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Second-time head coaches enjoy Super Bowl success

Head coaches in their second NFL job have been extraordinarily successful in recent years in making it to the league's ultimate game.

Bills head coach Rex Ryan said it in his introductory press conference. He and the Pegulas want to bring a championship to Buffalo. While saying it is far easier than doing it, recent NFL history is very much on their side.

Head coaches in their second NFL job have been extraordinarily successful in recent years in making it to the league's ultimate game. Eleven* of the last 17 Super Bowls have been won by second-time head coaches (*Pete Carroll is on his third NFL head job), and that number will increase to 12 this year with Carroll and Bill Belichick in Sunday's Super Bowl.

Twelve of the last 17 Super Bowls have had at least one coach who was in his second career NFL head coaching job. So why do coaches in their second head coaching position enjoy so much success? We asked one Hall of Fame coach, who made it to four Super Bowls as a second-time head coach, and got comment from two others about what led to greater success the second time around.

Marv Levy got his first NFL head coaching job with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1978. In his first season Levy went 4-12. That was followed by 7-9 and 8-8 campaigns in years two and three. Then in 1981 a 9-7 season, but when the 1982 season sat at 3-6 midway through Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt pulled the plug.

"We improved very incrementally every year," Levy told "I took over a team that was 2-14. Though we improved each year the progress was too slow."

Levy also had to deal with a front office agenda that at times ran counter to what he thought was best for the team. Four years later Levy was hired by the Buffalo Bills.

"After I was let go by the Kansas City Chiefs, Bill Polian really wanted me there in Buffalo, but Ralph Wilson had some questions and called Lamar Hunt about me," said Levy. "And Lamar said, 'Ralph, we made a mistake when we fired him.' So that helped my cause. There are a variety of reasons why you get a second chance, but usually if your reputation is good you have the advantage of experience."

Levy said he learned from what went right and what went wrong in Kansas City and applied those lessons in Buffalo.


"You learn some things and wish you would've done something a little differently," he said. "I learned in Kansas City, and I said it when I came to the Bills, offense sells tickets, kicking wins games and defense wins championships. If you want a good quarterback, then have a great defense. He doesn't have to play catch up, he's not predictable, he doesn't get blitzed and the turnovers don't mount. So you do learn things like that."

The Hall of Fame coach also had the benefit of a front office led by Polian that was in lockstep with Levy and his coaching staff on how to build a winner.

"When I reached the Bills organization there was a fantastic way that we all worked with each other, with (general manager) Bill (Polian) and Mr. Wilson," said Levy. "So if you can find that kind of synergy it's valuable."

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy also found a parallel philosophy in team building with Polian in Indianapolis, his second NFL head coaching stop. Dungy had been successful in his first role as head coach in Tampa Bay where he had four playoff appearances in six seasons, but he couldn't advance the Buccaneers beyond the NFC title game.

In his second go round with Indianapolis however, Dungy won five division titles in seven seasons, an AFC title and Super Bowl XLI with the Colts.

"I think you do learn a lot from experience," said Dungy. "I thought I was a pretty good coach when I got my head coaching job at 40-years old, and thought I was ready. I was shocked at how much better I was at 47. I won a lot of games after I got fired in Tampa Bay. What you learn is situations and how things play out. Because you get fired doesn't mean you were a bad coach or you weren't smart. It just means it wasn't the right situation."

No one knew that better than Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. He lasted just one season in New York as head coach of the Jets in 1994 compiling a 6-10 season a year after the club went 8-8.


2014 Pete Carroll (3rd HC job) John Fox (2nd HC job)
2013 John Harbaugh (1) Jim Harbaugh (1)
2012 Tom Coughlin (2) Bill Belichick (2)
2011 Mike McCarthy (1) Mike Tomlin (1)
2010 Sean Payton (1) Jim Caldwell (1)
2009 Mike Tomlin (1) Ken Whisenhunt (1)
2008 Tom Coughlin (2) Bill Belichick (2)
2007 Tony Dungy (2) Lovie Smith (1)
2006 Bill Cowher (1) Mike Holmgren (2)
2005 Bill Belichick (2) Andy Reid (1)
2004 Bill Belichick (2) John Fox (1)
2003 Jon Gruden (2) Bill Callahan (1)
2002 Bill Belichick (2) Mike Martz (1)
2001 Brian Billick (1) Jim Fassel (1)
2000 Dick Vermeil (2) Jeff Fisher (1)
1999 Mike Shanahan (2) Dan Reeves (2)
1998 Mike Shanahan (2) Mike Holmgren (1)

"This is a really difficult job the first time," Carroll said. "There are so many things that happen in this position that you just can't predict and you just don't know, and you don't see it coming in your preparation. You just have to deal with it as it hits you.

"Everybody is going to falter and make mistakes and say, 'Gosh I wish I knew then what I know now.' That's going to happen, but unfortunately it doesn't always happen where guys have time to work through those early years so you can find your way and find your voice and find your perspective. So often guys get kicked out. I got kicked out after one year with the Jets and I didn't even get to start figuring things out and I was a mess."

Three years later Carroll landed the New England head coaching job and went a respectable 27-21, but was fired after an 8-8 season followed a pair of winning campaigns. After a successful stint in college at USC, Carroll returned to the NFL with Seattle and built a Super Bowl champion with the Seahawks. He'll try to win his second NFL title against a coach who has won three NFL championships in his second NFL head coaching job in Bill Belichick.

"These guys are proof of it," said Dungy of this year's Super Bowl coaches. "They're two of the top five coaches in the league, and for both of them it didn't work out in their first job. I have to credit the ownership of Seattle and New England. They decided they were not going to worry about what peoples' assumptions were about those two men and they've both done a tremendous job."

The Bills new ownership of Kim and Terry Pegula are hoping the trend of second-time head coaches succeeding continues with their new head coach. Rex Ryan led the Jets to a pair of AFC title games in his six seasons with New York. A two-time Super Bowl winning coach did the same thing in his first head coaching job.

Tom Coughlin led Jacksonville to two AFC title games in his eight seasons with the Jaguars. In his second head coaching post with the New York Giants he won a pair of championships and has posted an 8-3 postseason record.

"It definitely is an advantage," said Ryan of being a head coach the second time around. "I think part of it is when you go through this a second time, you realize how important that familiarity is and having everybody on the same page, and we all see it (here in Buffalo)."

That's why it was no surprise for Carroll to see some of the coaches who were released at the end of the regular season, find other head coaching jobs elsewhere with Ryan and John Fox being two examples. Jack Del Rio, who was named head coach in Oakland, is also a second-time head coach.

"I can understand why guys would get a second chance," said Carroll. "It's based on the accumulated experiences that give you more wisdom and more understanding and it's also an opportunity to see a guy so you know more of what you're getting. I think that helps too."

"The bottom line is experience helps," said Levy. "You have a better grasp of what's going on. What is important and what is just a bunch of fluff and where you ought to focus your attention. Experience helps, if you're wary and smart enough to profit from it."

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