Looking Back at a Super Bowl Coach
In January 1999, George Seifert took command as the second head coach in Carolina Panthers history. Seifert came to Carolina in an attempt to be the man to take the Panthers one step further than their original coach, Dom Capers, could – the Super Bowl.
Seifert seemed like the best man for the job – carrying a 77% winning percentage and two Super Bowl rings. Seifert actually had a higher winning percentage than Vince Lombardi, the man whose name is on the trophy. Seifert had held the trophy as a champion five times. He couldn’t fail… could he?
George Seifert was, like many coaches of that era, a former player and, like John Madden, an offensive lineman. Seifert also played linebacker but after college returned to Utah to learn coaching as a graduate assistant. Westminster College took a chance on the 24-year-old and hired him to be their head coach. After lasting one season Seifert left for Iowa for Oregon. He then moved to Stanford as a secondary coach. Seifert, under Jack Christiansen, turned the Cardinal secondary one of the better secondaries in 1-A. He then was hired to be head coach at Cornell – but once again after one year Seifert left to join new coach Bill Walsh back at Stanford. Two years later Walsh left for the NFL and the Niners – a year after that, Seifert left to join him.
Despite the Niners’ defense dropping from second to twenty-third, Walsh seemed to think he had found his man as a defensive coach. Walsh dumped Chuck Studley, who favored attacking the run, and promoted Seifert in 1983 to defensive coordinator, primarily on the strength of his secondary starring Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright. Seifert was a monster of a defensive coach – finishing fourth, first, second, third and eighth in points allowed. With Walsh guiding Montana, Rice and Roger Craig to dizzying heights as an offensive unit. The offense never finished lower than seventh in the NFL in points scored after Walsh turned the QB sport over to Montana.
Three rings later and Bill Walsh was gone. He turned the team over to his trusty defensive coach. Seifert, who was known as a no-nonsense tough guy coach, didn’t seem like he would mesh well with Niners’ owner Ed DeBartolo. But Seifert had grown up in the Bay area and had been turned down for jobs in both Green Bay and with the Colts.
Seifert proved to be the right coach as he made very few changes to the team and repeated as Super Bowl champs. San Francisco seemed ready to threepeat but Roger Craig fumbled in the NFC championship game and the Giants went on to get Bill Parcells his second ring…
But a bit more long-term damage was done in that game, as Montana went down with both a concussion and a broken hand. Steve Young came into the game and lead them to a seeming game-winning drive… until the fumble.
Steve Young started the next year with Montana on the shelf and put up good numbers, but the Niners were under .500 when Young went down and third-string quarterback Steve Bono came in to save the season. Bono lead San Francisco to a 5-1 record before Young returned for the final game, but the Niners and Seifert missed the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. The larger picture was that Seifert had found his quarterback, and with Montana still hurt Young and Seifert were both trying to replace legends.
Steve Young won the MVP the next year while Montana was still hurt. After the loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs, the Niners moved to clear up any quarterback controversy and traded Joe Cool to Kansas City. The team finally had moved on from Montana and Walsh and was now Seifert and Young.
The Niners repeated as the number one offense in the NFL for the second straight year but Seifert’s defense dropped from third to sixteenth in points allowed. San Francisco was beaten by Jimmy Johnson and the Cowboys for a second straight year in the playoffs. DeBartolo had had enough of losing in the playoffs and brought in some big free agents, including Deion Sanders, and that was enough to bring Seifert and the Forty-Niners their second post-Walsh Super Bowl title run. This ring was ALL Seifert as only seven members of the team remained that were there during Walsh’s final year.
The next year was an injury-plagued and was compounded when Mike Shanahan, who Seifert had given control over the offense, left to become coach of the Denver Broncos. Ricky Watters also left in free agency for Philadelphia, which hurt the running game. Backfield duties fell to William Floyd, who also went down with injuries. The following year was even more of the same, as the salary cap prevented San Francisco from having the depth they used to have and some bad draft picks failed to pan out. Seifert ended his Niners’ reign at the end of the 1996 season with a 108-35 record, turning the reigns over to offensive coordinator Steve Mariucci. Seifert was not looking to rebuild again and unsure of the future of Steve Young and himself in the Bay Area…
Fast forward to January 1999. The Carolina Panthers suffer a decline from a NFC West title and a berth in the NFC Championship game to a 4-12 season. Owner Jerry Richardson is looking for a new start. The team appears to be on the rise, with running back Tim Biakabutuka and wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad both coming off great sophomore years. Carolina also has a solid but aging defense featuring six former All-Pros.
Seifert handed the reins of the team to Steve Beuerlein after judging that first-ever pick Kerry Collins was not the answer under centers. Seifert starts out 2-5, but the team rallies to an 8-8 record – doubling the wins of the previous year. The offensive changes do seem to work, as the offense rises from twelfth to fourth in the NFL and the defense rises from thirtieth to twenty-sixth.
The following year Beuerlein had another strong year, but the Panthers fall to 7-9 as the defense falls back to twenty-seventh. The offense really dies off to finish twenty-first in the NFL – Biakabutuka only manages to break 600 yards. It is apparent that the Panthers’ defense is not going to improve and the offense that was constructed by Bill Polian and Dom Capers is not the answer. Seifert repeats his Montana move and hands the team over to Heisman trophy winner (and oldest rookie in the NFL) Chris Weinke.
The year starts off great as Weinke beats the Vikings – then the team misses a week for September 11. The wheels come off the Panthers on both sides of the ball. Chris Weinke is unable to recapture the magic and Seifert’s defense is just shredded by team after team. Even when the defense plays well they always seem to allow a bad drive and lose in the final minute. Seifert is fired the day after the season ends, as Jerry Richardson decides that Seifert is not going to be able to rebuild a team completely from a twenty-ninth-ranked offense and twenty-eighth-ranked defense.
Seifert does not get the credit he deserves as a Niners coach and is unfairly trashed as a Panthers coach; he lost more games in three years with Carolina than he did in eight years as San Francisco’s coach. But Seifert was at his best when, like Buddy Ryan, he was left with the defense to build and make it excel. Unlike Ryan he was smart enough to recognize talent on the offensive side of the ball in both coaches and players, and exhibited a willingness to try to win with new players instead of trying to coax one more year from the greats. Had either the Niners or the Panthers been able to draft well enough to give him the talent needed he might have given San Francisco that third post-Walsh ring or even gotten Carolina that one final step to a Super Bowl.
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