Anyone who's ever gone to a Trade Show knows that you don't go to the booths that have the best products. You can use the internet to find out all you want about those. In reality, there are two things that you look for--who has the best swag, and who hired the hottest booth babes.
Of course, no one's buying NFL season tickets because of an attractive woman, or at least that's not the rule. But just like getting some glamor into your booth makes people want to visit it, getting some into your franchise is a good way to guarantee a few more sellouts. And there is a particular breed of coach that brings it like no other.
That would be the NFL's version of a booth babe, the Superbowl-winning former coach turned analyst.
Think about it. To your average fan, who is smarter? Your choices are the guy who just called a draw on third and long that went for no gain, or the former coach (who won a superbowl, by the way) in the broadcast booth who can show you the receivers that were open and tell you how much yardage the defense surrenders on plays like that.
And when the guy who called the draw is struggling with a 3-10 record, the comparison is even more glaring.
Former booth babes, so to speak, have included Mike Ditka, Joe Gibbs, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells, and Mike Shanahan. While none of them experienced the same success in their second stop, all of them drove ticket sales when they got there.
"But wait!", you may say. "The Panthers already went that route with George Seifert. There's no way Richardson does that again!"
And you would be right, but there's a crucial difference. Seifert didn't build his Super Bowl winner, he just won it with Bill Walsh's team. And fans are more likely to dwell on whatever the new coach did with their last team than what Seifert did with the Panthers.
So don't think that hiring a booth babe is out of the question for Jerry Richardson. And don't think that the Panthers wouldn't be attractive to one, either. After all, they have a franchise quarterback, what looks to be a star in the making at middle linebacker, a decent amount of talent on both sides of the ball, and a high draft pick.
And most important, they are winless in one-score games. That means that all a coach has to do is get them a just a little more inspired, and he'll probably look like a genius. Chase Stuart has a fairly good article on it in Football Perspective, you can read it here.
Coaching the Panthers next year is going to be a pretty attractive job.
Will one of them take it? Will Richardson go for it? That remains to be seen, but for now there are four ex-Superbowl winners out there, three in the booth and one who makes guest appearances. All of them are certainly candidates as far as coaching the Panthers is concerned.
Bill Cowher, 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
Cowher's been out of coaching since 2006, and has not made a lot of noise about returning to the sidelines. However, for the past two years sources close to him suggest he might return to an underachieving team that gave him a chance to win.
Cowher is on top of a lot of coaching wish lists. He assumed the head coaching duties in Pittsburgh in 1992, and proceeded to make the playoffs for six straight years, with one Superbowl appearance and two AFC championship games.
The Steelers then had three down years, which for Cowher means they went 7-9, 6-10, and 9-7, and then took control of their division again. They took two more division titles, then went 6-10 again. This time, the poor record was a blessing, as it allowed them to draft high enough to take Ben Roethlisburger.
With the franchise quarterback that Cowher had been lacking during his entire tenure, the Steelers went 15-1 in 2004, losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. In 2005, they went 11-5, but finally brought Cowher his first Superbowl championship.
Cowher comes out of the Marty Schottenheimer tree, but he did not initially run the Coryell offense. His first Offensive Coordinator was Ron Erhardt, who of course ran his Erhardt Perkins scheme. After the Superbowl season in 1996, he brought in Chan Gailey, who continued the scheme but added some spread concepts, and then Ray Sherman in 1998.
In 1999, he hired Kevin Gilbride, who installed the Air Coryell offensive system, and the Steelers stayed with that system or a variant for the remainder of his career. Ken Wisenhunt was his Offensive Coordinator when the Steelers finally won the Super Bowl.
On defense, Cowher's teams were always noted for being agressive and blitzing often enough that the team assumed the nickname "Blitzburgh". The Zone Blitz system they still run today was refined and popularized by Cowher and Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau in the early '90s. Although it's become popular in the NFL, the Steelers are still one of the best at running it.
The big knock on Cowher is that he took so long to win it all. And there are those who question whether he would have the fire necessary to turn around the locker room. But there's no doubt that ticket sales would go up the minute he said yes to a Panthers offer, and it's hard to believe he would have trouble winning with the talent in Carolina.
John Gruden, 2002 Tampa Bay Bucanneers
Gruden is by far the biggest flirt among the booth babes. Every year there are rumors circulating about his return to coaching, and every year he smiles and grins and lets them flourish before finally reaffirming his commitment to ESPN. But everyone who knows him thinks he will eventually return to coaching.
Unlike Cowher, Gruden coached multiple teams, and won the Superbowl in his first season in Tampa Bay. However, for those who like to say he won it with a team someone else built, he did happen to build the team he faced. So he knows what it takes to assemble a roster that's able to compete at the highest leve.
Gruden is an offensive-minded coach, coming out of the Mike Holmgren tree. He's a West Coast Offense disciple in the Bill Walsh mode, but he understands and is willing to use spread concepts and a strong running game. On defense, Gruden will hire a strong defensive coordinator and let him run the show. As a head coach, he's employed Willie Shaw, Chuck Bresnahan, and Monte Kiffin as his DCs, and give each of them almost free reign.
In 1998 he became the head coach of an Oakland Raiders team that had not had a winning record since 1994, and was coming off a 4-12 season. In his first year he doubled their previous win total, going 8-8. He went 8-8 in 1999 as well, but in 1999 he signed journeyman quarterback Rich Gannon. In Gruden's offense, the 34 year old who had 19 starts in four years with the Chiefs made the pro bowl for the first time, and it was the first of what would be four consecutive trips for him.
Gruden directed the Raiders to a 12-4 record in 2000, reaching the AFC Championship game. Oakland went 10-6 in 2001, and lost in the divisional round to the Patriots. They were the two most successful seasons for the Raiders in over a decade. In 2002, the team he built made it to 12-4 and the Superbowl, where they lost to his Buccaneers.
He was coaching the Bucs due to a bizarre trade that sent four draft picks and cash to the Raiders in exchange for his rights. Raiders Owner/GM Al Davis wanted a more vertical attack than Gruden's west coast offense provided, and did not think he was worth the money he would have commanded at contract renewal time. Tampa Bay was caught in a coaching crisis, as they had just fired a popular coach in Tony Dungy and didn't have a big name replacement lined up.
As soon as Gruden hit Tampa Bay, he installed his offensive system and bolstered that side of the ball with free agents. Riding the NFLs top defense that had been built by Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Gruden coached his new team to a 12-4 record and the Super Bowl victory.
In the next two years, the draft choices sacrificed by Tampa Bay to get Gruden caught up with them. The talent level slipped, and because of salary cap issues that existed before Gruden's arrival the team could not maintain their high level of play. The Bucs went 7-9, then 5-11.
In 2005, Tampa Bay hired a new GM to pair with Gruden, and the Bucs surprised the NFL with an 11-5 record. They went 4-12 in 2006, but by 2007 they were finally over their salary cap issues and Gruden put together back to back 9-7 seasons. In 2008, after a late season defensive collapse that resulted in a winless December, Gruden was fired.
Gruden may not seem like a great choice to some, primarily because he's a West Coast guy and the Panthers are built for a more vertical attack. But he's been making a study of the spread, and if anyone can make it work at the pro level he can. And in Carolina, he wouldn't be saddled with the personnel and salary cap issues he faced in Tampa Bay.
Mike Holmgren, 1996 Green Bay Packers
Holmgren is not really a Booth Babe, as he's currently the team President for the Cleveland Browns, but he doubles as an NFL analyst and it's likely he will be both available and hotly pursued in the off season. He could be a little old for the Panthers at 64, but for the long term there are few coaches you would rather have grooming a coordinator to take over.
Holmgren coached under Bill Walsh and George Seifert in San Francisco from 1986-1991, as both a Quarterbacks coach and an Offensive Coordinator. As the Offensive Coordinator in 1989, Holmgren coached the NFL's top unit. The 49ers offense set superbowl records that year for points scored and victory margin. Naturally, Holmgren is a West Coast Offense disciple.
In 1992, Holmgren took over head coaching duties for the Green Bay Packers. During his tenure, the Packers posted a 75-37 regular season record, with a 9-5 postseason record, two Superbowl appearances, and one championship. In the 19 years before he was hired, Green Bay had winning records twice. In the seven years he was there, Green Bay did not have a losing record. They also made the playoffs six straight years, winning at least one game in five of them.
In 1999 Holmgren went to the Seattle Seahawks, where he was allowed direction over player personnel--something Green Bay would not give him. In his first season, he took Seattle to the playoffs, something that had not happened since 1988. In Seattle, he posted a record of 86-74, with six trips to the playoffs. In ten years, his teams finished first in their division five times, and second twice.
As a coach/GM, Holmgren was stretched thin, and in 2000, 2001, and 2002 Seattle missed the post season every year and suffered two losing seasons. Holmgren was relieved of GM duties after 2002, and the Seahawks went on a five year run where they effectively ruled the NFC west.
Prior to the 2008 season, Holmgren announced that he would serve out the last year of his contract and retire as a coach. That season was only his third losing season as both an assistant and as a head coach, and at 4-12, by far his worst.
In 2009, Holmgren took a job as President of the Cleveland Browns. It was a position he never really fit with, and his tenure was marked with coaching and personnel changes that did not translate to wins on the football field. Homlgren acknowledged that he didn't know how hard it would be to work in administration rather than coaching, and will leave the team after the 2012 season.
Many of those close to Holmgren believe he will coach again, and that he won't sit out 2013. He's already proven he knows how to handle a star quarterback, and it's hard to believe he would turn down the opportunity to work with another one.
Brian Billick, 2000 Baltimore Ravens
After the bright shining lights of Gruden and Cowher, Billick somewhat pales in comparison. But what he was able to accomplish during his stint with the Ravens should put him solidly in their company.
Billick spent the first half of his career coaching in the college ranks, primarily as an assistant on the offensive side of the ball. In 1992 he joined the Minnesota Vikings as their Tight Ends coach, and was elevated to Offensive Coordinator in 1994. During his time with the Vikings, they made the playoffs for six of his seven seasons, and set several offensive records, including most points scored in a season.
In 1999, Billick took over the Ravens, a team that had experienced just one winning season in the prior 10 years (until 1996 they were the original Cleveland Browns). He kept Marvin Lewis on as Defensive Coordinator, and hired Matt Cavanaugh as the Offensive Coordinator. Although he was considered an offensive genius, Baltimore never experienced the same productivity as the Vikings had.
In his first season, the Ravens posted their first non-losing record under their new name, at 8-8. In 2000, Billick led the Ravens to a 12-4 record, riding the NFL's top defense. 12-4 wasn't enough for first place in their division, so the Ravens entered the playoffs as a wild card team. They won four straight games to take the NFL Championship, surrendering only 23 points while scoring 95.
In 2001 the Ravens again failed to win their division, but made the playoffs anyway, losing to the Steelers in the Divisional round. And in 2002 they took a step back, posting a losing record at 7-9.
In 2003, the Ravens won 10 games, giving Billick his first regular season division championship, but then they lost in the wild card round of the playoffs. They missed the playoffs in 2004 and 2005, but in 2006 they were dominant, with the NFL's second best record at 13-3. In October of that year, Billick fired Offensive Coordinator Jim Fassel, who had replaced Cavanaugh in 2004. Baltimore eventually lost to Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round.
In 2007, Baltimore hoped to build on it's success, and started the season winning four of their first six. They entered their bye week with a 4-3 record, and had five of their remaining nine games at home. But with Billick still calling the plays, they proceeded to lose eight straight, not winning again until the last game of the season. Billick was released, and retired to the broadcast booth.
Despite playing in one of the NFL's toughest divisions, Billick posted an 80-64 record, and he did it with what was essentially an expansion team built from one of the NFL's worst franchises. The Ravens are known for their great defenses in ways that the Cleveland Browns of the 80s and 90s never were, they've won a Super Bowl, and they're in the playoff hunt year in and year out. That's not the Brown's legacy, it's Billick's. And that's why he belongs in the conversation.