Some Things Are Better When Recycled

PHOENIX -- Times have changed in the NFL and in the Super Bowl, and you may have missed one of the biggest changes. Sunday's Super Bowl between the Patriots and Giants is guaranteed to produce, for the ninth time in 11 years, a champion led by a recycled coach.

There used to be a time when NFL coaches rarely got second chances.

And there was a long period in which they rarely succeeded in second chances.

It's different now.

In the first 31 Super Bowl seasons, 1966 through 1996, only Weeb Ewbank with the Jets in 1969 and Don Shula with the Dolphins in 1972 and 1973 won a championship with their second team.

But now that has become fairly common. Perhaps it's due to the game's increasing complexity with the salary cap and free agency. Perhaps it's due to more coaches getting a second chance (although this year's hires, to date, all have been first-timers). Whatever the reason, it has changed.

Mike Shanahan of Denver won in 1997 and 1998. He had been fired by the Raiders.

Dick Vermeil of St. Louis won in 1999. He had retired from the Eagles.

Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy
Andy Lyons/Getty

Bill Belichick of New England won in 2001, 2003 and 2004. He had been fired by the Browns.

Jon Gruden of Tampa Bay won in 2002. He had been, ahem, traded by the Raiders.

Tony Dungy of Indianapolis won in 2006. He had been fired by the Bucs.

And either Belichick or Tom Coughlin, fired by the Jaguars, will win on Sunday.

In the last 11 years only Baltimore, with Brian Billick in 2000, and Pittsburgh, with Bill Cowher in 2005, won the Super Bowl with a coach on his first head job.

Eight of the NFL's 12 playoff teams in 2007 were led by recycled coaches, including Washington's Joe Gibbs, who was on his second turn with the same team.

Under the salary cap, owners seem to have less patience, so coaches are more likely to be cut loose and they are often getting second chances. But that's hardly the only reason for this trend.

"The second time around, I think it enables the coach to be able to better prepare himself to control the players, to be able to understand their feelings," said Chris Mara, a Giants vice president. "It's a different type of player now than it used to be."

It was thought in the past that first-time coaches had an advantage because they were fresher, had prepared longer for the opportunity and were more likely to be able to get their first choice of assistants as they compiled a list while working their way up.

Recycled coaches, in many cases, have to inherit at least part of an existing coaching staff rather than choose one from scratch, because many of the assistants they might have wanted the first time have moved on to other jobs or, in some cases, become head coaches themselves.

But in their favor, Mara said, is that first-time coaches often are not prepared for today's NFL environment, no matter how much they may think they are.

"A lot of young guys get jobs who really haven't proven themselves yet, because they become the flavor of the month," Mara said. "The bottom line is a lot of them aren't prepared for that next step. Sometimes, you hit on them, and sometimes, you don't."

The Belichick-Coughlin matchup marks only the second time that the Super Bowl matches two coaches fired from previous jobs. The first was nine years ago, when Denver, coached by Shanahan, defeated Atlanta, coached by Dan Reeves.

This year's hires, all first-timers, have been John Harbaugh in Baltimore, Mike Smith in Atlanta and Tony Sparano in Atlanta. Washington has a vacancy that apparently will not be filled until after the Super Bowl.

Ira Miller is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange.

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