First-time head coaches keep finding the Super Bowl — that’s good news for the Bears
The last six Super Bowls — counting Sunday’s Bengals-Rams matchup at SoFi Stadium — have featured five different first-time head coaches who were in their first three years with their teams.
Before he was named the Jets’ head coach last year, Robert Saleh never had held the top position at any level. If there was one thing that surprised him in his first season, it was how often he needed to do things that had nothing to do with game-planning — from meetings to news conferences to public-facing events required of the face of the franchise.
“The administrative part is probably the biggest thing in terms of making the adjustment, with a constant to-do list that you’ve got instead of being able to watch tape,” he said last week in Mobile, Alabama, where he was coaching the Senior Bowl. “But it’s a blessing. It’s one of 32, so I’m one of those guys. I count my blessings every day. I’m very fortunate.”
So is Matt Eberflus. The Bears hired him late last month to be their 17th coach. Like Saleh, he never had held the top coaching role at any point in his career.
In the NFL, that’s not disqualifying. Far from it.
In fact, the last six Super Bowls — counting the Rams-Bengals matchup Sunday at SoFi Stadium in suburban Los Angeles — have featured five first-time coaches who were in their first three years with their teams.
Zac Taylor, who only five years ago was the Rams’ assistant receivers coach, is at the end of his third season with the Bengals. A quarterbacks guru by trade, he coached the position for the Dolphins and University of Cincinnati before joining the Rams in 2017. The next season, he was named their quarterbacks coach.
Sean McVay, his boss with the Rams, reached the Super Bowl after the 2018 season in his second season as coach. He’ll return Sunday after beating the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan, who two seasons ago made the Super Bowl in his second season.
Four seasons ago, Doug Pederson’s Eagles won the Super Bowl in his second season.
The season before that, the Falcons’ Dan Quinn lost the Super Bowl at the end of his second season. Pederson is the only one of the five who had been a head coach at any level before his NFL gig, and that was at Calvary Baptist Academy, a high school in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The number of first-time coaches reaching the title game is unique to the NFL. In the same time period, two first-time managers reached the World Series in their first three seasons: the Nationals’ Dave Martinez and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts. The NBA has had three such coaches reach the Finals in the last six seasons: the Raptors’ Nick Nurse, the Warriors’ Steve Kerr and the Cavaliers’ Tyronn Lue. Kerr made the Finals in each of his first five seasons and Lue in each of his first three.
Lions coach Dan Campbell got his first top coaching job a year ago, though he was an interim head coach with the Dolphins in 2015. At the Senior Bowl, in which he, too, was coaching, Campbell said Eberflus’ defense speaks for itself, even though he doesn’t know the Bears’ new coach well.
“I know what his system is about,” Campbell said. ‘‘I know what he believes in. And I know where he came from. So I know he’s a helluva coach. He’s very demanding. It’s all effort, energy, smart football. . . . It’s going to be tough.”
The good news, for Campbell and the Bears alike, is that experience isn’t a prerequisite to leading a team to the Super Bowl.
“There’s going to be four, five teams that you know there’s a damn good chance they’re going to be [in the playoffs],” Campbell said. “Other than that, anything can change. You don’t know how your schedule’s going to be laid out. You don’t know what’s going to happen with the injuries. You don’t know how much you develop or they develop — or a lack of developing. You take it as it comes. All we gotta do is improve as a roster and keep developing. And anything can happen.”