Bill Belichick is undeniably an all-time great head coach. This year, he surpassed 300 wins. He has six Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots across nine appearances — so far. The 67-year-old also has 31 playoff wins. Every one of these is an NFL record.
Yet it’s hard to make a legitimate case that Belichick is the best head coach of all time. Even with all of these accolades, most longtime NFL fans and media point to another.
His name is instantly recognizable, even if the man’s achievements aren’t widely discussed today. Vince Lombardi is the best NFL coach of all time. Here’s why.
Vince Lombardi: the player
Lombardi grew up playing football in Brooklyn, New York. His passion got more serious when he joined the Fordham College football team as an offensive lineman. There, he gained a reputation as one of the so-called “Seven Blocks of Granite” for his squad’s ability to put up a wall of protection around their quarterback.
After stints working as a high school and college football coach, Lombardi’s talents were recognized by the New York Giants. For five years, he worked as an offensive backfield coach, supporting the legendary Tom Landry’s defense.
Lombardi helped the Giants win the NFL championship — this is the pre-Super Bowl era — in 1956. This prompted ailing NFL teams to pick through the Giants’ staff, hoping to find someone to turn their teams around. In 1959, it was Lombardi’s turn to field a fateful job offer.
Vince Lombardi turns Green Bay into a permanent place for great football
When owner Curly Lambeau reached out to Lombardi, the words “Green Bay Packers” had very little weight. The team had turned in under .500 performances from 1947 onward. Lambeau wanted an experienced hand to right the ship.
His first choice, a head coach with the University of Iowa, passed. So Lambeau went with the next best option in Lombardi. The future NFL great immediately delivered. In his very first year, he helped Green Bay to a 7-5 season.
The next season, Lombardi made it all the way to the NFL championship. The season afterward, he and his team won the whole thing. The next year, 1962? They won it again. The core crew of players was largely the same as before Lombardi arrived, cementing his immense impact on the franchise.
The coach went on an even bigger run a few years later. From 1965 through 1967, the Packers won three NFL championships in a row. His two most famous championship wins were huge blowouts: 35-10 against the Kansas City Chiefs and 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders.
Lombardi’s late-career impact on the Redskins
The Packers legend retired from head coaching not long after his winning streak. But the Washington Redskins lured Lombardi back for a stint. He turned the organization around with his unique general manager/head coach hybrid approach.
The Skins finished the 1969 season 7-5-2, their first winning record in 14 years. Incidentally, Green Bay had a rare losing season in Lombardi’s absence, going 6-7-1 without their iconic skipper.
Effusive praise decades after Lombardi’s final game
Lombardi was a hurricane of a forceful personality both on and off the field. His impact on American culture was so strong that Richard Nixon once considered him as a potential running mate for the presidency. (He dropped the idea when he found out about Lombardi’s generally liberal views.)
Former Lombardi-era Packers player Henry Jordan said of the coach’s gruff style, “He treats us all the same — like dogs.” The quote has a life of its own, but it was actually a compliment. He worked his players hard, and respected each one of them regardless of their background or circumstances.
Lombardi’s gruff style could change depending on his players’ personalities. This quality may explain how he pulled miraculous performances out of previously struggling players. Another Lombardi-era player, Jerry Kramer, noticed the coach’s different approach to a perpetually nervous teammate.
“Lombardi almost never said anything unkind to […] Max McGee, the wide receiver, because he knew that Max couldn’t stand being embarrassed in front of his teammates,” Kramer wrote in the New York Times.
Lombardi is the greatest NFL head coach of all time. His record speaks for itself. But reading between the lines, realizing that he repeatedly did this with players who only flourished under his leadership, is what truly marks him as the greatest to ever do it.