FOX Sports South breaks down 12 of the NFL's greatest under-the-radar coaching hires since the 1984 season (Sam Wyche and Marty Schottenheimer barely got under the wire) -- a listing that includes eight different Super Bowl champions and a terrific second wave of born leaders in the pros. The connecting link for all: At the time of their respective hires, very few national pundits (along with the regional fan bases) were touting these coaches as game-changing saviors for teams in need -- with many in rebuilding mode. (Photos: Jason Bridge/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: 26-63 (8 seasons at Northwestern, Stanford) ... SKINNY: 1) Green had a 10-45 overall record at Northwestern in the early 1980s, when the Wildcats were among college football's most hapless programs. 2) Green posted only one winning campaign at Stanford (1991). 3) Yes, Green had his own branch on Bill Walsh's famed coaching tree ... but never as a Walsh "coordinator" (at Stanford or the pros). 4) Back in 1992, Green was only the second black head coach in NFL history (preceded by Art Shell). 5) In 10 seasons with Minnesota (1992-2001), Green led Chris Doleman (right) and the Vikings to four division titles, 101 victories (four in the postseason) and five 10-win campaigns. (Photos: Assorted Images)
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: None ... SKINNY: 1) Prior to joining the Falcons (2008), Smith (left) had been an obscure coordinator at two levels -- Tennessee Tech (1996-98) and the NFL's Jaguars (2003-07). 2) Before Smith's tenure in Atlanta (2008-14), the Falcons had never posted back-to-back winning seasons. It helps that QB Matt Ryan (right) coincided with this successful period. 3) The soft-spoken Smith has the third-most NFL coaching victories of the Brian Billick coaching tree, trailing only Marvin Lewis and Jack Del Rio. 4) The Smith-led Falcons claimed two division titles and four 10-win campaigns. (Photos: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: None ... SKINNY: 1) Ah, the ultimate under-the-radar pick. From 1984-2007, Harbaugh had never been anything higher than a positional coach at six stops (one NFL, five collegiate). Plus, he was seemingly a glass-ceiling lifer with the Philadelphia Eagles, serving as their special teams coach for 10 years (1998-2007). 2) For the longest time, John was No. 3 on the Harbaugh family "fame" meter -- trailing brother Jim (now the head coach at Michigan) and dad Jack, a longtime Michigan assistant and former head coach at Western Michigan and Western Kentucky. 3) Through seven years, Harbaugh has notched 73 NFL victories (10 during the playoffs), five 10-win campaigns and one Super Bowl title (2012 season).
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HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: None ... SKINNY: 1) Yes, Payton had enjoyed coordinator stints with Miami of Ohio (1994-95) and the NFL's Giants (2000-02). But with New York, head coach Jim Fassel (in)famously stripped Payton of play-calling duties in 2002. 2) Another perception knock: Payton was a 'replacement' QB for the Chicago Bears during the strike-shortened 1987 season. 3) The Saints were a supposed mess entering the 2006 campaign, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. But the three-tiered arrival of Payton (left), tailback Reggie Bush ('06 draft) and QB Drew Brees (right) reversed the franchise's fortunes. 4) Payton has collected 87 victories (seven in the playoffs) with the Saints -- highlighted by the world title for the 2009 season. (Photos: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: None ... SKINNY: 1) When the Eagles hired Gruden as offensive coordinator in 1995, he quickly earned the 'Boy Wonder' moniker in coaching circles. However, for Gruden's final season with Philly (1997), the Eagles were a loathsome 6-9-1. 2) On the flip side, Raiders owner Al Davis had a loooooooong track record of tapping up-and-comers, with heavy offensive backgrounds, as head coaches. 3) Gruden remains the only branch from the famed Mike Holmgren coaching tree (Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, Andy Reid, Ray Rhodes, etc.) to win a Super Bowl title (as a head coach). 4) Covering 11 NFL seasons with the Raiders (1998-2001) and Buccaneers (2002-08), Gruden collected 100 victories, four 10-win campaigns and the aforementioned Lombardi Trophy (2002 with Tampa Bay). (Photos: Assorted Images)
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: None ... SKINNY: 1) Here's a great example of considering the candidate and NOT just the win-loss mark: For Tomlin's lone season as the Vikings' defensive coordinator (2006) -- his only coordinator campaign, college or pro -- Minnesota finished a desultory 6-10. 2) In eight seasons with the Steelers (2007-14), Tomlin has tallied five 10-win campaigns and 87 victories (five in the playoffs) -- highlighted by a Super Bowl title for 2008. 3) As such, Tomlin stands as the youngest-ever coach to claim a Lombardi Trophy (36 years old). 4) Of equal importance, Tomlin has never incurred a losing campaign with Pittsburgh.
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HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: 3-8 (1 season at Indiana) ... SKINNY: 1) Yes, Wyche (right) was the first QB mentor to Joe Montana (left) with the 49ers; and yes, he's also a direct disciple of Paul Brown (middle), arguably the most prolific innovator in American football history. But Wyche's lone campaign with Indiana (1983) also included a loss to lowly Northwestern ... and five 25-plus-point blowout defeats to Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State and Illinois (Big Ten champ). Nothing about that screams successful NFL head coach. 2) Covering eight seasons with the Bengals (1984-91), Wyche notched 87 wins (three playoffs), two AFC Central titles, two 10-win campaigns and one AFC championship (1988). 3) For what it's worth, Wyche stands as the last Bengals coach to earn a playoff victory. (Photos: Assorted Images)
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: None ... SKINNY: 1) Cowher (right) had good experiences with the Browns (1985-88) and Chiefs (1989-91), primarily as Marty Schottenheimer's right-hand man on the defensive side. But in 1992, Cowher was still a long-shot pick to endure (within reason) the legacy of Chuck Noll (left) -- the only head coach in history to capture four Super Bowl titles. 2) Of his 15 seasons with Pittsburgh (1992-2006), Cowher notched 161 victories (12 in the playoffs), eight division titles, nine 10-win campaigns and one Lombardi Trophy (2005 season).
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: None ... SKINNY: 1) Schottenheimer (middle) was reticent to accept the Browns' head-coaching job midway through the 1984 season, out of loyalty to the deposed Sam Rutigliano. However, with the help of QB Bernie Kosar (left) and Clay Matthews (right), he quickly converted Cleveland into title contenders. 2) From 1975-79, Schottenheimer bounced around with the Giants and Lions -- compiling a five-year record of 22-52. Ouch. 3) Schottenheimer collected 205 victories (five in the playoffs) and eight division titles over 21 NFL seasons. Of equal relevance, Schottenheimer (11 10-win campaigns) endured just two losing years. 4) Schottenheimer might be the only coach to post 14 wins in his final regular season. (Photos: Assorted Images)
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: None ... SKINNY: 1) Let's start with the ultimate factoid: For McCarthy's lone season as the 49ers' offensive coordinator (2005), his cadre of quarterbacks -- Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, rookie Alex Smith -- accounted for a grand total of eight TD passes. And yet, the Packers had the incredible foresight to hire McCarthy as head coach the following season. Very few franchises would have the nerve to execute such a move. 2) The '05 Niners scored 14 or fewer points eight times. 3) On the plus side, Saints QB Aaron Brooks averaged 3,690 yards passing/28 total TDs from 2001-04 -- with McCarthy as the O-coordinator. 4) Under McCarthy (Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers eras), Green Bay has claimed five division titles (four straight from 2011-14), 100 total victories and one Lombardi Trophy (2010 season).
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: 6-18 (3 seasons at Westminster College, Cornell) ... SKINNY: 1) Seifert (right) had the near-impossible task of succeeding Bill Walsh (left -- three Super Bowl titles) in San Francisco. He would capture the Lombardi Trophy in Year 1 (1989) and Year 6 (1994). 2) Legend has it Seifert -- who helped the Niners win a Super Bowl in 1988 (defensive coordinator) -- was set to board a plane to Cleveland (February (1989), in anticipation of becoming the Browns' head coach. But he randomly phoned his wife from the airport ... only to find out Walsh had retired and the 49ers wanted him as the next coach. 3) Seifert (108 total victories with San Francisco, six division titles) remains the only coach in 49ers history to post double-digit wins for every season. (Photos: Assorted Images)
HEAD-COACHING RECORD BEFORE NFL BIG BREAK: 37-28-3 (4 seasons with the Rochester Institute of Technology, Boston College) ... SKINNY: 1) Coughlin (two Super Bowl titles) first garnered acclaim in November 1993, when his Boston College squad upended No. 1 Notre Dame on the road -- dashing the Fighting Irish's national-title hopes. 2) In eight seasons with the expansion Jaguars (led by Mark Brunell, left, and Fred Taylor, right), Coughlin (72 victories -- four postseason) led the club to two division titles, two AFC title games and three 10-win campaigns. 3) Trivia time: In the Super Bowl era, only two teams have lost to just one franchise for that year ... and didn't win the world title: The 2007 Patriots (18-1) and 1999 Jaguars (15-3) -- whose only defeats came against the Tennessee Titans (three times).