It Takes Two: The Greatest Player-Coach Duos In NFL History
There is a lot of chatter swirling about Tom Brady being the greatest ever to play the sport of football. There is no denying his talent, but what about past players like Dan Marino or Joe Montana? Something that isn’t up for debate is that each of those players had a great coach by their side. Throughout the entire history of the NFL, every great player had an amazing coach in his ear. What do you think is the best coach-player duo ever?
The Walsh-Montana Connection
Sometimes franchises just need that one coach that will put them over the top. Before bringing in Bill Walsh in 1979, the San Francisco 49ers were mediocre at best. That same year, they drafted Joe Montana. Within two years, Montana had evolved into one of the top quarterbacks in the league thanks to Walsh.
Their partnership became so close that whenever the 49ers needed a big play, Walsh would draw it up and Montana would perfectly execute it. The duo ended up winning three Super Bowls together.
The Starr(s) Of Green Bay
After nine years together, the results these two finished with speak for themselves. Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr made the Green Bay Packers a threat every year since Starr began starting each game in 1961. Starr earned four Pro Bowl selections, all under Coach Lombardi.
The duo led the Packers to two Super Bowl rings. A sure sign of a great partnership is a Super Bowl victory, and these two happen to have several together. They also have a regular season record of 77-23-4. That’s remarkable.
The Legendary Elway And Shanahan Duo
One of the most legendary player-coach duos in NFL history has to be John Elway and Mike Shanahan. John Elway was a talent that defenses hated to match up against every week. After he was drafted in 1983, he carried the Denver Broncos to the highest of heights but could never secure a championship.
Eventually, Elway became frustrated with head coach, Dan Reeves, and the Broncos parted ways with him. After some urging to bring in Shanahan from San Francisco, things changed. The Broncos won back-to-back titles over the Packers and the Falcons. After the victory over the Falcons, Elway hung up his jersey.
The Father Of The NFL Gets Lucky
What can we say about Sid Luckman and George Halas? Well, these two were the original dynamic duo, teaming up for the Chicago Bears (which Halas founded). Halas was considered the father of the NFL, so it was like a match made in heaven pairing him with quarterback Luckman.
Luckman was coming from college, but was soon considered one of the NFL’s first great quarterbacks. They won three championships together which including a 73-0 debacle over Washington.
Aikman And Johnson Could Have Done More
This is a classic case of “what could have been.” The Dallas Cowboys’ Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson had reaped the benefits of their talents wonderfully when they were together. The only thing is, their run was short-lived, and they could have done even more.
Johnson had developed issues with Jerry Jones, so he ended up leaving town early. Aikman had concussion problems which made his talents dwindle right before fans eyes. However, this wasn’t before the pair snagged two Super Bowl victories.
Who Helped Who More, Manning Or Dungy?
Yes, Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy didn’t exactly have a stellar postseason record with each other. However, they were pretty much guaranteed an incredible regular season and proved their skills year after year. Manning has proved to be a top ten quarterback of all time and Dungy helped in that process.
This player-coach combination ended up winning only one Super Bowl together, but that’s just fine. Dungy earns some respect for allowing Manning to have the freedom to run the offense.
Dominating In Different Leagues
Paul Brown and quarterback Otto Graham were dominating the All-American Football League before their team was added to the traditional NFL. Their first four seasons in the AAFL resulted in championships. Then the Browns became a part of the NFL, but things didn’t change that much for the duo.
In each of their first six seasons in the NFL, the Browns went on to the championship game. They secured three titles before Graham threw in the towel. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame ten years later.
Dan And Don
Dan Marino had one of the greatest NFL careers ever. The star quarterback was putting together seasons with statistics unheard of, including 40-plus touchdowns in each of his years before going to play for the Miami Dolphins.
The only downside to the combo of Marino and Don Shula is that they only went to the Super Bowl once. That was the season Marino became the full-time starter too. Still, these two were legends in their own rights so when they played with each other, they automatically become a great duo.
Holmgren And Farve Went Far
Brett Farve was a very raw talent coming out of Southern Mississippi in 1991. The Packers traded for Farve in 1991, and right away Mike Holmgren saw the potential but knew he would need some work. It took some years, but once Farve caught his stride, the NFL wasn’t ready for what he brought.
The tandem went to two Super Bowls together but only won Super Bowl XXXI. They were successful without each other but proved to be dynamite as a unit.
Hate All You Want
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick might be the most scrutinized coach-player duo in NFL history. With all the controversy they have between them, that makes sense. One thing you can’t hate is their talent. Brady’s skill speaks for itself and Belichick is the driving force that keeps Brady going.
Brady can fill each of his fingers on one hand with all his Super Bowl rings. That’s five times that these two have been better than the rest of the league, in case you can’t count. The scary part is that as of 2018, they’re still around menacing other teams together.
Spawning America’s Team
This was the duo that helped bring the title of “America’s Team” to the Dallas Cowboys. Under Tom Landry, Roger Staubach led the Cowboys to four NFC Championships and two Super Bowls. Staubach had the luxury of having Landry as a coach for his entire NFL career.
Staubach became the starter in 1971, and the duo’s dominance would continue for nearly a decade. Finally, in 1979, Landry retired, and that’s when the Cowboys were dubbed America’s Team.
Fly Eagles, Fly!
When the Eagles and Andy Reid got Donovan McNabb in the 1999 draft with the second overall pick, they didn’t expect for things to go as well as they did. Reid and McNabb went on to have one of the winning-est decades in NFL history.
Over those next ten years, the duo went on to win 92 games. 2004 was the year they made it to the Super Bowl, but New England ended up taking that victory. The duo had an on-again-off-again relationship the whole time, but that just made for better entertainment.
Johnny, Meet Shula
This combo of Johnny Unitas and Don Shula didn’t exactly produce the most significant statistics together, but that doesn’t matter due to their circumstances. Shula didn’t get Unitas as a player until Unitas was a little older and exiting his prime.
Conversely, Shula wasn’t the best coach he could be until he went to Miami with Dan Marino. It’s all about the fact that Unitas was one of the best quarterbacks and Shula was one of the best coaches to coach.
Coming Up Short In Style
Jim Kelly and Marv Levy won a ton of games together for the Buffalo Bills. They won 99 to be exact. So hold onto that stat before you read what happened next. Kelly and Levy failed to win in four consecutive Super Bowls. Hey, at least that’s four AFC titles.
They may not have snagged those Super Bowl titles, but as you can tell from the picture, they both are in the Hall of Fame. People often remember them for their painful losses, but they should remember how great Levy and Kelly were as individuals.
Grant Encouraged Tarkenton
Fran Tarkenton came into the league as a rookie with a versatile skill set. He knew how to extend plays with his feet by scrambling out of the pocket, and he had a cannon for an arm. Tarkenton’s coach before Bud Grant arrived didn’t like his scrambling that much.
Grant had no problem with this tactic. In fact, he encouraged him to continue with this approach and launch the ball down the field. The pair won went to three Super Bowls together but sadly didn’t win any.
It’s About Quality With Noll and Bradshaw
From 1970 to ’83, Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll won four Super Bowl rings together with the Steelers. And Bradshaw might have only completed nine passes in each of the first two Super Bowls, but at least they got the victory, right?
The team wasn’t always the best, but their secret was keeping the course. The player-coach combination ended up winning 107 regular season games together. That’s what happens when you don’t give up on a player or coach after a couple bad seasons.
Unitas At It Again With Weeb Ewbank
Back in his era, Johnny Unitas just might have been the greatest quarterback the NFL has seen. Although his stats have since been overlapped, no one was doing it like he was back then. He’s now a Hall-of-Famer.
Weeb Ewbank might not stack up to all of the other quarterbacks on this list, but the back-back-back titles he won while coaching Unitas help his legacy a bit. The first of their Super Bowl victories is called the “Greatest Game Ever Played.”
Air McNair And Jeff Fisher
Before they moved to Tennessee, they were the Houston Oilers. Houston drafted Steve McNair in 1995 with the number three pick, but it took a little time for him to become “Air” McNair. When the team relocated to Tennessee, that’s when McNair took over as the starter.
The duo of Jeff Fisher and Air McNair went on to win 76 games together. They immediately became an AFC powerhouse as well. What they might be most remembered for, sadly, is coming up one yard short of winning the Super Bowl in 1999.
Elway And Reeves Find A Way
John Elway was traded from Baltimore to Denver, and that’s where he spent his first nine years coached under Dan Reeves. The pair fared quite well together, with each other winning a total of 89 games and three AFC titles.
They would never win a Super Bowl together, but as we know Elway did win two later on without Reeves. The ironic part is that Elway won his second title against Reeves and the Falcons in 1999. That’s when Elway rode off into the sunset.
The Greatest Mind Molds Steve Young
They say Bill Walsh had one of the greatest offensive minds NFL has ever seen. He for sure is one of the best teachers and was great at working with quarterbacks. Steve Young was bouncing around the league before he landed with Walsh.
Walsh saw potential in Young while he was on the Bucs and thought he would be perfect to replace Joe Montana. When Young took over in the 1991 season, he became one of the most accurate passers in NFL history. They never won a title together, but they were great working as a team.