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Marc Sessler's 10 favorite coaches: Parcells, Schottenheimer inspired

This is not a list of the 10 best coaches in NFL history. 

It feels important to utter that before this blogger receives outraged tweets about the inclusion of Joe Walton on said list.

These are simply my favorites, with no clear criteria beyond whimsy and ancient memories.

There is one guideline, however: I'm only qualifying coaches I've watched during my brief stretch of fandom on terra firma. You'll have to go elsewhere for wayward soliloquies on Curly Lambeau, Weeb Ewbank and Greasy Neale.

Still here? Then let's press on:

Bill Parcells

New York Giants (1983–1990), New England Patriots (1993–96), New York Jets (1997–99), Dallas Cowboys (2003–06)

My colleague Gregg Rosenthal is fond of this old Parcells chestnut: "Don't tell me about the pain, just show me the baby." 

It goes beyond Parcells' two Super Bowl wins with the New York Giants. The Big Tuna was a full-blown experience, needling star players, lighting psychological fires under the talented-but-apathetic and delivering weekly masterclass sessions on how to tangle with the media. The larger-than-life Parcells made football more engaging, joyful and of critical import, all at once.

I had the chance to call Parcells for a story on Vikings coach Mike Zimmer a few years ago. I was told beforehand not to loiter verbally, as Bill was a busy man. Dialing his number, I was hardcore star-struck when he picked up. I explained who I was, voice probably cracking, and heard back: "You got one question, kid. Fire away." 

I was 42 at the time, but "kid" rang true as I attempted to offer a complete sentence while pondering the hundreds of Sundays I spent watching Parcells roam the sideline as a figure grander than our sun.

Marty Schottenheimer

Cleveland Browns (1984–88), Kansas City Chiefs (1989–1998), Washington Redskins (2001), San Diego Chargers (2002–06)

My favorite coaches speak from the heart and point to something noble. I don't cozy up to emotionless technocrats, but instead to those who made me want to punch a hole through my childhood bedroom wall when they spoke about the task at hand.

Schottenheimer was that man to the core, flipping a switch within me when I first heard him tell a flock of Browns players in the eerie silence before kickoff: "There's a gleam, men. There's a gleam. Let's get the gleam.

My middle school mind was unsure of what the statement meant, but it seemed to indicate something precious and unchanging from a better time. As a young Browns fan, my loyalty to Schottenheimer doubled and tripled with every season -- through excruciating playoff defeats, too -- until he suddenly resigned following the 1988 campaign.

There's a lingering sadness around Schottenheimer never reaching the Super Bowl during otherwise successful runs in Cleveland (44-27), Kansas City (101-58-1) and San Diego (47-33). Canton remains elusive sans a title, but Schottenheimer makes my Hall of Fame for the coach he was -- and for the heartfelt drumbeat he brought to the role.

Jerry Glanville

Houston Oilers (1985–89), Atlanta Falcons (1990–93)

I failed to appreciate Glanville when his Oilers were making life impossible for the Browns in the late 1980s. While others delighted in the quirky coach leaving tickets for Elvis at the Astrodome, I only saw a Houston team that inflicted ultra-punishment in the old AFC Central.

My annoyance peaked in '88, when the pesky Oilers clipped the Browns in the AFC wild-card on Christmas Eve. Glanville's squad -- with its Warren Moon-led offense and nasty defense -- won ugly, but ugly was enough. My lasting memory of that wild-card disaster was my dad slicing up the Christmas turkey in our Connecticut kitchen with a noisy electric carving knife while the game's conclusion played out on NBC. Every time he flipped on the knife, the booming appliance would inexplicably send waves of static over the living room television. My mood grew increasingly sour as my extended family -- scattered around the room talking about school plays, miles per gallon and mortgage rates -- must have wondered about the muted psycho kneeling on the carpet with eyes trained on the fuzzy televised horror show unfolding in distant Ohio.

Glanville was easier to enjoy in Atlanta, where he brought his signature flair to a Falcons team that shook off years of ghastly football to emerge as a playoff entrant in 1991. That club went 6-0 against teams from California, prompting Glanville's wildest stunt yet: In October of '92, before a game with the high-flying Niners, the Falcons coach forced team officials to wheel "an outlandish, five-foot trophy to [Atlanta's] bench at Candlestick ... It was a three-tiered, wood and gold trophy, with figures of birds, football players and an angel."

The trophy's inscription -- "NFL California State Champions 1991" -- failed to stir the desired effect, with San Francisco scattering the Falcons 56-17.

Sam Wyche

Cincinnati Bengals (1984–1991), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1992–95)

Viewers of a certain age know exactly where they were when NBC cameras zeroed in on Bengals coach Sam Wyche scolding his own fans for flinging snowballs onto the field at Riverfront Stadium in a December '89 tilt against the Seahawks.

"Will the next person that sees anybody throw anything onto this field, point 'em out and get 'em outta here. You don't live in Cleveland! You live in Cincinnati!" 

His verbal dagger did the trick, but here's who Wyche was beneath it all: The following March, in blustery Cleveland, Wyche partnered with Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar to raise funds for the Salvation Army by sticking Wyche in a dunking booth. Kosar picked up a football and nailed his target on the first toss, dropping the Bengals coach into a frigid pool of agua. A man of justice, Wyche used each of his coaching stops as a mission to help the forgotten in his community. He passed away in January at 74.

Bill Walsh

San Francisco 49ers (1979–1988)

My earliest memories of Walsh came with San Francisco's 38-16 rout of Dan Marino and the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. Much of the game escapes me, but cameras zeroed in with increasing frequency on the white-haired coach rocking the GENIUS label.

"What made Walsh intriguing was his personality, which had nothing to do with his coaching. He was a fascinating character, a master of surprise," wrote longtime scribe Ira Miller. "During most of his career with the 49ers, I covered the team on a daily basis. I played golf with Walsh, ate meals with him, drank wine with him. But did I really get to know him? I'm not sure anyone did."

I recall Walsh's pained expression in the final moments of a shocking playoff loss to the Vikings in January '88. The Niners finished that strike-interrupted regular season as the NFC's clear-cut heavy, but they looked feeble as wideout Anthony Carter ripped through San Francisco's secondary for 227 yards off 10 grabs to elevate a Vikings team that squeaked into the playoffs at 8-7.

Walsh spent the following season in "a claustrophobic panic," and "wept alone, head in his hands" after a less-than-pristine Niners club -- they finished 10-6 -- won the Super Bowl. He retired soon after and regretted the decision almost immediately. 

"He always coached through existential torture, with alternating bouts of believing that he was brilliant and that he was incapable of fulfilling his own idea of greatness," wrote ESPN's Seth Wickersham.

Later hobbies failed to satisfy, with Walsh saying of his clipped adventure in sports broadcasting: "I'm not going to sit for three hours and let some 27-year-old f--- in my ear tell me about the game."

A complex, layered and mysterious man, Walsh can be rediscovered today through one of the richest football tomes ever published in Finding the Winning Edge, which Belichick once labeled as football "literature."

I'd also recommend Walsh's Building a Champion as a subsequent look into the soul of this gridiron original.

Dennis Green

Minnesota Vikings (1992–2001), Arizona Cardinals (2004–06).

Green is happily remembered for one of the juiciest outbursts in football lore, howling at a room of Cardinals beat writers after a loss to Chicago in 2006: "The Bears are who we thought they were! ... If you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were. And we let them off the hook." Green should be recalled for much more, though, winning 113 games over 13 seasons and overseeing one of the NFL's friskiest squads in the '98 Vikings. What he accomplished should have ushered in new waves of black head coaches, but that unjust aspect of the sport remains unsolved.

Joe Walton

New York Jets (1983–89).

Good luck getting the average Jets fan to sign off on this one. With two winning seasons over seven years in New York, Walton served as a media whipping boy. I felt for the man in green standing stone-faced on the sideline as chants of "JOE! MUST! GO!" rained down at the Meadowlands. Walton couldn't hide the pain. "I was told I did not have a good enough personality, that I wasn't glib enough. I never kissed anybody's butt; I went my own way," he said in 1990. "Maybe I was too honest with my players. Told 'em what I felt when I felt it. Some of 'em didn't like it."

Marv Levy

Kansas City Chiefs (1978–1982), Buffalo Bills (1986–1997).

One part play-caller and two parts poet. The four consecutive Super Bowl losses with the Bills took their toll, but Levy looms as one of the kindest NFL personalities I've been lucky enough to encounter. Armed with a master's degree in English history from Harvard, Levy used language to inspire and instruct his players. After Buffalo lost in crushing fashion to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV, Levy read aloud to his downtrodden charges the words of an anonymous European writer from the 14th century:

"Fight on, my men," Sir Andrew said

"A little I'm hurt but not yet slain.

"I'll just lie down and bleed a while,

"And then I'll rise and Fight again."

Jimmy Johnson

Dallas Cowboys (1989–1993), Miami Dolphins (1996–99).

Johnson only coached the Cowboys for five seasons, but Jerry Jones has spent every second since trying to recapture the magic. Plenty of college coaches tried and failed in the NFL. Doubts existed whether Johnson, who was head coach at Oklahoma State and Miami previously, would fit in -- and he didn't even try, instead carving out a path never before tread. A month into his first pro season in 1989, Johnson pulled off the Herschel Walker deal, shipping his only superstar to Minnesota for four players, three first-round picks, a trio of second-rounders, a third-rounder and a sixth-rounder. Then Johnson and his pristinely manicured coif hit on a flurry of those picks to hasten construction of a dynasty in Dallas. His teams were an unwavering soap opera, but also tough, creative and often unbeatable.

Bill Belichick

Cleveland Browns (1991–95), New York Jets (for one day in 2000), New England Patriots (2000–present).

The press conference mumbles and grunts suggest a man who wants zero to do with his public, but there's always been another side to Belichick. I found that out firsthand when he coached the Browns and answered a series of fawning letters from a lost college student in the '90s. And speaking of school, while most were attempting to smuggle kegs and coeds into their dorm room, Young Belichick was off sneaking into Boston College practices to conduct covert "scouting" sessions with lifelong friend and Patriots mystery man Ernie Adams. A special brand of rebellion from a coach's son who knew from the earliest days what he wanted to become.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSessler.

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