Reassessing how Hall should juggle seniors, contributors

Photo courtesy of Talk of Fame Network

CANTON, Ohio — When the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014 announced the creation of the contributor category, it said its new group would split the number of annual nominees with senior candidates — with one category having two nominees every other year, and the other having one.

But it didn’t stop there. It also said it would reassess the idea after five years.

Well, guess what? It’s time for a reassessment.

The Hall won’t do it for another 12 months, with August, 2019 the five-year anniversary of the contributor category. But it’s never too early to look ahead, and with the fifth contributor class chosen here on Thursday the time seems right to start.

So we will.

First of all, let’s define contributors and seniors. A contributor is someone who is not a former coach or player and who made a significant impact on the game. A senior is a former player whose modern-era eligibility of 20 years (initiated in the sixth year after retirement) expired without him having been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As you might guess, there are more qualified seniors — far more — than there are contributors, with 66 of them former all-decade choices. What’s more, when the senior committee met here last week to nominate a candidate for the Class of 2019 it had to choose one .. one .. from a list of 23 finalists — all of whom were Hall-of-Fame worthy.

By contrast, when the contributor committee sits down Thursday morning it will choose two nominees for the Class of 2019 from a list of 10 candidates.

But that’s the way it goes under the present system. A year ago, there were two senior nominees (Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile) and one contributor (Bobby Beathard). But that’s not the way it should remain.

Which is where our reassessment comes in.

The Hall’s idea of a contributor category was a good and necessary one, and it allowed qualified persons who wouldn’t have reached Canton under the old system to gain entry. And so a Ron Wolf, Bill Polian, Bobby Beathard, Eddie DeBartolo and Jerry Jones were elected in the first four years.

But that system needs tweaking for the future.

Under our revised plan, coaches would move from the modern-era category to the list of contributors, giving them a fairer shot at Canton than competing against players as they do now. And it wouldn’t be just head coaches. It would be all coaches — coordinators, positions coaches, you name it.

But the category would be redefined, too. Contributor nominees wouldn’t have their candidacies confined to non-playing and non-coaching roles. If a GM or scout were a former star player or coach who had an impact on the game, that could — and would — be included as part of the discussion, which it isn’t today.

So someone like, say, former player, coach and Dallas/New England executive Bucko Kilroy would have his complete resume introduced instead of his work only as part of a franchise’s staff. The guy spent nearly 60 years in the game, for crying out loud,  and made a considerable contribution to it in a variety of roles — player, coach, scout, player personnel director, GM. But, under present contributor guidelines, he can only be considered for his work as a front-office employee.

The same goes for former Raiders’ quarterback and coach Tom Flores, the first Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl (he won two, with two more as a player and assistant). Or Dan Reeves, a former star running back with Dallas and successful head coach who participated in nine Super Bowls — more than anyone but New England’s Bill Belichick.

Under the current guidelines, each is judged as either a player or a coach … but not both. Under the revised rules, that would change.

Now comes the clincher: No more rotation of candidates, with the seniors and contributors each having two nominees every other year. Nope, under the new plan the seniors would have two EVERY year, while the contributors would have one — a shift that aims at reducing the vast number of decorated seniors waiting for calls that never happen because of a shortage of nominations.

Prior to 2014, there were two senior choices every year, which means 10 every five years. But since the creation of the contributor category, the number the next five years (from 2015 through 2019) was reduced to seven … and, granted, it’s not a substantial difference. But tell that to those 66 all-decade stars waiting on Canton.

Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer was one of them, and he waited 45 years to hear his name called. He not only was a first-team all-decade choice and member of five NFL championship teams; he was the only member of the league’s 50th anniversary club (chosen by the Pro Football Hall of Fame) not elected to Canton until this summer.

Then there’s wide receiver Drew Pearson. Another first-team all-decade choice who was a Super Bowl champion and made so many big plays at critical moments that he was called “Mr. Clutch.” He’s waited three decades on Canton but has never been discussed as a Hall-of-Fame finalist.

The list goes on and on — which is why it made no sense to create a contributor category at the expense of the seniors. So don’t. Keep the categories separate and not equal, with the seniors returning to two choices every year and the contributors reduced to one.

I’ve heard talk that the Hall might consider creating a coaches’ category — one that could include head coaches and assistants — and have it limited to one nominee every other year, rotating with a contributor class that would have one candidate every other year, too.

I don’t know about that. I think it’s easier to include coaches with contributors and have the group propose one nominee every year. But I also think it’s worth examining.

So is returning two nominees to the senior pool every year. In fact, I’d start there and work my way back, making sure I did everything I could to maximize the chances for those 66 all-decade seniors —  as well as others who are qualified — to get what they deserve.

Namely, a fairer shot than they have now.

All I know is the system is due to be reassessed, and it will be. But it’s also due to be revised. And it should be.

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  1. Tammy McDole
    August 23, 2018

    this makes so much more sense!! Thank you for this now lets get the HOF behind it!! What can we do to help?!

  2. bachslunch
    August 23, 2018

    Clark, fine commentary. Definitely agree with you on your points. Maintaining two Seniors and one Contributor/Coach yearly seems really prudent. The current setup has gotten in many of the worst Contributor snubs, though there are several more who belong in (Brandt, Young, McNally, Sabol, Kraft, Hay come to mind). Couple this with the few coaches with reasonable arguments (Parker, Coryell, Reeves, Johnson all come to mind) as well as some of the best assistant coach options (Shaughnessy, Ryan, Arnsparger perhaps) and there should be enough to justify a once-a-year continuation. But the Senior player pool is huge and merits two-a-year at least, maybe more.

  3. Justin
    August 23, 2018

    Clark: I was just reading the “Road to Canton: Contributors” piece on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s website. It already says that the contributors category is set to revert to one per year after the initial five-year period ends after this year. I was not aware that this decision had already been made (and based on this article neither were you). I find this good news, but a bit surprising in the execution.

    • August 23, 2018

      Justin, probably news to the HOF, too. Talked to several people there last night and today and there was no mention of this happening … only that the idea is a possibility.

      • Jeff
        August 23, 2018

        I wish it were official! I think the contributor experiment was fine and it’s nice to see some of the more qualified GMs making their way through, but I also think it has run its course. I think the Hall is primarily for players and coaches.

        Leaving a senior spot on the table every other year is just the wrong way to go. Far too many qualified seniors out there, many of them already gone or in their twilight years, who deserve at least a hearing and in many cases, outright induction. The problem will just get worse, as the backlog grows (another Jacoby, Craig or Kenn will fall into the pool every year). At the very least, there should permanently be two seniors every year…but personally I’d keep the 8-man class and have three seniors, and maybe do two seniors plus one contributor every 2-3 years.

        Not sure about adding the coaches category, but I do think the definition of contributor should be reassessed, because they’re eliminating some people who had really significant influences on the game. My very first thought 5 years ago when I heard about this new category was, “great – I’m sure this means that Don Coryell finally gets in.” Not so fast.

  4. Tammy
    August 23, 2018

    Post for a friend Lance Alworth, Bobby Bell, Elvin Bethea, Fred Biletnikoff, Willie Brown, Nick Buoniconti, Larry Csonka, Curley Culp, Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Ken Houston, Charlie Joiner, Willie Lanier, Floyd Little, Larry Little, Don Maynard, Ron Mix, Joe Namath, Jim Otto, Billy Shaw, Art Shell, Jan Stenerud, Emmitt Thomas: along with the late Junious (Buck) Buchanan, George Blanda and Gene Upshaw, you all starred in the American Football League.

    In spite of long odds and the aspersions cast at the AFL, you have achieved Professional Football’s greatest honor, induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    I respectfully ask that each of you reflect on the great team-mates who shared the field with you, as well as the worthy opponents you faced in those AFL years. Many of them ALSO deserve to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but have unfairly been categorized as having played in an inferior league.

    These include, but are not limited to Johnny Robinson, who has better statistics and more championships than some other defensive backs of his era who have been enshrined – Robinson should have been inducted in 1977, as soon as he was eligible; Abner Haynes (All-time AFL all-purpose yards); Gino Cappelletti (All-time AFL scoring); John Hadl, half of that tremendous aerial attack with Alworth; Lionel Taylor (first receiver in Professional Football history to catch 100 passes in a season); Charlie Hennigan (first to break Taylor’s record; held many Professional Football receiving records for 35 years after his retirement); Daryle Lamonica (2nd-best to Otto Graham in quarterback won-lost percentage); and defensive stars like Ron McDole, whose unit did not allow a rushing touchdown for seventeen straight games, a record that still stands. I could name many more who have been excluded because they played in the wrong league.

    I ask that you, the AFL Alumni in the Hall of Fame, as a group, lobby that institution to emulate the Baseball Hall of Fame’s action when it recognized an injustice and inducted a number of Negro Leagues players at the same time.

    If “senior” players can be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame only two at a time, it is unlikely that many of those deserving AFL stars will be inducted before they die.

    I ask that the AFL Alumni Hall of Famers request that the Pro Football Hall of Fame, before it’s too late, assemble a special selection committee of former sportswriters who covered the AFL, and charge them with the task of fairly evaluating the merits of all those unrecognized AFL stars, with the goal of inducting A NUMBER of them, en masse. It would have been nice to have done this for the AFL’s 50th Anniversary Season, but better late than never.

    Thanks, Ange Coniglio ~ REMEMBER the AFL

  5. Bobcat
    August 24, 2018

    I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of 2 senior being nominated every year. This will hopefully expedite, those all decade candidates, to be able to smell the roses, before being called home. Imho, Drew Pearson, should have been in the HOF years ago, along with Chuck Howley, Cliff Harris, Lee Roy Jordan, and Everson Walls.

    I also, wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the NFL Coaches, having a separate category. With this new category, the new committee, would nominate one coach, each year, rotating with the Contributors.
    It’s a shame, that Don Coryell and Tom Flores, both deserving, have to continue to be passed over yearly, because they’re lumped in with the modern era selections. THE HOF, should have 3 categories, TO make selection more equal. That’s my two cents worth.

  6. Brian Wolf
    August 31, 2018

    Great article as usual Clark. I have a question if you could help me out. The Bears in the 1940s had a WR named Ken Kavanaugh who I believe should already be in the HOF based on his quality of catches, 22yds per catch, scoring 3 TDs in three championship games
    and scoring 50 TDs on only 162 career receptions…Is his TD to Reception ratio the best in NFL History ? Does he qualify with only 162 receptions, and if he doesnt, who has the highest ratio ?
    I always thought it was Paul Warfield, who I believe was the greatest WR of all time but I think there are other Receivers with higher ratios.
    If you, Ron or Rick wouldnt know, would any NFL statistical service or website have these numbers ?

    • Jelperman
      September 3, 2018

      Those are amazing stats. The closest I could think of in my lifetime would be Bobby Duckworth, who scored 9 TDs with only 45 catches from 1983-84.

    • bachslunch
      September 3, 2018

      Ken Kavanaugh was a solid receiver for the era. He wasn’t at the level of Don Hutson, of course, and I tend to think another 40s era receiver, Mac Speedie, has a better HoF argument.

      But as you pointed out, he was a TD machine when he played, and he routinely placed within the top 10 in receiving yards during the decade. His honors of 3/2/40s isn’t bad, either. No reason he shouldn’t be considered at some point, though he’s probably not the worst snub out there, either.

  7. brian wolf
    September 5, 2018

    I enjoy reading your comments and points BACHSLUNCH but I disagree on Mac Speedie.

    Yes he was a great Browns player who was instrumental on those great teams that dominated the AAFC and went to three straight NFL Championship games while he was there in the early 50s. But he was a great AAFC player period.

    Despite helping the Browns those three years in the NFL, his numbers though good, were not great especially his TD catches. Thats why I dont believe his argument for the Hall is as good as Kavanaugh. I believe if Kavanaugh had not been in the military in 1942 the Bears would have won three straight championship games, despite a heroic game from Sammy Baugh

    I do like and understand the spirit of your point though because Warren Wells of the Oakland Raiders in the 60s and 70s has the same argument. A great AFL WR who helped the Raiders get to an AFL Championship win and Super Bowl appearance and also four straight AFL/AFC Championship games. If he had not been in jail in 1971 and somehow lost his competitive edge, he might have had a HOF career himself. I believe if the Raiders had kept working with him in 72 and he kept his nose clean, he could have played his way back into shape but who really knows ?

    According to what I have read based on articles and statistics…Johnny Blood McNally may have had the best TD/Reception ratio in history but its unofficial. He had 37 TDs on only 67 catches !
    Daryl Turner of the Seahawks in the 80s had 36 TDs on 101 receptions but he only played four seasons, due to injuries and drug problems. Wells also had a great ratio. To my knowledge, Hutson, Collins, Hayes, and Warfield had the best ratios with over 70 TD catches but I am hoping to read about more. Gronk I think has the highest ratio amongst todays players.

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