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Old 02-13-2008, 11:41 AM   #1
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Default Assistants Overlooked by Hall of Fame

Deserving NFL assistants overlooked by Hall of Fame voters
Pro Football Weekly
By Don Pierson
Feb. 10, 2008

There are no assistant coaches in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not counting present assistants such as Mike Munchak, James Lofton, Willie Brown, Charlie Joiner and Mike Singletary or former assistants like Stan Jones and Ernie Stautner who got to the Hall strictly as great players.

Maybe it?s simply because assistant coaches aren?t famous. But if fame were the main criterion for making the Hall, William ?Refrigerator? Perry would have been in on the first ballot.

It couldn?t be because assistant coaches aren?t important. Since more and more of them are being fired every year and more and more have been added to staffs over the years, assistants, obviously, are becoming more important than ever.

It?s time for assistant coaches to get a closer look by the Hall of Fame selectors, who are, by the way, overwhelmed by candidates worth consideration.

Assistants always have been vital, more necessary in the sport of football than any other. Because there are more players in football and because offense and defense require such different disciplines, no one or two or three coaches can handle the task, not even in high school. Although some old-timers scoff at the necessity of employing 17 or 18 assistants, including OLB coaches and ILB coaches, the trend in the NFL is obvious.

The contributions of assistants are too often either unknown or overlooked, for many reasons. One, it?s simpler for chroniclers to simplify and award credit to the head coach alone. Two, the egos of coaches often get in the way of sharing credit.

Also, the attributes of some great assistants tend to get smudged if they don?t succeed as head coaches.

It is clearer than ever in the NFL that the best head coaches are hired from the assistant ranks. Nick Saban and whoever that guy was who pretended to coach the Atlanta Falcons this past season should close the door to college coaches.

Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, George Allen and Bill Walsh all made the Hall of Fame as head coaches after storied careers as NFL assistants.

Bill Belichick was a great assistant before becoming a great head coach. The question is whether anybody would have remembered how good a coach he was if his head-coaching career had ended after Cleveland or before he lucked out with Tom Brady.

The assistant coach who has come closest to Hall of Fame election is Clark Shaughnessy. He was head coach of the Los Angeles Rams in 1948-49 and was 14-8-3, but his contributions to pro football go way beyond that. In Chicago, he gets as much credit for making the T-formation with man-in-motion work as George Halas gave Ralph Jones. Although Halas never properly acknowledged Shaughnessy?s input on offense and defense as an assistant from 1951-62 and as a consultant long before that, Hall of Fame QB Sid Luckman told Hall of Fame selector Paul Zimmerman that the offense was ?all Shaughnessy.?

Shaughnessy came to mind when Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was considering his 50th year in the NFL recently. LeBeau has been mentioned as a Hall of Fame candidate as a player because he had 62 interceptions with the Lions. Surely the combination of player-assistant coach for 50 years should outweigh whatever shortcomings LeBeau had as head coach of a dysfunctional Cincinnati franchise.

LeBeau gets credit for developing the zone blitz but would be the first to agree that all coaches mainly borrow and enhance ideas from predecessors. Bud Carson, another great assistant with a less-than-stellar head-coaching record, knew a bit about innovative defense, too.

Blanton Collier, who had a terrific 79-38-2 record as head coach of the Browns, was just as esteemed as an assistant to Paul Brown. His endorsements from respected longtime football men such as Don Shula, Monte Clark, Chuck Knox, Paul Wiggin, Dan Reeves, John Wooten and Bill Arnsparger should be enough to get him admitted to the Hall of Fame.

?The finest teacher-coach I ever knew,? Knox said of Collier.

If Arnsparger is remembered only for his 7-28 record as head coach of the Giants from 1974-76, by the way, somebody isn?t doing their homework. He was the most coveted assistant in the sport for two decades, a true defensive genius.

The best thing Halas ever did was consistently surround himself with good football minds, many of them better than his own. From Paddy Driscoll and Ralph Jones to Luke Johnsos, Shaughnessy and Allen, Halas always made sure he had a strong staff.

When Halas finally retired, he named one of his assistants to succeed him. Jim Dooley, who died Jan. 8, had been assigned to study film for Halas in 1963, the first season after Dooley?s 11-year playing career. Dooley helped Allen, then a Bears assistant, field the defense that won a championship. When Allen received the credit, Halas said, ?Allen should have done well. Dooley handed it to him on a platter.?

In Chicago, they used to call the nickel defense ?the Dooley shift.?

By 1965, Dooley had moved to offense and called the plays for the team that scored 29 points per game. The Bears haven?t done that since! Gale Sayers was a rookie and scored 22 touchdowns. Rudy Bukich led the league in passing that season, beating out Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Sonny Jurgensen, Fran Tarkenton ? all Hall of Famers. Rudy Bukich! You think coaching didn?t have something to do with that?

Jerry Burns had a 55-46 record as head coach of the Vikings, not Hall of Fame numbers, but how about six Super Bowls ? two as an assistant under Vince Lombardi and four as an assistant to Bud Grant?

Ask Grant how he might have fared without assistants John Michels and Bus Mertes. Ask Burns or Tony Dungy or Jon Gruden what assistant Monte Kiffin meant to their defenses.

Don Shula won more games than any other head coach. Carl Taseff, Mike Scarry and John Sandusky were right beside him most of the way.

Joe Gibbs, who was a pretty fair assistant before becoming a Hall of Fame head coach, convinced Redskins owner Dan Snyder to make assistants like Gregg Williams and Al Saunders multimillionaires ? before they were unceremoniously fired after Gibbs had resigned at the end of the season. Maybe this well-deserved money will help assistants get their due in the public sector.

O-line coaches, who tend to keep and earn their jobs longer than most other assistants, are proud members of a ?mushroom society,? reminding themselves of how they are kept in the dark and covered with fertilizer.

But OL coaches like Joe Bugel, Howard Mudd, Hudson Houck, Dante Scarnecchia, Bill Muir and Jim McNally all labor in the knowledge that pro football wouldn?t exist without them.

Someday, the Hall of Fame will catch up with them. It won?t be too soon.
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