If the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s proposal for an expanded Centennial Class for 2020 is approved, three contributors and two coaches will be inducted next summer.
We don’t know how they’ll be chosen, when they’ll be chosen or who will do the choosing. But we do know who the frontrunners should be.
So let’s get started.
Former New York Giants’ GM George Young is the first off the shelf of the three contributors. He’s been oh-so-close to crossing the finish line the past two years, and, frankly, should’ve been in by now.
Young did for the Giants what former Green Bay GM Ron Wolf did for the Packers – return stability, credibility and success to a storied franchise. He also hired Bill Parcells, and the last time I checked Parcells and Wolf were in the Hall of Fame.
All I know is that Young brought peace to a franchise torn within its ownership, hired Parcells, groomed GM Ernie Accorsi, drafted Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms and presided over the resurrection of a club that had gone 17 consecutive years without making the playoffs – including 15 where they failed to reach .500.
“He’s one of the best GMs in the history of the league,” Accorsi once told Hall-of-Fame voter Bob Glauber of Newsday.
Art McNally, the former head of the NFL's officiating department, should be another choice for 2020. McNally dedicated his life to officiating, starting as a field judge and referee before becoming the league’s director of officiating for 22 years and, later, its assistant supervisor of officiating. But that’s not all. He’s considered the “father of instant replay,” introducing it as an officiating tool in 1986 – or three decades before major-league baseball came around to the idea.
“Art laid the groundwork for everything that we do today,” said Dean Blandino, the league’s former senior vice president of officiating. “He’s the biggest contributor to officiating over the last 50 years.”
The third spot is a bit murkier, with Bucko Kilroy, Robert Kraft, Steve Sabol, Bill Nunn and Paul Tagliabue competing for the spot. All were finalists a year ago, with Tagliabue a three-time finalist (2007-09) as a modern-era candidate.
So he should be the favorite. In fact, virtually every consultant that sat with the contributors’ committee in its five years of existence has made him one of its top two choices.
But the Hall’s 48 selectors are deeply divided on his candidacy, mostly because of how voters believe concussions were treated – or weren’t treated – during his tenure as NFL commissioner. More than anything, that dealt Tagliabue’s candidacy a fatal blow when he was a contributor candidate in 2017 (he's the only contributor candidate to be voted down)… and there’s no reason to believe that changes three years later.
Next up might be Kraft, mostly because of the success of his New England Patriots but partly because of his influence within the league – with his role during the 2011 labor talks an example. But there’s a hitch there, too, and it has to do with timing. Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution in February, and, granted, off-the-field events aren’t supposed to influence voters. In fact, according to the Hall’s by-laws, they can’t be considered.
Of course, critics will charge that "Spygate" and "Deflategate" happened on his watch, and they’re right. But Pat Bowlen, Eddie DeBartolo and Jerry Jones each had salary-cap evasions on their resumes, and they didn’t pose obstacles to their Hall-of-Fame candidacies. All three were inducted as inducted as contributor candidates.
Nevertheless, it just feels as if it’s too premature to move on Kraft.
So that leaves Kilroy, Nunn and Sabol, and I'd make Kilroy the slight favorite. As an NFL lineman, he missed only one of 203 games during his career, was part of two championship s (1948-49) with the Philadelphia Eagles and was so accomplished he was named to the 1940’s NFL all-decade team.
As an NFL executive, Kilroy was instrumental in drafting Roger Staubach to Dallas, was credited as the founder of the modern-day NFL draft and, during a 36-year tenure with the New England Patriots where he was scouting director, GM, vice president and scouting consultant, drafted luminaries like Hall-of-Famers John Hannah and Mike Haynes, Steve Grogan, Stanley Morgan, Russ Francis, Sam Cunningham, Raymond Clayborn and Steve Nelson to turn the once bumbling Patriots into a playoff team by the late 1970s and a Super Bowl team in 1985.
“The godfather of modern scouting,” one former GM said.
Nunn was a former Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter whom the Steelers hired as a scout and who mined the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) for many of the African-American stars who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s. There was Mel Blount and John Stallworth, both Hall-of-Famers. There was Donnie Shell, a Hall-of-Fame finalist. And L.C. Greenwood and Ernie Holmes.
Not one was a first-round draft pick, but all were starters and Super Bowl champions. Without Nunn, they're not there. And without them, the Steelers aren't a dynasty.
Then there’s Sabol, and his contribution to the NFL through NFL Films was enormous. Taking over Films from his father in 1976, Sabol took viewers inside the game … inside the huddle … inside the helmet … with innovative and imaginative camera work and story-telling. Ground-level cameras conveyed the violence on the field, while slow motion replays brought choreography to the sport.
Sports Illustrated once said that NFL Films was “the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America,” and, while I don’t know about that, I do know it brought millions of viewers to the sport.
Steve Sabol is Hall-of-Fame worthy. Only one problem: His father, Ed, was inducted into the Hall in 2011 for his work with NFL Films, and, while that doesn't disqualify him, it makes Sabol a long shot.
I could mention others – like former Oilers’ and Titans’ owner Bud Adams … or Green Bay scout and personnel director Jack Vainisi … or former Browns’ star and Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten. But they’re long shots, too, and I don’t believe they push the frontrunners for 2020.
As for the coaches, you have to figure Don Coryell as one of the two choices. He’s been a five-time finalist, including this year, and was a top-10 finalist in 2017. So that should make him the favorite.
But the second spot is a tougher call. Jimmy Johnson and Tom Flores are the logical candidates, mostly because each has been a finalist.
But Johnson was a finalist in 2015. Flores was a finalist this year and was the first Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl (he won two). So he has momentum.
He also was the first individual to win Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach and head coach and, as a head coach, was 12-4 vs. Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh. All are in the Hall of Fame. He was also 11-5 vs. Coryell.
If there’s a dark horse here, it’s Clark Shaughnessy … and don’t ask me why he’s not in the Hall already. All the guy did was invent the modern T-formation and blitzing defenses to combat it. That alone should have put him in Canton long ago.
He, too, has been a finalist. In fact, he’s been a three-time finalist, with his last try in 1976. But that was over four decades ago, and consider that an injustice. So maybe, just maybe, the Hall rescues a candidacy that deserves to have been acknowledged long ago.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF