Last week we examined what it would mean for the legacy of every starting quarterback in the NFL Playoffs to win a Super Bowl. It seems like we discuss legacies and Super Bowl trophies more in the NFL than in any other sport because of the revered status of postseason football as the most watched sporting events every single year. In the end though, regardless of sport, it’s the trophies that define your career.
Much like with the quarterbacks that remain in the postseason, the coaches represent a diverse spectrum of legacy enhancement opportunity. For some, another Super Bowl would be the capstone on a Hall of Fame career. For others, it would represent their jump to that elite class. For all of them, lifting the Lombardi Trophy would mean everything.
Like our first list last week, we have to start with the New England Patriots and what might be obvious.
8. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots)
Like Tom Brady, Bill Belichick is already the most successful coach in the modern history of the NFL. He’s already listed alongside the likes of Nick Saban and Gregg Popovich as the best coaches currently working the sidelines in sports, and he’s also probably in the same breath as the likes of Phil Jackson and John Wooden as the greatest coaches of all-time regardless of sport. Another Super Bowl title isn’t going to make or break his legacy. Do you really think any less of Nick Saban even though Alabama just got creamed by Clemson in the National Championship Game? Of course not! Saban’s statue is already built, which is probably as safe a sign as any that your legacy is complete. Belichick’s statue isn’t far behind and you can imagine that if the Patriots were to win this Super Bowl, he’d probably enjoy it for about eight seconds after everyone finally left him alone before preparing for the next one.
7. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts)
To this point in history, Frank Reich’s legacy has always been as the comeback king of football. You probably know that he quarterbacked the Buffalo Bills to the biggest comeback in NFL history in the 1993 Wild Card round against the Houston Oilers by overcoming a 35-3 deficit. It’s amazing that 25 years later, Reich is finally getting his first opportunity as a head coach in the postseason. So far, he’s made the most of it with Andrew Luck and the Colts riding a hot streak into Kansas City. If Reich is able to lead the Colts to the Super Bowl, he’d be the third rookie head coach to do so with Don McCafferty (Colts) and George Seifert (49ers) the other two. Reich is probably most similar to Doug Pederson – relatively new head coaches who could win an early ring in their careers and build a foundation for long-term success.
6. Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers)
It’s almost a shame that Lynn flies so far under the radar when it comes to NFL head coaches because he’s done an amazing job in Los Angeles with the Chargers. The Chargers won just nine games the two seasons prior to Lynn’s arrival and he’s already more than doubled that with a 21-12 record his first two seasons. He should get a ton of credit for immediately building a winning culture and getting the most out of Philip Rivers in the late stages of his career. Lynn would join one of the NFL’s most exclusive clubs with a Super Bowl trophy, as only three men have ever won as a player and a head coach (Tony Dungy, Tom Flores, Mike Ditka). Lynn already has two rings as a member of the 1990s Denver Broncos teams that went back-to-back.
5. Doug Pederson (Philadelphia Eagles)
There are just six head coaches who can ever say they have led teams to back-to-back Super Bowls – Lombardi, Shula, Noll, Johnson, Shanahan, and Belichick. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson would be the seventh, and by far the most unlikely. In fact, he’d be the only one to do so without a Hall of Fame quarterback (although one could argue that Nick Foles has certainly played like one the last two postseasons), and he’d do so without a dominant defense that many of those teams also had. To that extent, Pederson would only enhance his legacy as something of a miracle worker with the Eagles. And while another Super Bowl may not immediately vault Pederson to Canton, it would vault him into a status that few other coaches have ever occupied.
4. Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints)
Much like Pederson, a second Super Bowl would certainly add a lot to Sean Payton’s legacy (Drew Brees ranked #1 on our quarterback list for what it’s worth), but it may enhance it even more because of the longer-term success Payton has had in New Orleans. We still don’t know whether Pederson will coach ten more years in Philly or whether he’ll be in town longer than Jimmy Butler. However, Payton’s longevity and success in New Orleans has already solidified his standing among his contemporaries. A second Super Bowl combined with the best offense of his day probably means more to Payton because it would make Canton a mortal lock.
3. Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys)
There’s no coach on this list who would gain more respectability for winning a ring than Garrett would. For years, he’s been something of a punchline for the relative mediocrity that the Cowboys have endured. Garrett has coached eight seasons with the Cowboys and finally won his first playoff team as head coach last weekend against the Seahawks, and it’s great that he did because he was dangerously close to falling into Marvin Lewis territory. In spite of that victory, there are those that are still advocating for Garrett to be fired after the season no matter what happens the rest of the way. Surely a Super Bowl changes everything for Garrett, Jerry Jones, and Cowboys fans and gives him at least another year or two of job security, right? Right?
2. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)
There’s no doubting that Sean McVay is the hottest thing in coaching right now. Anyone and everyone attached to him is getting a coaching opportunity as teams try to recreate the magic that he has created offensively in Los Angeles with the Rams. Took a selfie with him on a practice field? Boom. Immediate interview. Had a cup of coffee with Sean McVay at a coaching convention? Congratulations, you’ve just been hired as an NFL offensive coordinator. Served on the same coaching staff and you’re a shoo-in to get a head coaching job. McVay is so heavily hyped right now that anything but a Super Bowl might take the shine off his status as The Next Big Thing in coaching. But if he’s able to win it all, it’ll validate the hype and then some.
1. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs)
The mantle of “Greatest ______ to never win ______” is one of the heaviest burdens to bear in American sports. That’s why championships are so important to legacies, after all. We all remember the times when the best in their profession finally won a title for the first time, whether it was John Elway in the Super Bowl, Ray Bourque and the Stanley Cup, or Phil Mickelson at the Masters. With his successful run in Kansas City, Andy Reid has vaulted to the top of that list for football coaches. His 206 career wins (7th all-time) are one more than former Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer for most ever without a ring. Reid’s time in Kansas City has already built his legacy to the point where the Andy Reid Coaching Tree is now officially a thing thanks to the success of coaches like Pederson and Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears. The only thing he needs as a capstone to his career is a Lombardi Trophy. And with his rapid development of (likely) MVP Patrick Mahomes, this may be his best chance yet to finally win one.