I recently talked about some of the worst head coach firings since 1990 and how a teams’ decision to make a change created a downward spiral for the organization. And, with end of the regular season just around the corner, it’s only a matter of time before some team might be added to that list.
But, with that comes the teams’ inability to find a replacement for the fired coach. Usually, teams will look at successful coordinators, former head coaches and even college coaches. Sometimes they work out, other times they don’t.
One group that is rarely, if ever, mentioned is the NFL assistants who never got a shot to prove them selves. I’m talking guys who are or were successful at what they did and were on successful teams but, even though they might have had an interview or two, never were offered a head coaching job. That’s not to say they would automatically be successful. But, it’s hard to say they wouldn’t be when coaches with less qualifications have gotten their chances.
In doing research, I found quite a few coaches that fit this category. They probably deserved a chance to be a head coach but never were given the opportunity.
To narrow it down, I considered a couple of things.
First, I decided I’m only going to focus on offensive and defensive coordinators. Otherwise, this list might get a bit too long.
I’m also omitting any coordinator who was once hired as an NFL head coach (like Al Saunders) because they already got their shot. However, I’m not omitting any coordinator that might have served as an interim coach or anyone who might have served as a college head coach.
Like my worst head coach firings article, I’m also narrowing my time-frame to after 1990.
With that in mind, here is my list of guys who may be good head coaches but did not or have not received their shot.
Sherman Lewis – Lewis served as offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers through most of the 1990s. He also held that job in Minnesota and Detroit but, in my opinion, he should have gotten a head coaching offer prior to moving to those teams. As offensive coordinator, he helped the Packers to two Super Bowl appearances and helped turn them into an annual playoff contender. The biggest knock against him was he never called plays (Coach Mike Holmgren did that). But, considering Holmgren had several of his assistants become head coaches and they compiled a combined record of 397-373-1 with 19 playoff wins, two conference titles (5 appearances) and one Super Bowl win (2 appearances), you would think someone would have overlooked that.
Monte Kiffin – While I’m sure he was proud of his son, it had to be a real slap in the face for long-time Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Kiffin to see Lane get his first head coaching job while he has never gotten a shot at the NFL level. Even though Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy gets almost all the credit, the elder Kiffin (who is no longer considered a legitimate head coach candidate because of his age) helped invent and perfect the Tampa-2 defense that is now in wide-spread use around the league.
Jim Johnson – Much like Kiffin, the 66-year-old Johnson is too old to be considered a legitimate head coaching candidate. But, the Eagles defensive coordinator has full control over that side of the ball and is just as much of a reason for their success as Head Coach Andy Reid.
Greg Knapp – Unlike some of the men mentioned above, Knapp actually received consideration as a head coach. But, he never was offered a job. This is surprising considering both the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons had very potent offenses when he was their offensive coordinator. He’s also well-versed in the zone blocking scheme that many teams are interested in implementing.
Jim Bates – If he were about 10-15 years younger, Bates would probably receive head coaching consideration. He had success as a defensive coordinator for both the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers and was able to motivate his players to a 3-4 record in his stint as interim head coach for the Dolphins (2 more wins than they had in the first 8 games of the season).
Tom Moore – Since Tony Dungy comes from a defensive background, a good portion of the Indianapolis Colts offensive duties fall on offensive coordinator Moore. Yet, despite the Colts having one of the league’s most dangerous offenses and the fact he helped develop Peyton Manning into a star, he still is waiting for an opportunity to be a head coach. Part of this could be the fact the Colts are always competing in the post season; giving other candidates a head start on interviews.