A chair is a chair is a chair, right? I mean a chair by any other definition is “A seat with a back support, usually for one person. Most chairs have four legs or feet and some have rests for the arms.” But we all know chairs to be of varying sizes, shapes, styles and colors. There’s a wooden chair, rocking chair, folding patio chair, and the ever so comfortable La-Z-Boy recliner.
So do the same discrepancies apply for a coaching “hot seat”? Are there varying degrees of heat turned up depending on the current record, past successes and failures, and future prospects? I’d say it’s hard to say. The late NFL owner Al Davis had the head coaching chair on perpetual simmer. Dan Snyder sets the thermostat upward on a quick timer. An NFL owner like Pat Bowlen can keep a bag of “Ready Ice” under the seat cushion for years before he dials up the burner.
For the most part the introduction of the CBA in the early 1990’s, as it coincided with mega-million dollar TV contracts that turned a majority of clubs into billion dollar assets for their NFL owners, started the time bomb ticketing at two to three years. Without some sort of progress to show for head coaches that can cost on average around $3 million and skyrocket as high as $7 million, NFL owners are quick to print the pink slip or ignite the proverbial “hot seat”.
But as you study the history of NFL owners pulling the plug on poor performance, consider this lucky list of twelve former head coaches that stayed employed despite nary a glimpse of the playoffs in their entire tenure with their clubs.
#12 – Lou Saban (4 ½ seasons w/ Denver Broncos ’67-’71): Saban finished 20-51-4 and couldn’t recreate the success he had in Buffalo (2 AFL Championships). David Shula (Cincinnati), Bum Phillips (New Orleans) & Jack Christiansen (San Francisco) both had 4 ½ seasons as well, slightly better records….slightly.
#11 – Marv Levy (5 seasons w/ Kansas City Chiefs ‘78-’82): Levy would lead the Chiefs to a 31-42 overall mark before making his turnaround run with the Buffalo Bills.
#10 – Charley Winner (5 seasons w/ St. Louis Cardinals ’66-’70): An inconsistent Winner left St. Louis at 35-30-5.
#9 – John Ralston (5 seasons w/ Denver Broncos ’72-’76): More beloved for his players like Gradishar, Little, Moses and Armstrong than his end result of 34-33-3.
#8 – Alex Webster (5 seasons w/ New York Giants ’69-’73): 29-40-1 even with Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton at QB for 3 seasons.
#6 – Bert Bell (5 seasons w/ Philadelphia Eagles ’36-’40): An average of 2 wins a year with only 1 in each of 3 seasons, Bell’s 10-44-2 record was the worst of this infamous group. He had an award named for him as former NFL Commissioner, not as an NFL head coach.
#5 – Joe Kuharich (5 seasons 2X w/ Washington Redskins ’54-’58 & Philadelphia Eagles ’64-’68): All around good guy with all around bad results, 48-73-4.
#4 – Gus Dorais (5 seasons w/ Detroit Lions ’43-’47): Lions fans have been suffering for a VERY LONG TIME, 20-31-2.
#3 – Jack Patera (6 seasons w/ Seattle Seahawks ’76-’81): Perhaps it was their sister club Tampa Bay’s 2-26 record their first two seasons that kept Patera off the hot seat and not his own 35-57 record?
#2 – Norm Van Brocklin (6 seasons w/ Minnesota Vikings ’61-’66 & 7 seasons w/ Atlanta Falcons ’68-‘74): This Hall of Fame QB was all BUT as a head coach, 67-108-7.
#1 – Buddy Parker (8 seasons w/ Pittsburgh Steelers ’57-’64): Coaching runs like this (without a playoff appearance) usually have some sort of “pictures” involved, 45-47-6.
Remember these coaches never saw the playoffs. There have been longer runs of playoff futility with a single head coach extinguishing the fire by sprinkling his term with an intermittent postseason appearance here or there. But this “dirty dozen” were able to keep the hot seat “luke warm” for way longer than most.