Lombardi: Good head coach hard to find

Columnist John Lombardi gives his opinion on this year's crop of NFL head coach candidates, and reviews the success of Packers head coaches over the years.

The Green Bay Packers are without a coach and the interview process is apparently winding down. Who knows, by the time you read this, they might have actually named a new coach.

I must say that there does not seem to be as many "hot" candidates as there were in the past. In past years, there seemed to be a couple of names that made every one sit up and take notice. Whether it was Nick Saban or Tony Dungy or Romeo Crennell or Charlie Weis or Jimmy Johnson or Bill Parcells or Steve Mariucci, there seemed to be a handful of guys who stood out. This year seems different. I suppose that if USC coach Pete Carroll were available, he would be a "hot" prospect, but to be honest, he failed at his two shots in the pros. Same goes for Kirk Ferentz out of Iowa, who either is not interested or is waiting for the right moment. He and Carroll have a great thing going in college and only ego or money would drag me away from there. Ferentz does not covet money and has a normal-sized ego, so he might never be available. Redskins' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams re-upped with Washington and is off the market. As great as he is as a coordinator, he did fail in Buffalo as a head coach. Maybe it was not his fault, or he has grown from the experience, but there are questions. Brad Childress never left the Twin Cities to even test the waters elsewhere. Tells you something about the Packers' job when he would not even interview.

In the past, the Packers have had a mixed bag when it comes to hiring a coach. Curly Lambeau grew up with the team, but in the end the team struggled, he lost his fight with the board and was sent packing. He struggled in his coaching career after he left here. Gene Ronzani and Lisle Blackbourn never won more than 40% of their games. Scooter McLean lasted one year and won one game. Ray Rhodes never really fit and his one year tenure was a disappointment. Phil Bengston presided over an aging team in decline, but he was never really cut out to be a head coach, especially following the Lombardi Era. Forrest Gregg did all right in Cincy, but never got this team over the top. Lindy Infante never got it done.

Bart Starr was a much better coach when he was fired than when he was hired. He never really should have been hired as the head coach with so little experience. Had he spent those first eight or nine years as an assistant somewhere else and had 1983 been his first year as Packer head coach, he might have succeeded. Mike Holmgren was an excellent coach, but wanted more power. He stumbled in Seattle, but has them on top this year. Mike Sherman had a winning record, but faltered this year and to be honest, I am not sure what in his resume got him hired in the first place, or got him the general manager's duties. Vince Lombardi was obviously a winner, but was apparently not the first choice in 1959.

Lastly we have Dan Devine. Devine's tenure was a disaster. I have heard gossip that the Packers were scheduled to interview Joe Paterno, but Devine caught wind of it and demanded to be hired immediately, or he would withdraw as a candidate. The team panicked, blew off Paterno and hired Devine. I have heard other versions of this story, but regardless, it was a mistake to hire Devine. I am not sure that JoePa would have been a good pro coach, but he would have been better than Devine.

Given that history, I would say you have three winners out of 13 total. A 23% success rate is pretty poor in my estimation. And in reality, Lambeau was not really hired in the true sense of the word. He founded the team, so that drops it to two winning coaches out of 12 attempts for a 16.6% success rate. That is awful. Holmgren and Lombardi are the only true winners in team history. Sherman had a winning record, but ultimately failed in the eyes of management.

The hiring of a head coach, like player acquisition, is a gamble. If I were going to Vegas, I would hope for better odds than 16.6%. Ted Thompson was not responsible for the history of the team, but he is on the clock with the search for a new coach. If he flubs it, he will probably lose his job. It is that simple. Isn't the NFL great?

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

Packer Report Top Stories