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Ranking the NFC East, 2019: Head Coaches

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Hogs Haven looks at all four teams in the division in an effort to identify the best and the weakest of the NFC East

The draft is done, the free agents have been signed, the coaches have met their players. Now there’s not much to do but wait for training camp. While we wait, it seemed like it might be fun to evaluate and rank the NFC East position-by-position.

Some notable coaches in NFC East history

The NFC East was once known for its great, super bowl winning coaches

In the spirit of the NFL’s celebration of 100 years of football, I thought I’d review some of the luminaries that have walked the sidelines of the division stadiums over the decades:

Tom Landry - This Hall of Famer coached 29 years in Dallas, accumulating a .605 win percentage, and collecting a dozen NFC East division titles, 5 NFC championships, and two super bowl wins along the way.

Getty Images

Jimmy Johnson - in his five seasons in Dallas, he won back-to-back division championships, leading to two Lombardi trophies before falling victim to Jerry Jones’ ego. Jimmy Johnson is, surprisingly, not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though that honor is probably overdue and may come soon.

Bill Parcells - Though Parcells arguably had his best seasons as a head coach with the New York Giants, where he accumulated a .611 win percentage and two super bowl wins, he also coached for four years in Dallas, achieving a .531 win percentage and two playoff appearances. He is in the Hall of Fame.

Tom Coughlin - I’m not personally a big fan of Coughlin’s, but he is widely respected for his hard-nosed coaching style, his .531 win percentage with the Giants, and the two Lombardi Trophies his squads brought home by defeating the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII AND XLVI.

Getty Images

Looking deeper into Giants history, there were a string of successful coaches from 1925 to 1930 who put together a string of winning seasons, with Leroy Andrews achieving a win percentage of .828 in 30 games. His Giants were the 1927 league champions by dint of having the best record in the league that season (11-1-1).

Steve Owen - Because of how long ago he coached, Owen may be the most successful NFL coach that you’ve never heard of. Coaching the Giants from 1931 to 1953, in his more than two decades, Owen’s teams won 151 of 268 regular season games, a win percentage of .602, and along with it, two league championships (1934, 1938) and a Coach of the Year award (1950), though he had limited success in playoff games, with a 2-8 record. He is in the Hall of Fame.

This photo reminds me of Bruce Arians, somehow

Jim Lee Howell - Another successful Giants coach, Howell coached his teams to a 53-27-4 record (.663 win percentage), and a league championship in 1956.

Here’s a picture of Jim Lee Howell & Tom Landry together in New York in 1959

Eagles coaches have been a less distinguished lot when it comes to winning championships compared to the men who have led the Cowboys and Giants over the decades. There have been some notable coaches, however.

Greasy Neale - From 1941 to 1950, Neale accomplished a .590 win percentage, and led his team to two NFL Championships in 1948 and 49, and picked up a Coach of the Year award in ‘48 as well. He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Buck Shaw - though he coached the Eagles for only three seasons, he was responsible for leading the team to its final NFL Championship in the pre-super bowl era in 1960, and he was named Coach of the Year by both AP and UPI that season. At 61, Shaw was the oldest coach to win an NFL championship in the 1900s. He retired after that magical 1960 season, saying that he wanted to go out while he was ahead. Buck Shaw is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Buck Shaw celebrating the 1960 championship with some of his players

Dick Vermeil - A look at his NFC East record and accomplishments doesn’t make Vermeil’s name leap off the page, but, he took over a team that had spent about 15 years in a morass of losing football following Buck Shaw’s retirement, and Vermeil re-energized them. I remember well when Vermeil was hired to coach the Eagles in 1976, and it was akin to the recent hiring of Sean McVay by the Rams, signalling a break with the past, and introducing new energy and a new style of football. Vermeil has gone on to have continued success with the Rams and Chiefs, as well as in broadcasting. Vermeil is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame.

Andy Reid - It’s hard to know how history will treat Andy Reid, who, despite his .583 winning percentage in his 13 seasons in Philly, and despite his 10-9 playoff record with the Eagles, was never able to succeed in winning a Super Bowl. His subsequent accomplishments in Kansas City have probably cemented him as one of the top coaches in the league in this century, but until he brings home a championship, there will probably always be an asterisk beside his name.

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The Redskins have been a franchise that has enjoyed success in bunches, separated by decades of frustration. One of the early periods of success came in the late 30s and early 40s.

Ray Flaherty - Redskins fans always remember #33, Sammy Baugh, but often know nothing of his coach, Ray Flaherty, who led the team to two league championships (‘37 and ‘42) and who played on the 1934 champion Giants team. In 7 seasons as the head coach, Flaherty led the Redskins to a .720 win percentage, and he is on the list of the “80 Greatest Redskins”.

The two coaches that followed Flaherty in the war years, Dutch Bergman and Dudley DeGroot, coached the team to a combined record of 20-8-2. Each of them took the Redskins to the league championship game, though both of those teams lost. Both men spent the majority of their professional lives in college sports.

Dud DeGroot on the left and Dutch Bergman on the right

Vince Lombardi - The Redskins spent most of the years between the end of WWII and 1968 mired in mediocrity, or simply downright bad. It was a time that was, in many ways, similar to the Dan Snyder era, in which the Redskins employed nine head coaches — some of them quite successful outside of Washington — only one of whom (Dick Todd) could produce a winning season (5-4 in 1951). The hiring of Vince Lombardi in 1969 broke that cycle. In his single season as head coach of the Redskins, Lombardi led the team to a 7-5-2 record. It would be the last season Lombardi ever coached, as he died of lung cancer in September of 1970, but he restored a sense of pride in Washington, and ushered in an era of raised expectations and restored success that would include two great Redskins coaches. Lombardi’s Packers teams won 8 championships (2 super bowls and 6 league championships in the pre-SB era); he is in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, the Redskins Ring of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the NFL’s championship trophy is named in his honor.

George Allen - though he never won a Super Bowl, George Allen spent seven seasons as the Redskins head coach, compiling a .691 win percentage, and building on the foundation that had been laid by Lombardi. After more than twenty years of terrible football that had preceded Lombardi, Allen, taking over in 1971, gave Redskins fans something to cheer about again, and was largely responsible for creating the rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys that lasted for at least the next twenty years. Allen is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Joe Gibbs - Similar to Dick Vermeil, who had been hired by the Eagles five years earlier, “St. Joe” was a young, little-known coordinator who was displayed passion, hard work and dedication. Bobby Beathard says that Jack Kent Cooke was initially opposed to his hire, but Beathard went to bat for him. Between 1981 and 1992, Gibbs compiled a .674 win percentage, with four NFC Championships and 3 Super Bowl victories. As every Redskins fan knows, Joe Gibbs is the only coach to win 3 super bowls with 3 different quarterbacks. A dozen years after his initial retirement, he answered the call to help a Redskins franchise in trouble, returning to the head coaching job in 2004 and leading the team for 4 seasons, leading to two playoff appearances. Gibbs is in the Redskins Ring of Fame, NFL Hall of Fame, and was recently nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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NFC East Head Coaches in 2019

These days, the NFC East Head Coaches appear to be a more middling group compared to the men highlighted above, though Doug Pederson can boast a Super Bowl win in one of his 3 seasons in Philadelphia.

Pat Shurmer

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Pat Shurmer’s career as a coach dates back to 1988, when he was a graduate assistant at Michigan State. He’s been coaching at the NFL level since 1999, with stints as position coach, offensive coordinator, and head coach with the Eagles, Rams, Browns, Vikings, and Giants.

Shurmer’s first stint as a head coach came with the Browns in 2011-12. The Browns went 4-11 under their rookie coach, and Pat Shurmer was fired after compiling a 9-23 record over two seasons. My memories of the commentary at the time of his firing are that no one really ever expected to see Shurmer as a head coach again.

Working as a coordinator under Chip Kelly had the potential to sound the death knell on Shurmer’s career, but he was perceived to have been largely responsible for the success enjoyed by Nick Foles in Kelly’s offense. When Kelly was fired, Shurmer was named interim coach to finish out the 2015 season.

Shurmer went to Minnesota when Pederson was hired as the head coach of the Eagles in 2016, and was named interim offensive coordinator when Norv Turner unexpectedly resigned early in the season. The turnaround in the Vikings offensive production, and the success enjoyed by Case Keenum in his offense completed the rehabilitation of Shurmer’s public reputation.

Last year, following a disastrous 2017 season under Bob McAdoo, the Giants hired Shurmer as the new head coach. In his first year as head coach with the Giants, Shurmer led the team to a 5-11 record and a second consecutive 4th-place finish in the NFC East.

Looking ahead to 2019, Shurmer faces another challenging season; one in which he will have to deal with the loss of a number of key offensive and defensive contributors, a potential quarterback controversy, and a limited defensive roster.

Doug Pederson

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

After a seeming lifetime of Andy Reid in Philly, Jeffrey Lurie seemed to “win” the Chip Kelly sweepstakes in 2013. It took Kelly just three short seasons to emasculate Howie Roseman and dismantle the Eagles roster. Jeff Lurie, realizing his horrible mistake, fired Kelly, and went back to his comfort zone by restoring much of Roseman’s power, and hiring long-time Eagles & Andy Reid assistant coach Doug Pederson (who had also played quarterback for the Eagles in 1999) to take over the HC job three years ago.

Pederson’s first season as a head coach in 2016 was rough -- not unusual for newly hired coaches trying to rebuild wounded franchises — but Pederson didn’t disgrace himself. In his sophomore campaign in 2017, his team won the super bowl despite losing Darren Sproles, Jason Peters and Carson Wentz to season-ending injuries.

Last season started off rough for the Pederson-coached Eagles, who were 4-6 after ten games; however, the team played well down the stretch, winning 5 out of 6 (including two victories over the injury-depleted ‘Skins) to take second-place in the division with a 9-7 record. They got to the playoffs as a wildcard team, where they beat the Chicago Bears, but ultimately lost to the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round.

Pederson’s three-year career has been mixed, with records of 7-9, 13-3, 9-7, finishing 4th, 1st and 2nd in the division, but winning a super bowl in 2017, and going 1-1 in the playoffs in 2018. So far, his tenure has seen more success than failure.

Looking ahead to 2019, Pederson may have the most talented roster in the NFC East, and a sense of urgency surroundinig the team, which has been loaded up with talent while Wentz is on his rookie contract, leading to a ballooning salary cap bill that will come due in a couple of years when the Howie Roseman contracts start to run out of room for backloading. Can Pederson deliver a second super bowl to a front office that seems to have given him everything they think he needs to bring home another Lombardi trophy?

Jay Gruden

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

It’s a little hard to come to grips with the idea that Jay Gruden is the second-longest tenured head coach in the division.

Jay seems to be a coach who brings a sense of humor to work to match his keen understanding of NFL offense. Players seem to enjoy playing for him, but there has been criticism of his ability to get players ready early in the season, and to have them ready to play in the big games that come up every regular season and in the playoffs. At times he has seemed disinterested in the defensive side of the ball, and many fans question his commitment to the run game.

Still, Gruden can point to a 31-32-1 record over the past four seasons, achieved despite the highest injury rate in the league across 2017-18, and a generally positive tenure in his 5+ seasons as the head coach. He is the only head coach in the Dan Snyder era to reach his 5th season at the helm, or to be given a contract extension.

I was among the many fans who thought that 2018 was Jay’s “make or break” season in Washington. I suspect that the primary reason he retained his job following a second consecutive 7-9 campaign (and third consecutive season out of the playoff) was the incredible level of injury that decimated the offensive side of the ball, with Gruden fielding street free agents across the offensive line and at quarterback in the final 6 games of the year.

It’s hard to imagine that Jay could survive another losing season in 2019, however. Even another year of injury might seem to be an indictment of his coaching practices. The only wildcard in Jay’s future as head coach of the Redskins may be the developments at the quarterback position in 2019. Having just drafted Dwayne Haskins in the first round to be the newest quarterback of the future for the Redskins, Dan Snyder may be loathe to fire Jay after the ‘19 season if he shows strong signs of building a relationship with Haskins that appears to be successful and difficult to replace. Otherwise, it may be ‘playoffs or bust’ for Jay Gruden in 2019, an idea he himself acknowledged in a recent press conference.

Jason Garrett

Dallas Cowboys v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Honestly, I’ve always considered the Jerruh & Jason show to be mainly a comedy, but it’s hard to laugh following the last three seasons where the Cowboys went 13-3 after losing Tony Romo during the 2016 preseason, then 9-7 in a turbulent 2017 season when Zeke Elliott’s on-again-off-again-on-again 6 game suspension was a huge distraction, followed by a division championship in 2018 after opening the season with a 3-5 record. Still, both Jerry Jones and the Dallas fans seem hungry for a super bowl, and one gets the feeling that Jason Garrett could easily find himself replaced if the 2019 Cowboys don’t at least reach the NFC Championship game.

Can Garrett win championships with Prescott & Elliott, or is his team simply under-powered and over-hyped? Garrett has been head coach or interim head coach since the middle of the 2010 season. He has won 3 division titles in 8 full seasons as head coach, and he’s 2-3 in the playoffs, having never advanced beyond the divisional game. Cowboy fans have expressed a lot of frustration with him, though he has always seemed to enjoy very strong support (at least publicly) from Jerry and Stephen Jones.

Jerry Jones is 76 years old, and he has seen 5 of his fellow NFL owners die in recent months. He hasn’t had a new Lombardi Trophy to hoist since the end of the 1995 season, and continues to chafe under the talk that Jimmy Johnson, and not Jones himself, was the architect of the three super bowl championships the franchise has collected since Jones bought the team.

The Cowboys have moved on from the Tony Romo/Dez Bryant team to the Dak Prescott/Zeke Elliott/Amari Cooper team. If the front office isn’t convinced that Garrett can deliver a playoff sweep, this could very well be Garrett’s last year in Dallas.

Poll

Who is the BEST head coach in the NFC East?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Pat Shurmer
    (31 votes)
  • 79%
    Doug Pederson
    (826 votes)
  • 2%
    Jason Garrett
    (25 votes)
  • 14%
    Jay Gruden
    (152 votes)
1034 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who is the WORST head coach in the NFC East?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Pat Shurmer
    (466 votes)
  • 1%
    Doug Pederson
    (13 votes)
  • 39%
    Jason Garrett
    (390 votes)
  • 11%
    Jay Gruden
    (113 votes)
982 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which division in the NFC has the BEST group of head coaches?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    NFC North (Matt Nagy, Matt Patricia, Matt LaFleur, Mike Zimmer)
    (16 votes)
  • 45%
    NFC South (Dan Quinn, Ron Rivera, Sean Payton, Bruce Arians)
    (411 votes)
  • 45%
    NFC West (Kliff Kingsbury, Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Pete Carroll)
    (415 votes)
  • 7%
    NFC East (Pat Shurmer, Doug Pederson, Jason Garrett, Jay Gruden)
    (69 votes)
911 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which division in the NFC has the WORST group of head coaches?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    NFC North (Matt Nagy, Matt Patricia, Matt LaFleur, Mike Zimmer)
    (525 votes)
  • 2%
    NFC South (Dan Quinn, Ron Rivera, Sean Payton, Bruce Arians)
    (18 votes)
  • 2%
    NFC West (Kliff Kingsbury, Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Pete Carroll)
    (21 votes)
  • 33%
    NFC East (Pat Shurmer, Doug Pederson, Jason Garrett, Jay Gruden)
    (278 votes)
842 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who has been the greatest coach in the history of the NFC East?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Tom Landry
    (167 votes)
  • 5%
    Jimmy Johnson
    (52 votes)
  • 7%
    Bill Parcells
    (69 votes)
  • 0%
    Tom Coughlin
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Steve Owen
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Jim Lee Howell
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Greasy Neale
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Dick Vermeil
    (5 votes)
  • 5%
    Andy Reid
    (44 votes)
  • 0%
    Ray Flaherty
    (2 votes)
  • 8%
    Vince Lombardi
    (72 votes)
  • 0%
    George Allen
    (3 votes)
  • 50%
    Joe Gibbs
    (435 votes)
867 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Will Jay Gruden be the head coach of the Washington Redskins in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Yes
    (457 votes)
  • 44%
    No
    (368 votes)
825 votes total Vote Now