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What does it take to fire a Super Bowl winning coach?

From glory to inglorious

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2020 Eagles season does its best Operation Smash Hit impression, the chances that Doug Pederson is able to survive it seem to decrease by the week. Could Jeffrey Lurie really fire the coach who finally got him a Super Bowl, and just three years removed from it?

What does it take to fire a Super Bowl winning coach? 32 other coaches have won the Super Bowl, 5 of which are still coaching the team they won with. 11 didn’t get to decide when to leave: 9 were fired and 2 technically resigned but were practically fired. Some of them got canned twice.

Why did they get fired, and does that compare to Pederson’s situation? There are a few factors at play.

How far removed are they from winning the Super Bowl? Pederson is only three years out from winning the Lombardi, which—spoiler alert—isn’t a long leash.

How bad was their record in their final year? Pretty straightforward, but we’ll also look at the years leading up to the firing: was it one horrific year or a few lousy ones that piled up?

Why exactly were they fired? Sometimes the reason is pretty obvious: the team stunk. But as we’ll see, that hasn’t always been the case.

What happened next: Did the coach go on to some measure of success at his next stop, if he had one? And did the team turn it around with his replacement, justifying the firing?

And finally though it won’t apply to the Eagles, did the team change QB? Sometimes when a team cleans house, sometimes it goes through a full remodeling that includes gutting the top of the roster, which can make firing a successful coach more palatable. Has that been the case with Lombardi winners?

In order of longevity after winning the Super Bowl:

Tom Landry

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 11

Record: 3-13 after two straight 7 win seasons.

Reason for firing: Jerry Jones bought the team and fired Landry the day after taking over.

What happened next: Landry never coached again. Jones replaced him with Jimmy Johnson, which was his plan from the moment he entered talks to buy the team, and won back to back Super Bowls four years later.

Did the team change QB? Yes, though it didn’t matter.

Mike Shanahan, twice

Denver

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 10

Record: 8-8

Reason for firing: Denver missed the playoffs in the two seasons prior to Shanahan’s firing, giong 9-7 and 7-9, but with three games to go in 2008 they were 8-5 and a win away from a division title. They lost out, and Shanahan lost his job.

What happened next: The Broncos hired Josh McDaniels, who went 11-17 in route to being a joke. Shanahan took a year off before taking over in Washington.

Did the team change QB? Yes, but that wasn’t the plan when they fired him, so we’ll count this as no.

Washington

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 15 years, 14 seasons

Record: 3-13

Reason for firing: Shanahan went 24-40 in four years in DC, ending his tenure with eight straight losses.

What happened next: Washington continues to be stuck in mediocrity under Dan Snyder, but Shanahan’s replacement Jay Gruden was at comparatively respectably mediocre at 35-49-1.

Did the team change QB? No

Mike McCarthy

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 8

Record: 4-7-1

Reason for firing: In his final two years McCarthy went 11-16-1 and had completely alienated his HOF QB.

What happened next: The Packers are 21-6 in two seasons under Matt LaFleur, McCarthy is now with the Cowboys and has the fourth worst record in the league.

Did the team change QB? No

Mike Ditka, twice

Chicago

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 7

Record: 5-11

Reason for firing: The Bears went 1-8 to end the 1992 season as the bottom fell out. The Bears had made the playoffs in the previous two seasons, and won a playoff game. Ditka had wanted more control over personnel, instead he lost the confidence of players and his job.

What happened next: Ditka went into broadcasting, then took over the Saints 1997.

Did the team change QB? No

New Orleans

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 14 years, 10 seasons

Record: 3-13

Reason for firing: Ditka went 15-33 in New Orleans, the “highlight” of his tenure being trading all his picks for Ricky Williams and then taking an all time bad photo with him.

What happened next: Ditka went back to broadcasting. He was replaced by Jim Haslett, who went to the playoffs in his first year then went 35-45 over the next five seasons.

Did the team change QB? Yes

Brian Billick

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 7

Record: 5-11

Reason for firing: Billick missed the playoffs in four of his last six seasons, and in his final year started 4-2 before a 9 game losing streak.

What happened next: Billick became a broadcaster, the Ravens hired John Harbaugh, who went to the AFC Championship Game in his first year.

Did the team change QB? Yes

Jon Gruden

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 6

Record: 9-7

Reason for firing: The Buccaneers lost four straight to end the 2008 season, missing the playoffs for the fourth time in the six years since they won the Super Bowl.

What happened next: Gruden headed to the MNF booth before taking over the Raiders where he is currently 17-26. The Bucs replaced him with Raheem Morris, who went 17-31. Tampa Bay is on their 5th coach in 12 years since firing Gruden. The franchise has yet to win a playoff game since the Super Bowl.

Did the team change QB? Yes

Hank Stram, twice

Kansas City

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 5

Record: 5-9

Reason for firing: In the five seasons after winning Super Bowl III, Stram made the playoffs just once, with his win total tumbling in his last four seasons: 10, 8, 7, 5.

What happened next: Stram took over the Saints, his replacement Paul Wiggin, went 11-24 in three seasons.

Did the team change QB? Yes

New Orleans

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 8 years, 7 seasons

Record: 3-11

Reason for firing: Stram went 7-21 with the Saints. In his penultimate game he lost 33-14 to the second year Buccaneers, who had never won a game in team history and were averaging 4.4 points per game. Yes, four point four points per game.

What happened next: Stram became a broadcaster, the Saints “rebounded” to a 7-9 record in Dick Nolan’s first year, Nolan went 15-29 in three seasons.

Did the team change QB? No

Tom Coughlin

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 4

Record: 6-10 for the second straight year.

Reason for firing: Technically Coughlin resigned, but because the Giants would have fired him if he hadn’t. Though he won a second Super Bowl in 2011, from 2009-2015 he went 55-57 and missed the playoffs in six of those seven seasons.

What happened next: Coughlin tried to remain in coaching but nobody would have him, he returned to the Jaguars as an executive. He would be fired after the NFLPA publicly told free agents not to sign with the Jaguars due to actions taken by Coughlin. The Giants are 27-48 and on their third coach in five years since telling Coughlin to quit or be fired.

Did the team change QB? No

George Seifert, sort of, and twice

San Francisco

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 2

Record: 12-4 with a playoff win

Reason for firing: Seifert had one year left on his contract heading into the 1997 season, and 49ers president Carmen Policy was dead set on replacing him in 1998 with Steve Mariucci, who was hired to be Seifert’s offensive coordinator. Not wanting to be a lame duck looking over his shoulder to his replacement in waiting, Seifert resigned.

What happened next: The 49ers stayed strong, winning 25 games in the next two years before Steve Young retired. Seifert returned to coaching in 1999 with the Carolina Panthers.

Did the team change QB? No

Carolina

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 7 years, 5 seasons

Record: 1-15, with 15 straight losses, a then NFL record.

Reason for firing: He lost 15 straight games.

What happened next: Seifert never coached again, the Panthers went to the Super Bowl two years later with John Fox.

Did the team change QB? Yes

Don McCafferty

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 2

Record: 1-4

Reason for firing: The Colts changed ownership in 1972, and new General Manager Joe Thomas wasted no time in making an in-season change when it was clear the Colts wouldn’t be competitive.

What happened next: In the offseason the Colts hired future college football staple Howard Schellenberger, he was fired in his second season with a 4-13 record. McCafferty took over the Lions in 1973 and sadly died of a heart attack after his first season.

Did the team change QB? No

Jimmy Johnson, sort of

Years after he last won the Super Bowl: 0

Record: 12-4, second straight Super Bowl win

Reason for firing: Johnson resigned because he lost a power struggle with Jerry Jones. Johnson wanted more power in personnel decisions, but Jones wanted them for himself. If Johnson hadn’t won the Super Bowl, Jones might have fired him, after they won Jones told the media that any coach could have won it with the team he had assembled. The two were fated to divorce, they still haven’t made amends.

What happened next: Jones wasn’t totally wrong as Barry Switzer won the Super Bowl two years later. Johnson considered coaching the Eagles in 1994, but became a broadcaster for Fox. In 1997 he took over the Dolphins after Don Shula retired. Johnson never had a losing season in Miami, went to the playoffs three times in four years, and won a playoff game in each of his last two seasons. But the relationship between Johnson and Dan Marino completely fell apart and Miami started 7-2 but finished 9-7 in 1999, at the end of the season both retired. He’s the most successful post-Super Bowl coach here, though he did go to a team with a QB who already had his HOF case locked up.

Did the team change QB? No

What does it take for a Super Bowl winning coach to get fired? We can put these coaches into three buckets of circumstance that led to their firing.

The first is coaches who had several years of not making the playoffs: Shanahan and Stram twice, Seifert and Ditka at their second stops, and Billick, Coughlin, and Gruden. Many non-Super Bowl winning coaches get fired for less (though plenty get just as long of a leash), so it’s fair to say that winning the Super Bowl extended their coaching lives. That isn’t the case with Pederson. However, if you’re absolutely convinced that Pederson is fated to follow this path, then you might as well pull the plug now. On one hand, that premise is ridiculous. When Pederson was hired not even the Eagles expected to win the Super Bowl in his second year, so who is to say what the future holds. And nearly all of these coaches, no matter how long or short the leash, were not replaced by better coaches, most were replaced with terrible coaches. On the other hand, the further away we get from the Super Bowl win, the more it feels like a fluke. A wonderful, glorious, I can die happy life changing fluke, but the difference between “magical season” and “fluke” is not much more than spelling.

The second bucket is coaches who were pretty consistently making the playoffs before it all fell apart: Ditka and McCarthy. Pederson would be in this category. The team was in first place to start Thanksgiving, but he probably needs to go at least 3-2 the rest of the season to win the division to take the possibility of getting fired off the table. He also has another overlap with Ditka and McCarthy: one reason for the struggles this season is friction with both management and the roster.

The third bucket is coaches who were fired due to the egos of ownership and management. Landry and McCafferty were victims of an ownership change, which isn’t a factor in Philly, though Landry also falls into the first category as his teams became lousy at the end. But the decisions to move on from George Seifert and Jimmy Johnson might be fair warnings: both were victims of the egos of Carmen Policy and Jerry Jones getting in the way of a successful coach, though those two had great teams when they left. If Pederson is fired but Howie Roseman isn’t, he would go into this bucket as well. The 2020 Eagles aren’t close to the levels of the 1996 49ers or 1993 Cowboys, but Pederson is less than a year removed from hosting a playoff game, and two from winning one. Sean Payton has won two playoff games in six years. Mike Tomlin hasn’t won a playoff game since 2016. Pete Carroll’s only playoff win in the past three years was against a 40 year old backup QB. Would they get fired after one bad year?

Not working in Pederson’s favor is that it’s easier to fire the coach than the QB, and though it’s rare, teams have fired their Super Bowl winning coach while not planning on moving on from their non-Super Bowl winning QB (Shanahan and Ditka). Regardless of how anyone feels about him, the Eagles can’t move on from Carson Wentz this offseason for salary cap reasons.

In comparison to his Super Bowl winning peers, firing Pederson after this season would be a knee-jerk reaction. He doesn’t have years of missing the playoffs since his Super Bowl win. He is looking at a bad losing streak that has gotten otherwise successful coaches such as Ditka, Shanahan, Billick, and Gruden fired, but they all survived previous double-digit losing seasons.

Doug Pederson is far from blameless for the failures of the 2020 Eagles. But compared to his contemporary peers, to fire him after this season would be unfair, and compared to his fellow Super Bowl winners would be egregiously unfair.