We’ve used this space the past few weeks to argue the Cowboys have a good coaching staff that has gotten the most out of this GM’s roster. Time to buttress that argument with a simple NFL truth: Pro Bowl talent makes good coaches look great.
Vince Lombardi is hailed as a genius for leading Packers teams that boasted 11 future Hall of Famers to five NFL championships. Perhaps he did more with less in leading the lowly 1969 Redskins to a winning season – their first in 13 years. That 7-5-2 record he posted in Washington in not listed high among his accolades, but one could argue it was his most impressive pure coaching job, given the culture and the roster he took over.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s long-standing genius status was achieved only after franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe got hurt and Tom Brady was forced to start. The year before Belichick had gone 5-11 and was on the TV expert hot seat; a year later, a generational talent at quarterback helped flip that record to 11-5 and Belichick won a Super Bowl.
Talent makes good coaches great, or at least reveals their greatness to a largely lazy sports media seemingly blind to all but win-loss records. Leading a talented team to a Super Bowl win takes great coaching. Leading a shallow, banged-up roster to a competitive 8-8 is also great coaching.
From a pure coaching standpoint, one could argue Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells’ first season in Dallas was more impressive than either of his Super Bowl seasons in New York. In 2003, he led a roster that had finished 5-11 three straight years to an improbable 10 wins and the playoffs. In 1986, he won a Superbowl with eight pro bowlers and the league MVP.
The highs and lows of franchises on the field mirror their successes in the war room, more so than the coaches who lead them.
From the Cowboys first draft in 1961 through the end of that decade, the team selected 15 pro bowlers, including five Hall of Famers. The expansion franchise built from scratch would be dominating the NFL’s Eastern Division by 1966, finishing the decade with four straight division titles and two NFL Championship appearances.
During the ‘70s, the team drafted 15 more pro bowlers and won two Super Bowls. That Tom Landry is a coaching genius.
Then from 1980 to 1987, the Cowboys drafted two pro bowlers. Two pro bowlers in eight drafts; two pro bowlers out of 109 picks. In fact, the Cowboys started the ‘80s by logging five straight drafts without a single pro bowler; they’d go 0-for-72 before landing Herschel Walker in the fifth round in 1985.
By all accounts, and rightfully so, Tom Landry is considered a great NFL coach, but it is assumed his coaching acumen declined during the ‘80s. More than likely, he was still the same coach; he was just starting Brian Baldinger instead of Rayfield Wright. See the difference?
Jimmy Johnson took over the war room in 1989, and drafted five eventual pro bowlers with his first six picks. In the space of six picks, the Cowboys drafted more pro bowlers than they had the previous nine years. Gives you some idea of why the ‘80s were so bad and the ‘90s were so good.
Coaching matters. Coaching can make a difference, but it can only get you so far. Winning big in the NFL takes talent. If the Cowboys can bolster the roster in this upcoming draft, and some of their key contributors can stay on the field, 2014 might be filled with talk about how Jason Garrett has finally “figured out how to win” in the NFL.
Yeah – draft plenty of pro bowlers. That’s just great coaching.