With Super Bowl LVII just days away, it’s time to focus on coach/quarterback combinations. In this year’s game, the coach/QB combos are secondary to the major storylines but will play a huge role in the outcome. Here we decided to look at some of the better coach/QB tandems we’ve seen over the years who, despite their success together, could never win the big one. So, let’s rank the top 10 NFL head coach/QB duos to never win a Super Bowl.
The 1998 season was historical for the Vikings, who finished 15-1 while setting all kinds of offensive records in the process. This was the Randy Moss rookie breakout year in which Denny Green and Randall Cunningham reaped the rewards. Heading into the postseason, everyone had Minnesota penciled into the Super Bowl until they ran into the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game.
Their run was short-lived but the best the Raiders had seen since the Super Bowl-winning days of the 70s and early 80s. Gruden and Gannon would’ve led Oakland to three consecutive AFC championship game appearances were it not for the tuck rule that jump-started New England’s dynasty during the 2001-02 postseason. When Gruden was traded that offseason, he left behind a Super Bowl-ready team which he met in the Super Bowl one year later with his new squad Tampa Bay.
This combo of coach and QB stands out because they were the first in the franchise’s history. Coughlin and Brunell ran the show in Jacksonville from the organization’s inception in ‘95 through the ‘02 campaign. In their first five years of existence, the Jags made the playoffs four times and competed in two AFC title games. Expansion teams in the modern-day NFL aren’t normally successful that fast.
The San Diego Super Chargers were powered by the “Air Coryell” offense in the 80s and were known for their innovative way of playing football in an era that still relied heavily on the running game. While Don Coryell and Dan Fouts never achieved superstardom on the NFL’s biggest stage, they are remembered fondly for their fun offense and Coryell’s willingness to stand out from the crowd.
Despite being a short-lived pairing, Schottenheimer and Montana did manage to make it to the AFC Championship game in Joe Cool’s first year in Kansas City in 1993.
The Chiefs got boat raced by the Buffalo Bills in that game, 30-13, and Montana, by then in his late 30s with four rings, played just one more year in KC before leaving the game.
Schottenheimer would coach the Chiefs until 1998.
The only other team besides Buffalo to lose all four Super Bowl appearances is the Minnesota Vikings. For three of those big games during the 70s, Bud Grant and Fran Tarkenton led the Vikings’ charge and couldn’t come away with one ring. Making three Super Bowls in four years is quite a feat, but it would’ve been nice to cash in one of those opportunities for a Lombardi Trophy.
Whenever you see a Hall of Fame coach paired with a QB of the same caliber, we almost expect that they were able to win at least one ring, especially if they are together for a considerable amount of time. After making it to the Super Bowl in Dan Marino’s second NFL season (‘ 84), this tandem never reached the big game again. They were together for 13 years and managed to make just three conference championship appearances.
During their 11-year partnership, Reid and McNabb made it to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl appearance. Four of those championship games came consecutively from’ 2001-04. They were one of the more successful head coach/QB duos of their era and likely second to only Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, who won three Lombardis during the 2000s.
The Broncos might have been the team of the decade in the AFC, making it to more Super Bowls (three) than any other team in the conference. It’s too bad the NFC dominated that era, winning eight out of 10 that decade. Reeves and Elway were on the receiving end of three Super Bowl butt-kickings in the 80s, losing each game by double digits. Those Broncos teams were outstanding but continuously failed to win the big one. Elway didn’t do it with Reeves but finally got over the hump at the end of his career with Mike Shanahan running the show.
Sorry Bills fans, I promise we’re not piling on. In the early 90s, Buffalo played in four straight Super Bowls. No other franchise in NFL history can make that claim. Unfortunately, the Bills also lost every one of those games. The only other franchise to make it to four and fail each time is the Minnesota Vikings. The Bills, under Marv Levy with Jim Kelly at QB, were such a prolific offense, and in today’s NFL, they probably would’ve won at least one based on their style of play.