.
Bill Belichick has plenty of both. In his 17 seasons with the Patriots, he has won 201 games and five championships. Tom Brady has been the quarterback for 235 of Belichick’s 272 games in New England. Brady has been at the helm for 183 of those victories, all five championships and has been invited to 12 Pro Bowls in his 16 seasons as a starter.
Belichick’s career has benefitted from the stability and mastery of the quarterback position by Brady. Find a Hall-of-Fame coach, and you’ll generally find a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. You play the hand you’ve been dealt as a football coach, and Belichick has played this hand very well.
But few coaches in NFL history have played the hand they’ve been dealt as masterfully as Marty Schottenheimer. He coached for 21 seasons and won 200 games. He suffered only two losing seasons in his career, taking 13 teams to the playoffs and winning division titles with eight of them.
But Schottenheimer never won a championship – so his name never comes up in any Hall-of-Fame discussions.
Schottenheimer deserves better because his success came despite a lack of stability at the quarterback position. He had 11 different starting quarterbacks in his 21 seasons, and a total of 21 different quarterbacks started games for him in his career. Belichick has had only five quarterbacks start games in his 17 seasons at New England.
Schottenheimer took teams to the playoffs with Steve DeBerg and Dave Krieg at the helm. He achieved the top playoff seeds in the AFC with Bernie Kosar, Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac at quarterback.
Schottenheimer did have Joe Montana for two seasons – but it was at the tail end of Montana’s career. He was 37 years old when Schottenheimer got him in Kansas City, and Montana promptly took the Chiefs to the AFC title game that season. Schottenheimer also fielded playoff teams with a young Bernie Kosar, a young Drew Brees and a young Philip Rivers.
In 1984, with the Cleveland Browns struggling along at 1-7, Art Modell fired Sam Rutigliano and replaced him with Schottenehimer, his defensive coordinator. Schottenheimer finished out the year 4-4 and, inside of two seasons, had the Browns in the AFC title game.
In 1988, injuries forced the Browns to start four different quarterbacks. Schottenheimer still squeezed out 10 victories and a playoff berth — but was fired by Modell at season’s end.
Schottenheimer was quickly snapped up by the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City had enjoyed only two winning seasons in the previous 15 years and was coming off a 4-11-1 season in 1988. With a 35-year-old DeBerg at quarterback, Schottenheimer coaxed an 8-7-1 season out of the Chiefs in 1989 – the first of nine consecutive winning seasons for Kansas City. Schottenheimer wound up winning more games (93) than any NFL coach in the 1990s.
Schottenheimer stepped away from the Chiefs after the 1998 season and spent two years away from the sideline before resurfacing in Washington as head coach of the Redskins in 2001. Washington opened the season 0-5 but rallied for a .500 finish with Tony Banks at quarterback, even pushing for a playoff spot in December. But Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder fired Schottenheimer at season’s end.
Schottenheimer was quickly snapped up by San Diego and posted a 47-33 record in his four seasons there. In his final season in 2006, Schottenheimer guided the Chargers to a 14-2 finish for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. But he was fired at season’s end after a home playoff loss in the divisional round.
Schottenheimer coached 327 games in the NFL and never had the same starting quarterback for more than four consecutive seasons. The quarterback who started the most games for him was Brees with 58. Kosar was next with 47. Schottenheimer also went into games with Paul McDonald, Gary Danielson, Jeff Christensen, Mike Pagel, Don Strock, Steve Pelluer, Mark Vlassic, Jeff George and Doug Flutie as his starter.
Despite the variety and often-times mediocrity at the quarterback position, Schottenheimer won 61.3 percent of his career games and finished in double figures in victories 11 times in his 21 seasons. He reached conference title games three times, twice with the Browns and once with the Chiefs. The most heart-breaking loss was “The Drive” engineered by John Elway in the 1986 AFC championship game.
But a lack of championships translates into a lack of attention from Canton. There are 20 coaches enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and 17 won championships. The other three all reached Super Bowls. That’s missing from Schottenheimer’s resume. But it’s the only thing missing from what otherwise was a Hall-of-Fame coaching career.