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Marty Schottenheimer and his Quarterback Struggles

Marty checking to make sure the pilot light is on.

Marty checking to make sure the pilot light is on..

Tomorrow night on NFL Network, the fantastic series A Football Life will look at the career of Marty Schottenheimer.

Despite his many accolades, like Dan Marino, Schottenheimer is as often defined by his major shortcoming: never winning a Super Bowl. Did you know that Schottenheimer ranks 6th with 200 career wins? That places him behind only Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry, Curly Lambeau, and Paul Brown. Schottenheimer finished his career 74 games above .500, ranking seventh behind those five coaches and Bill Belichick. But the 5-13 record in the playoffs has become party of his core, and has unfortunately swallowed the rest of his career.

Schottenheimer won fewer games than Shula, but he didn’t have Johnny Unitas, Bob Griese, or Marino.  He wasn’t as successful as Landry or Brown or Belichick, but he didn’t have Roger Staubach or Otto Graham or Tom Brady, either.

Schottenheimer and Shula are the only coaches to win 14 games with six different quarterbacks.  Marty is the only one to win 13 games with seven different quarterbacks, the only to win 11 games with eight different ones, and the only to win 10 with nine different quarterbacks. He won eight games with ten different quarterbacks and five games with eleven different quarterbacks. In fact, Schottenheimer won games with 18 different starter quarterbacks, easily a record.

Schottenheimer and Shula are the only coaches to win 14 games with six different quarterbacks. Marty is the only one to win 13 games with seven different quarterbacks, the only to win 11 games with eight different ones, and the only to win 10 with nine different quarterbacks. The chart below shows how Marty stacks up to some other great coaches with respect to wins by quarterback (numbers current through week 15 of the 2013 season): the X-axis shows the number of wins, while the stacked graph displays how many wins came from each quarterback for each coach. You can hover your mouse over a section of the graph for the specific number of wins.

Walsh, Lombardi, and Belichick are synonymous with success with one specific quarterback, and that’s well reflected in the chart above. Noll and Dungy both won over half of their games with one superstar quarterback, while Shula coached three Hall of Famers at the position.

Even Gibbs, Landry, and Parcells — the closet comps to Schottenheimer as far as success spread across quarterbacks — don’t quite compare. Two out of every three Parcells wins came with either Phil Simms or Drew Bledsoe, while 100 out of Gibbs’ 171 wins came with either Joe Theismann or Mark Rypien. Schottenheimer won over 100 games after removing all his wins from his top three quarterbacks.

Frankly, the only other coach who comes close to Schottenheimer in this respect is Bill Cowher, a very similar coach in many respects. Both are remembered as emotional defensive leaders who always had well-coached teams. Both also had reputations as playoff chokers, and that only changed for Cowher when Ben Roethlisberger fell into his lap.

Schottenheimer’s playoff woes are real: based on the Las Vegas line, his team underachieved by 4.3 wins in the postseason, the most of any coach when I looked at that issue in January. But most of those losses involved bad luck rather than bad coaching.

The vast majority of Schottenheimer bashing comes from an 0-8 record in games featuring a three-point (or smaller) spread. Both The Drive and The Fumble fall into that category, as does a one-point loss in a game between Mike Pagel, the team’s third-string quarerback, and Warren Moon. He lost another game in Miami when Dan Marino threw two 4th quarter touchdowns to give Miami a 17-16 win.

Schottenheimer lost as the #1 seed in the Lin Elliot game against the Colts and repeated that feat eleven years later in the Marlon McCree game against New England. I don’t know if any coach has been as unlucky in the playoffs as Schottenheimer.

It’s true that some of the wounds were self-inflicted. Schottenheimer was criticized for coaching conservatively, and much of that criticism was appropriate. But some of that conservatism was driven by coaching against teams with better quarterbacks. Ten of his thirteen losses were to Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Tom Brady, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Marino, and Moon), a luxury rarely enjoyed by Schottenheimer.

It’s easy to rip Schottenheimer for his 5-13 record. But no coach in history has been so successful with so many different quarterbacks.

  • Kibbles

    A-freaking-men. Marty Schottenheimer is the perfect example of process vs. outcome. He went 5-13 in the playoffs, so he must have been terrible, despite the fact that he coached four different teams over 20 years, most of them complete rebuilds, and only finished under .500 twice (one of them a 7-9 season). Marty Schottenheimer’s median season was 10-6.

    Most people would rather put their faith in an 18-game sample over a 327-game sample. To which I say nuts! Nuts, I say!

  • Sunrise089


  • stony3k

    The one time he did get a future hall of fame QB (in Brees) he was driven out of town after a 14-2 season

    • Though remember Brees was just an above average QB in San Diego, the main reason for his resurgence was the fact he and coach Payton built their offensive system completely around Brees. Brees was likely to improve had he stayed in San Diego but the likelihood of reaching his current level is unlikely.

      • In ’04, Brees’s rate stats are right with what he has done in New Orleans. He did also throw about 250 fewer passes than he does in a typical year under Payton, but for one season he showed what he eventually became. It was his only season playing at that level in San Diego, however.

        • That was a very good season for him when it comes to TD % and INT %, but he regressed in 2005. He had some serious talent in SD, just the offense was built entirely for him in NO. He’d likely have made a few Pro Bowls but the records he broke likely wouldn’t have happened.

        • Anders

          Also he wasnt chased out of town.

          Chargers drafted River in 04 after Brees had been benched and replaced by Floutie. He then go franchised after the 04 season, offered a new contract after the 05 season (where there was big questions if he could return at all), but declined it, was about to go to the Dolphins, but they wouldnt touch him and it was only then Sean Payton took a leap of faith in him.

          • Rob Harrison

            I think the point was that *Schottenheimer* was driven out of town after a 14-2 season. Which he was.

  • Cowher of course also came up under Schottenheimer, working as a special teams and secondary coach in Cleveland and then DC in Kansas City. Apparently he learned playoff chokery from the master; however, like most apprentices, he did not succeed as well as the old master, failing to choke in ’05.

    More seriously, I always disliked Schottenheimer for a lot of reasons, especially for his arch-conservatism, but he was also quite incredibly unlucky, and probably actually a better coach than his record would suggest.

  • Yahmule

    Pretty good article on Schottenheimer, albeit with a major error right off the top. Marty isn’t sixth in career wins, he’s eighth. Stuart somehow excluded Chuck Noll and George Halas from the rankings. Marty was a great guy for turning around a program, but his post season troubles do damage his overall legacy. As Stuart pointed out, some of this was atrocious luck – Lin Elliott, Marlon McCree – but some of the wounds were self inflicted. I’ll always be grateful to Marty for starting a rusty Elvis Grbac against the Broncos in the playoffs in 1997 over Rich Gannon. Not to mention sending doughy Louie Aguiar on that fake punt.

    Obviously, Marty got railroaded when AJ ran him out of San Diego, but Marty’s nepotism played a role in that, too. Brian Schottenheimer is every bit as qualified to be an NFL offensive coordinator as Kyle Shananan and for all the same reasons. Check out the performances of the offenses he’s helmed for proof. The Sanchez Jets, the punchless Rams, he keeps getting jobs. Marty’s ideal scenario was to be a head coach with Brian running the offense and his brother Kurt in charge of the defense. His constant agitation to make that happen was at the root of the power struggle he eventually lost to Smith.

    • Yahmule

      My bad on the wins. Misread the list on PFR.

      Marty is still trying to get back to the NFL. He interviewed in Tampa before they hired Mr Personality. He’s 70 now, so his odds decrease every year he’s away.

  • mrh

    Marty is 3rd all-time in wins by non-owner/coaches.

    His 8-8 season in Washington (with 8 wins by Tony Banks) may have been his best coaching job. It is the only non-losing record for a coach hired by Dan Snyder.

  • Great post, Chase. Marty’s probably the embodiment of the old “Wyatt Earp” effect — play enough NFL seasons with enough coaches, and some poor coach is going to go 5-13 in the playoffs from pure chance alone. Then that guy gets slammed in the media because he’s the outlier. But every dataset has an outlier.

  • Richie

    I assume he’s also the only coach to get fired after a 14-2 season. (And setting a franchise record in the process.)

  • James

    As people often forget, once you get enough HOF coaches at least one of them should be bad in the playoffs simply due to luck!

  • Eric

    Though clearly not a Hall of Fame coach (or announcer), I wonder how Brian Billick’s graph would look.

    • Chase Stuart
      qb		rk	wins
      BollKy00	1	20
      McNaSt00	2	15
      DilfTr00	3	11
      BankTo00	4	11
      GrbaEl00	5	9
      WrigAn00	6	7
      BlakJe00	7	4
      RedmCh00	8	3
      CaseSt00	9	2
      CunnRa00	10	2
      SmitTr02	11	1
      • Robin

        Somewhere I like to think that Steve McNair is smiling at being abbreviated as “McNast”. RIP

  • Tim

    Agree on the overall idea that Marty’s rep is hurt by some bad luck more than an inherent postseason inability (althoug the conservative tendency is a legit gripe). However, on the QB issue, I think I’m either missing the intent of the post, or I don’t totally agree.

    Yes, Schotty had success with a lot of different QBs. That’s fair. But if the point is that he succeeded in spite of a lack of QB talent, as this sentence seems to imply: ” He wasn’t as successful as Landry or Brown or Belichick, but he didn’t have Roger Staubach or Otto Graham or Tom Brady, either.”…well, I don’t really agree with that.

    Look at that QB list. While not every one of those guys was in his prime when Marty coached him, he has at least 5 Pro Bowl caliber QBs…early career Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, late career Joe Montana, prime Bernie Kosar, and Rich Gannon, and he has most of them for multiple good years. Some, like Brees and Gannon, went on to enjoy much greater success when they parted ways with Marty.

    While there are some interesting discussions to be had about whether Marty’s postseason failures should define him, I don’t think lack of QB talent is near the top of the list in terms of the mitigating factors. Other coaches (Parcells, for instance, of those you mention) have succeeded in the postseason with less talent at the quarterback position.

    • Good point, it’s not like those were terrible QB’s, they just weren’t top 5 QB’s, but coaches have won with worse.

      • Chase Stuart

        Well, Marty won with those quarterbacks, too. The focus is always on the postseason, of course, but 10 of his losses were to HOF quarterbacks. The other 3:

        — against the Jets with Pennington (Schottenheimer deserves blame for getting overly conservative at the end of this one)
        — the Lin Elliott game, in what was one of the coldest games in NFL history; and
        — this ugly shutout against the Chargers: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/199301020sdg.htm

        But let’s not forget that Bill Belichick lost a home playoff game against Mark Sanchez or that Bill Walsh lost a home playoff game as an 11-point favorite to Wade Wilson. Schottenheimer is hardly the first coach to have some bad playoff losses. The issue, of course, is that they aren’t countered by too many wins. I think it’s reasonable to give him a pass on most of those, and I also think it’s reasonable to be impressed by his ability to win with many different quarterbacks, something few (no?) other coaches have done.

        • Tim

          Don’t disagree, it just depends on what point you’re trying to make. Is it impressive that, over the course of his career, Marty was able to win with a wide range of QBs? Yes, and it speaks to some non-QB stuff in his approach that was very strong (probably defense). So that is one point, and a legitimate one.

          A second and separate point is that Marty had less postseason success than most coaches with his tenure and regular season winning pedigree. On that point, to me, the QB thing is not useful as an explaining factor, because he did have QB talent at various points in his career– QB talent should not have limited his postseason ceiling.

          I think the title of the post may be causing my lack of alignment. When we say “QB struggles,” we paint a picture of Marty having to succeed in spite of his QBs, and I don’t think that’s the story that this data tells.

  • Mike

    Marty was great! He was a god in Kansas City in the 1990’s. However, he DID have an all-pro QB in KC… Rich Gannon! Unfortunately, Marty chose to tie his fortunes to Elvis Grbac instead. It has to be his biggest mistake ever.

    • John

      Gannon did come in for Steve Bono in that 1995 playoff loss to the Colts, and almost hit Lake Dawson for a TD before Lin Elliott missed another FG. I wonder what would have happened if Bono was hurt bad, Dawson catches the pass, and Gannon leads the Chiefs to the SB the next week (or to a win. The 95 Chiefs weren’t great, but that was Dallas’s weakest team).