Skip to main content

5 Best Coaching Encores in NFL History

Jon Gruden

Jon Gruden

Jon Gruden is returning to the Oakland Raiders and to coaching in the NFL after a decade-long absence, including eight-plus years as the color analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

Image placeholder title

Whether or not Gruden will be able to pick up right where he left off in 2008 is still to be determined. Some coaches flop on their return to coaching, while others go on to reach greater heights than in their first go-around. Here are the five that had the most success in their encore.

5. Vince Lombardi

First act: Green Bay Packers (1959-67) — 89-29-4, three NFL championships, Super Bowl I and II champion
Second act: Washington Redskins (1969) — 7-5-2, second place in Eastern Capital division

After winning five championships with the Green Bay Packers in nine seasons, Lombardi retired after Super Bowl II and spent 1968 serving as the team’s general manager. However, he hated it and took the head coaching position with the Washington Redskins. Lombardi led the Redskins to a 7-5-2 record in 1969, the team’s first winning season in 14 years. If his life had not been cut short by colon cancer the next year, there is no telling what kind of success he would have had in Washington.

4. Marty Schottenheimer

First act: Cleveland (1984-88), Kansas City (1989-98) — 145-85-1, six division titles, 11 playoff appearances (combined)
Second act: Washington (2001), San Diego (2002-06) — 55-41, two division titles, two playoff appearances (both with Chargers)

After winning 63 percent of his games (145-85-1) in 15 seasons with Cleveland and Kansas City, Schottenheimer resigned after the 1998 season. He spent two years with ESPN before taking the head coaching job with the Washington Redskins in 2001. Washington started 0-5 but won eight of its last 11 games. Despite the momentum, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder fired Schottenheimer so he could bring in Steve Spurrier. He quickly signed on to be head coach of the San Diego Chargers, going 47-33 before being fired under murky circumstances after the 2006 season.

3. Bill Parcells

First act: New York Giants (1983-90) — 77-49-1, three division titles, five playoff appearances, Super Bowl XXI and XXV champion
Second act: New England (1993-96), New York Jets (1997-99) — 61-51, two division titles, three playoff appearances (combined), Super Bowl XXXI runner-up
Third act: Dallas (2003-06) — 34-30, two playoff appearances

The “Big Tuna” retired from the New York Giants in 1991 after winning two Super Bowls and spent two years as a commentator for NBC. Parcells then took the head coaching job with the New England Patriots in 1993 and led them to Super Bowl XXXI (they lost to the Green Bay Packers 35-21). He left after the 1996 season because of personnel disputes with owner Robert Kraft and became head coach of the New York Jets, leading them to the AFC Championship Game the following year. Parcells retired again in 1999, but was lured back into the game to coach the Dallas Cowboys in 2003. As he did with the Jets and Patriots, he turned the Cowboys around too, taking them to the playoffs two times in four years before retiring for good after the 2006 season.

2. Dick Vermeil

First act: Philadelphia (1976-82) — 54-47, 1980 NFC East title, four playoff appearances, Super Bowl XV runner-up
Second act: St. Louis Rams (1997-99) — 22-26, 1999 NFC West title, one playoff appearance, Super Bowl XXXIV champion
Third act: Kansas City (2001-05) — 44-36, 2003 AFC West title, one playoff appearance

Vermeil went 54-47 with the Philadelphia Eagles and led them to their first Super Bowl appearance. He was also a poster child for burnout when he retired in 1982, saying he needed “a break from coaching, just get out of it for a while and see if I can live without it.” After working in broadcasting for 15 years, he decided he could not live without it and became head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Everything clicked in 1999, when “The Greatest Show on Turf” went 13-3 and won Super Bowl XXXIV. Vermeil (above, right) retired after the win but returned as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001, going 44-36 in five seasons there.

1. Marv Levy

First act: Kansas City (1978-82) — 31-42, no playoff appearances
Second act: Buffalo (1986-97) — 112-70, six division titles, eight playoff appearances, Super Bowl XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII runner-up

Levy went 31-42 in five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs as he was fired after going 3-6 in the 1982 strike-shortened season. He spent one dismal season with the USFL’s Chicago Blitz in 1984, and then was hired by the Buffalo Bills mid-way through the 1986 season to replace fired head coach Hank Bullough. For Levy, the second act proved to be better. He led the Bills to eight playoff appearances in 12 seasons, and of course, four straight Super Bowls. That encore put him the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

(Dick Vermeil photo courtesy of Getty Images)