Sadly, Marty Schottenheimer recently entered a hospice facility because of complications from his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors diagnosed the now 77-year-old Schottenheimer with Alzheimer’s in 2014. His case underlines one of the sad truths about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It often takes a tragedy for overlooked candidates to receive the final push they need to enter Canton, Ohio.
Talk to anyone who was around the game at the same time as Schottenheimer. Ask his players, staff members, and opponents about their opinions of him. They all come back with one response: Schottenheimer deserves a gold jacket. For a man who accomplished so much and influenced a generation of football stars not to receive the sport’s highest honor is a disgrace. It’s not too late to correct that mistake.
Schottenheimer worked as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns before taking over as head coach in Cleveland midway through the 1984 season. He accumulated 21 seasons as a head coach, ten of them coming with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Former All-Pro kicker Nick Lowery, who spent five seasons with Schottenheimer in Kansas City, recently supported the idea of inducting his former head coach into Canton.
“I hope so,” Lowery said when asked if it was time for Schottenheimer to make the Hall of Fame. “If you look at his record, there’s almost no one that has as many wins…It’s a lot of wins and a very high winning percentage. And then of course the two games where he lost to John Elway in the last seconds for Cleveland. Some would say he wasn’t the greatest playoff coach because of that, but your players have something to do with that as well. So yes, he should be in the Hall of Fame.”
With a 200-126-1 record (61.3 winning percentage), Schottenheimer has the eighth-most regular season wins in NFL history. He’s the only retired coach in the top-eight that isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Bill Belichick (280) and Andy Reid (221) are the only active coaches with over 200 wins. For perspective, Pete Carroll (145), Sean Payton (143), and Mike Tomlin (145) are the only other active head coaches with over 140 wins.
Schottenheimer played a significant role in establishing a new group of coaches and coordinators. For starters, his son Brian Schottenheimer recently accepted Jacksonville’s passing coordinator position after serving as the offensive coordinator in Seattle for three seasons. However, the older Schottenheimer has a vast coaching tree connecting to several Hall of Famers.
Bill Cowher served as a special teams and secondary coach for Schottenheimer in Cleveland before becoming his defensive coordinator in Kansas City. Eventual Packers head coach Lindy Infante and future Bears head coach Marc Trestman also served on the Cleveland staff.
When he went to Kansas City, Schottenheimer gave Bruce Arians his first NFL job as a running backs coach. He also brought in Tony Dungy as a defensive backs coach. Herm Edwards eventually got his first job in the league as a scout and then defensive backs coach for Schottenheimer. Mike McCarthy also got his start in the league with Schottenheimer, joining Kansas City as an offensive quality control coach in 1993.
Schottenheimer continued finding talent later in his career. With Washington, the then 58-year-old hired Hue Jackson as a running backs coach. Future Dolphins coach Tony Sparano was also on that team. In San Diego the following season, Schottenheimer hired another future Miami coach, Cam Cameron, as an offensive coordinator. Future Browns coach Rob Chudzinski also worked on those San Diego staffs starting in 2005.
While several of Schottenheimer’s former colleagues never panned out as head coaches, several engrained their names in NFL history. Dungy and Cowher won Super Bowls and eventually received their busts in Canton. McCarthy won a Super Bowl in Green Bay while Bruce Arians is gunning for his first this weekend. Yet, Schottenheimer didn’t win a title and hasn’t heard David Baker knock on his door.
After his selection to Canton, Cowher claimed, “Marty Schottenheimer is a Hall of Famer. As a coach and as a contributor, no one has had a bigger impact on this game. He was on the competition committee with Don Shula. Everyone wants to point to his playoff record, but look at the period of time he did it, and with the consistency his teams played.”
“He’s a Hall of Fame coach. He’s a contributor. He’s touched a lot more people than myself in that way.”
Schottenheimer’s coaching tree is one of the largest in NFL history, but its architect remains a spectator in the league’s museum.
Ultimately, Schottenheimer’s lack of a Super Bowl title has prevented him from earning a gold jacket. While he won Coach in the Year in 2004, that’s no replacement for a Lombardi Trophy. Schottenheimer’s 5-13 playoff record isn’t very inspiring either, but the numbers overlook a man who went to the playoffs four times with Bernie Kosar and the Browns, losing two conference championships.
Schottenheimer also presided over the 1993 Chiefs team that went to the AFC Championship with Joe Montana and Marcus Allen. After a one-year stint with Washington in 2001, Schottenheimer took over the San Diego Chargers. With Drew Brees, Antonio Gates, and LaDainian Tomlinson serving as the catalysts, San Diego won the AFC West in 2004 after not making the playoffs since 1995.
Two years later, the Chargers finished with an NFL-best 14-2 record. Tomlinson and Philip Rivers built a 21-13 lead against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter of the Divisional Round. Unfortunately, a defender intercepted Brady but fumbled on the return with just over six minutes left. New England recovered and went on to tie the game before permanently taking the lead later. San Diego fired Schottenheimer that offseason, ending his career.
So maybe Schottenheimer didn’t win a Super Bowl. Neither did George Allen and Marv Levy, but both are in the Hall of Fame. Tom Flores won two Super Bowls, but the Hall of Fame hasn’t rewarded him. It’s about time that the selection committee lays down rules in stone for evaluating coaches and contributors. While they’re at it, they should push Schottenheimer through to the last round of voting and finally immortalize the man that helped shape the NFL’s landscape as we know it.