Wednesday, June 4, 2008

NFL Fun Facts 4: Coaching Legends of the Sixties

According to no less an authority than John Lennon, “the Sixties saw a revolution among youth—not just concentrating in small pockets or classes, but a revolution in a whole way of thinking. The youth got it first and the next generation second”. However, the 1960’s NFL had no place for the type of revolution Lennon was talking about. Instead, the NFL featured old school football, old school football as perfected, taught, and delivered by the greatest coaching legends of all-time: George Halas, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, and Don Shula. Now these men certainly brought their share of innovations to the game don’t get me wrong, but as a group we’re talking we’re talking about a bunch of no-nonsense straight-arrow, my-way-or-the-highway men. I doubt any “revolution in thinking” ever reached them. They were too busy winning games. Shula, Halas, Landry, and Brown constitute four fifths of the winningest coaches of all-time while Lombardi coached more teams to NFL championships than anybody who ever lived. If asked to name the NFL’s five greatest coaches, you could a lot worse than list those five men. The careers of those five span almost all of NFL history--Halas first coached in the 1920’s and Shula coached well into the 1990’s. But the Sixties was the one decade in which all five coaching legends strode the NFL sidelines.

Strangely, that decade somehow never saw a single season where all five men were head coaches simultaneously. As the decade began, Halas, Brown, Lombardi, and Landry led NFL teams. Not until 1963 did Don Shula become an NFL head coach but shockingly the Cleveland Browns fired Paul Brown before that season began. Six years later, Paul Brown triumphantly returned to coaching with the Cincinnati Bengals, but at the same time Papa Bear George Halas retired from coaching for good. Between them, Halas, Brown, Lombardi, Landry, and Shula coached a total of 39 NFL seasons in the 1960’s. Yet not once did all five coach in the same NFL year.

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