Hearing former general manager Bill Polian this week call for a “a fresh look at how everything is done” with the Hall-of-Fame process only renewed my interest — and Polian’s, too — in having the Hall make a significant change.
And doing it sooner rather than later.
That would be moving coaches from the modern-era group where they compete with players to the contributor category … and having assistant coaches join them. As it stands today, assistants aren’t really eligible for election … unless, of course, they’re former players, whereupon they’re judged by their resumes as players, not assistant coaches.
Case in point: Hall-of-Famer Dick LeBeau. Most believe he was elected because of his enormous work within the game as, first, a player and, then, as a coach. Wrong. He was judged on his history as a player, period. That is … and, according to the Hall’s by-laws, must be … considered apart from what he did as a coach.
But if you want to consider him on his coaching merits, go ahead. Only then that is done separately … apart from his resume as a player. Got it? Me, neither, but that’s the way it goes. There are no assistants in the Hall, and there should be.
That brings me back to what Polian said on the Talk of Fame Network’s latest broadcast, which, essentially, is that Don Coryell’s failure to get into Canton is symptomatic of a larger problem. And that problem is that coaches have a very, very difficult time competing with players for admission.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Canton is unreachable. Tony Dungy was elected a year ago, and Bill Parcells three years earlier. But it does mean the curve is steeper, much steeper, than it should be. And it also means that someone like a Coryell or Clark Shaughnessey … guys who didn’t win Super Bowls … are toast, no matter what they did.
“If we’re going to record the history of the game,” Polian said, “if we’re going to talk about excellence in the game, going to talk about people who contributed to the game, turning people down and having coaches compete with players … in effect, considering only coaches who’ve only been in the Super Bowl … it just does not tell the story of the game and reward the people who’ve contributed greatly to the game.”
I’ll second that.
Consider Tom Flores, for example. He’s a hot-button topic with Raiders’ fans, and I get it. The guy won two Super Bowls as a head coach, one as an assistant coach and one as a backup quarterback. More importantly, he was a pioneer — the first Hispanic starting quarterback and the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl.
But he can’t get a sniff … yet he has four Super Bowl rings. Bad enough that he can’t reach Canton, but what’s worse is that Flores hasn’t been a Hall-of-Fame finalist (one of 15 final candidates in a given year) or semifinalist (one of 25), either, and that makes no sense.
Coryell is a hot-button topic with Chargers’ fans, and I understand that, too. The guy resurrected two moribund franchises — the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Chargers — and put them in the playoffs. Moreover, he had an enormous impact on how the game is played offensively and defensively — with defenses forced to adjust to his innovations on offense.
“Don Coryell,” said former coach Mike Martz, “is the father of the modern passing game.”
What Don Coryell is not, however, is a Super Bowl-winning coach. In fact, his detractors not only point to his 3-6 playoff record as a reason to keep him out of Canton but to his two conference championship game appearances … and that’s fair.
Except … except George Allen is in the Hall with a 2-7 playoff record. Yes, he got to a Super Bowl, but he lost it. Allen, however, has the third-best winning percentage of all time at 71.2. Only fellow Hall-of-Famers Vince Lombardi and John Madden are ahead of him on that list. Coryell won only 56.1 percent of his games.
Still, can the absence of a championship game appearance nullify Coryell’s contributions to the game? Sorry, that one needs an explanation. And the explanation is that Coryell, Flores, Shaughnessy and too many others can’t possibly make it to Canton until or unless the process is changed, and we consider coaches apart from players.
While there is no rule in place, there is an understanding that we measure our coaches as we do our quarterbacks — with jewelry. Well, Flores won two Super Bowl rings as a head coach. So did Jimmy Johnson and George Seifert. Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin, too. And let’s not forget Buddy Parker. He took the Lions to three straight championship games and won two of them.
None is in Canton (though Coughlin is not yet eligible), and none is on a short list. But they might be if the Hall considered coaches apart from players.
Look, the contributor category is supposed to be for something exactly like a Coryell or a Shaughnessy, who modernized the T-formation and made multiple offensive innovations which, as with Coryell, forced defenses to adapt. Yet Clark Shaughnessy is on nobody’s radar, and that’s more than puzzling. It’s wrong.
It should be for someone like a Flores, too, a guy who broke new ground and made it possible for others to follow.
So put him … and other coaches, including assistants … in with the contributors, and let’s see what happens. As Polian rightly pointed out, the contributor category has become more like “an owner’s category,” with two of the four inductees (Eddie DeBartolo and Jerry Jones) franchise owners and Denver owner Pat Bowlen on the short list for 2018.
“I’m not against an owner’s category,” said Polian. “But how does (former Giants’ GM and league executive) George Young get in? How does (former Washington and San Diego GM) Bobby Beathard get in? I’m a little embarrassed that I’m in there (Polian was in the first contributors class in 2015), and Paul Tagliabue and George Young and Bobby Beathard are not. There’s got to be a way to get these people in.”
So expand the category. Make coaches contributors, too, not only to give them a fairer shot but to deepen a pool that is downright dry compared to the backlog of seniors. Maybe then the individuals who contributed to the success of the sport by doing more than just wining games can … and will … be rewarded.