These men managed their players and teams to new heights but have yet to enter the halls of Canton. Today, I rank the top 10 head coaches not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
10. Jim Mora
He may be better remembered for his postage press conferences, but he put together some impressive teams in the late 80's and 90's.
After years as defensive assistant coaches for several college and pro teams, Jim Mora was hired to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL. In his three seasons, the Stars posted a 48-13-1 record and won two USFL Championships.
After the USFL folded, Mora was hired by the New Orleans Saints in 1986. After going 7-9 in his first season the Saints went 12-3 in 1987, their first winning and playoff season in team history. Under Mora, the Saints developed maybe the greatest linebacker corps in league history in "The Doom Patrol" which consisted of All-Pros Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson, and Pat Swilling. In the six seasons the corps never had a losing season and made the playoffs four times.
In 1998, he was hired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The team struggled to a 3-13 mark in his first year with rookie Peyton Manning , but had an amazing turnaround to 13-3 in 1999 which was at the time, the largest team turnaround in NFL history. During his 15 years of coaching, he posted a 125-106 record and was the 1987 NFL Coach of the Year.
The thing that's impossible to overlook in Mora's career is his 0-6 NFL playoff record. Whether it was in New Orleans where his offense couldn't match the level of his defense or vice versa in Indianapolis, he just could never get his teams over the hump to get just one playoff win.
9. Bum Phillips
He was the perfect fit for those early Oilers teams.
After serving as defensive coordinator under Sid Gillman in San Diego and Houston, Oail Andrew "Bum" Phillips was named head coach and general manager of the Oilers in 1975. He quickly became known for his colorful quotes and quintessential Texas attire including cowboy hat, blue jeans , and button down shirt. By 1978 with the acquisition of running back Earl Campbell, he had built Houston into a great team based on a power running game and tough defense. In his six seasons in Houston, Phillips became the team all time leader in wins with 59. He was hired by New Orleans in 1981 and almost had the Saints on the brink of their first winning season in 1983. In his 11 seasons as an NFL head coach, he posted an 86-80 record .
Phillips had the misfortune of coaching Houston at a time when their AFC Central division rival Pittsburgh was arguably the greatest dynasty ever. The Oilers lost the AFC Championship in back to back seasons to the Steelers and when they lost in the wildcard round the following year, Phillips was fired. His tenure with the Saints was largely forgettable as he along with many other in that era saw their careers die in New Orleans. His firing from the Oilers is still seen as one of the darkest days in Houston history. Had Houston retained him and given the admiration from his players, I do believe the Oilers would have eventually made the next step to a Super Bowl.
8. Jeff Fisher
In a lot of ways, he is the ideal players coach.
After Jack Pardee was fired midway through 1994, Oilers defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher became the interim coach and promoted to the head coach the following year. He quickly became known for his innovation and being able to get the most out of his players. When the Oilers finally became the Titans, he led the team to a 13-3 season and came within one yard of a Super Bowl championship. He coached Tennessee to five playoff seasons, posted 173 wins during his career, and was the 2008 Coach of the Year.
Fisher gets forgotten about because his teams have faltered several times in the playoffs. Twice his teams had the number one seed in the AFC and been bounced in the divisional round. Add in his mediocre tenure with the Rams and he'll likely be left on the doorsteps of the Hall for some time.
7. Mike Shanahan
He helped get Denver over the Super Bowl hump.
After an unsuccessful stint as head coach of the Raiders and winning a Supper Bowl as offensive coordinator of the 49ers, Mike Shanahan was hired as head coach of the Denver Broncos in 1995. By finding gems in running back Terrell Davis and wide receiver Rod Smith to pair with quarterback John Elway and tight end Shannon Sharpe, He helped the Broncos win back to back Super Bowls after the franchise had previously lost their first four appearances. His run heavy variation of the West Coast offense involving zone blocking schemes paved the way for six different running backs to have 1,000 yard rushing seasons. In 2005, he passed Dan Reeves as the winningest coach in team history. In 20 seasons as an NFL head coach between the Raiders, Broncos, and Redskins, he posted a 178-144 record, won four division titles, and two Super Bowls.
Shanahan gets left out of Canton for a couple reasons. First of all, his tenure with Denver post John Elway's retirement is very inconsistent. Especially his 2005 team losing at home in the AFC Championship to the 6th seeded Steelers. Secondly, the bookends of his head coaching career are less than spectacular. In six seasons with the Raiders and Redskins, he had a 32-53 record.
6. George Seifert
He is often the forgotten man in the 49ers dynasty.
Spending the early 80s as San Francisco's defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator, George Seifert was named the head coach of the 49ers in 1989 after Bill Walsh stepped down. The 49ers went 14-2 in his first season as head coach and repeated as Super Bowl champions in the most lopsided victory in Super Bowl history, becoming the second rookie head coach to win a Super Bowl. In his eight years as head coach in San Francisco, Seifert never had a losing season, made the playoffs seven times, won six NFC West titles, and won two Super Bowls. His 98 career wins are the most in team history and left San Francisco after 1996 owning the best winning percentage of any NFL head coach in league history.
One of the big criticisms of Seifert are that he inherited Bill Walsh's players and that any coach could have done just as well with that roster. Also his three year stint as head coach of the Carolina Panthers is what has likely kept him out for the foreseeable future as he closed out his coaching career going 1-15 during the 2001 season.
5. Mike Holmgren
He brought life to two franchises.
After helping San Francisco win two Super Bowls as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Mike Holmgren was named the head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1992. Green Bay accomplished next to nothing in the 25 years since winning Super Bowl II. In Holmgren's seven seasons with the Packers, the team never lost more than seven games, and made six straight playoff appearances, two Super Bowl appearances, a victory in Super Bowl XXXI, and helped quarterback Brett Favre be named NFL MVP in three straight seasons. Holmgren resigned from the Green Bay Packers after the 1998 season to accept an eight year head coach contract offered by the Seattle Seahawks which also made him the teams general manager. In his first season in Seattle, he ended the teams 10 year playoff drought. In 10 seasons with the Seahawks, he coached the team to five division titles and the team's first Super Bowl appearance. He retired from coaching following the 2008 season with a career 174-122 record as head coach, three time NFC Champion, and Super Bowl champion.
The one thing I can think keeping Mike Holmgren from Hall of Fame consideration is his questionable departure from Green Bay to start over new in Seattle. When you consider the coaching tree he had under him from future head coaches like Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid, and Jon Gruden, his impact on the game is still felt to this day.
4. Don Coryell
He developed the offense of the 21st century in the 60s.
After developing his high flying passing attack at San Diego State University and winning three National Championships, Don Coryell was named the head coach by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. He helped the Cardinals to back-to-back division titles in 1974 and 1975, ending the teams 26 year playoff drought. His offense helped running back Terry Metcalf set the NFL record for all purpose yards and Dan Dierdorf became a Hall of Fame offensive lineman. Coryell was named the San Diego Chargers head coach in 1978 and got them their first winning season in nine years. He helped the Chargers to three straight AFC West titles and four playoff appearances. His "Air Coryell" offense ranked first in passing for six consecutive seasons and made Dan Foust, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow Hall of Famers. In his 14 seasons as head coach, he had a 114–89–1 record, won five division titles, and made six playoff appearances.
What is keeping Coryell out of the Hall is his teams shortcomings in the playoffs as he was 3-6 in the postseason. He was also criticized for not developing his team's defenses like he did the offense. San Diego's defense routinely finished near the bottom of the NFL in points per game and passing yards allowed after Hall of Fame defensive end Fred Dean left after a contract dispute. Also his abysmal final four years with the Chargers ultimately led to his dismal during the 1986 season.
3. Chuck Knox
Wherever he went, his teams won.
After a decade of being an offensive line coach with the Jets and Lions, Chuck Knox was hired as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams in 1973. He quickly became known for his "Ground Chuck" offense, whose emphasis was running the ball. In his first year with the team, he and veteran quarterback John Hadl helped the Rams to a 12-2 record. In his first stint in LA, he coached the Rams to five straight NFC West titles with five different starting quarterbacks. In 1978, he was hired as head coach of the Buffalo Bills. By his third season, the Bill won the AFC East. In 1983, Knox was hired by the Seattle Seahawks. In his first season, he helped Seattle reach the AFC Championship and in 1988 the Seahawks won their first AFC West title. In 1992, he returned to Loss Angeles and helped develop running back Jerome Bettis into a star. In his 22 seasons as head coach, he posted a 193-158-1 record and was a three time NFL Coach of the Year.
Knox gets lost in history due to his team's failures in the playoffs. He was 7-11 in the postseason and lost four conference Championship games. He also had issues with ownership as it resulted in him leaving Los Angeles and Buffalo even when his teams were winning. The fact that he was named Coach of the Year for three different teams has to count for something.
2. Dan Reeves
He got his teams wins, but just couldn't get his team over the hump.
After playing and coaching with the Dallas Cowboys for 15 years, Dan Reeves was hired as head coach and vice president of the Denver Broncos in 1981. After acquiring quarterback John Elway in a trade with the Colts, Reeves guided the Broncos to six postseason appearances, five AFC West titles, three AFC championships and three Super Bowl appearances during his 12 year tenure. In 1993 he was hired by the New York Giants and in his first year, he led the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since Bill Parcells left. In 1997, he was hired by the Atlanta Falcons. In his second season with the team, Reeves had open heart surgery midseason which sparked a memorable season for the Falcons which ended in a Super Bowl appearance. In 23 seasons as an NFL head coach, he posted a 201-174-2 record, and was a two time NFL Coach of the Year.
Reeves exclusion from Canton stems from his four blowout Super Bowl losses. The teams he coached from September through December never seemed to show up and his defense never seemed to match the skill of his offense.
1. Marty Schottenheimer
He is the best head coach to never reach a Super Bowl.
After serving as the team's defensive coordinator, Marty Schottenheimer was promoted to head coach of the Cleveland Browns after Sam Rutigliano was fired midway through the 1984 season. In his first full season as head coach, he helped the Browns win the AFC Central. The next two seasons, he guided Cleveland to the AFC Championship. In 1989, he was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs and helped Kansas City become one of the most consistent AFC teams of the 90s. After a year with the Washington Redskins, Schottenheimer was hired by the San Diego Chargers in 2002. He helped recharge San Diego and made Shawn Merriman an instant All-Pro. In his 21 seasons with four teams, he posted a 205-139-1 record and was the 2004 NFL Coach of the Year.
Like Reeves and Knox, Schottenheimer remains on the steps of the Hall do to his abysmal 5-13 playoff record. Many of his playoff loss came when his teams were favored which usually came down to his predictable "Marty Ball" play style. His teams were going to run the ball and play prevent defense, but always seemed to blow the game as teams were able to combat it with ease.
Questions & Answers
Question: What do you think about Blanton Collier being one of the top 10 head coaches for pro football who isn't already in the hall of fame?
Answer: Collier only coached nine seasons and he pretty much inherited Paul Browns team.
Frank Villanueva on January 13, 2020:
Tom Flores is a persona in the NFL with SuperBowl wins as a player, assistant coach, head coach. That adds up to several SuperBowl wins not just his 2 as a headcoach. Come on guys. He helped John Madden (a great coach) win as a coordinator. That counts too and speak volumes! Yes he took Maddens players, 70%, and won 2 SuperBowls. Lets overlook his stay in Seattle. Do the right thing fellas, please.. Way over due. Frank Villanueva