ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
Vince Lombardi took over a downtrodden Green Bay Packers team in 1959 and turned it into professional football's most dominant organization of the 1960s.
Lombardi, a tireless worker with exacting standards, led Green Bay to five championships in nine seasons as head coach. His Packers won the first two Super Bowls, and the trophy given to the league champion now bears his name. In his 15 seasons as an NFL assistant and head coach, his teams never had a losing season.
Lombardi was born in Brooklyn and played college football at Fordham University, at which he was a member of the offensive line known as "The Seven Blocks of Granite." After a stint coaching high school football and working as an assistant at Fordham, Lombardi joined the staff of legendary Red Blaik at Army in 1949.
His next move was to the New York Giants, for whom he was offensive backfield coach (while Tom Landry was defensive coordinator) for five seasons (1954-58) under Jim Lee Howell. The 1956 Giants won the NFL championship, a taste of things to come for Lombardi.
The Packers hadn't finished above .500 since 1947 -- while team founder Curly Lambeau was still roaming the sidelines -- when they hired Lombardi as head coach and general manager on Jan. 28, 1959. Lombardi was offered the job only after Iowa coach Forrest Evashevski turned it down.
The team went 7-5 in his first season for its highest win total since 1944. Green Bay played in the NFL Championship Game in Lombardi's second season and won it all in 1961 and '62. In 1965, the Packers started a run of three consecutive championships to bring Lombardi's total to five.
The Packers dominated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 to cap off the 1966 season in the first matchup between the champions of the NFL and AFL. A year later, it was another Green Bay Super Bowl blowout, 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders.
Lombardi retired from coaching the Packers after Super Bowl II but retained his general manager duties in 1968. He returned to the sideline in 1969 as coach of the Washington Redskins, who lured him with an ownership stake. That season, Lombardi led the Redskins to their first winning record in 15 years.
Lombardi died of cancer on Sept. 3, 1970, at age 57, just a few months after learning he was ill. When Lombardi died, only Guy Chamberlin, who coached in the 1920s, had a higher career winning percentage (John Madden would later pass Lombardi in that category). Lombardi still holds the highest playoff winning percentage of all time (.900). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a year after his death.
-- Shawna Seed
LOMBARDI THROUGH THE EYES OF A PLAYER: BART STARR
For the folks who weren't in the meeting rooms and on the practice field, I would tell you the story of how Coach Lombardi approached us when he first came to Green Bay. I had already been there for three seasons, and we had not had much success.
Well, in our first session, he was so strong and dynamic and powerful; when we took our first break after 30 minutes or so, I ran down the hall and into one of the offices and called my wife back here in Alabama. I said, "Honey, we're going to start winning." I mean, it was that obvious.
His charisma, his manner was very, very impressive. One of the first things he said was, "We're going to RELENTLESSLY pursue perfection -- even though we know full well that we won't catch it, because nothing is perfect." Put the "relentlessly" in capital letters because that's how he said it.
There was just a magnetism in that session that was overwhelming. He was a tough and demanding individual and, because I came from a military family, I was loving that. We were so well prepared in how we approached everything that, when it came down to the game, it was going to work -- or you got down to time where it needed to work.
At the same time, he was very fair and objective. One time in my first or second year, he just chewed my butt out in a big group meeting. I had made some errors, some small things, but he really got into me. Later that day, I asked permission to see him. I said to him, "I know I made some mistakes, but the next time I do that, I would ask you respectfully to do it in the privacy of this office. I have to lead these men, and I can't do it to the full extent if you're undermining me in front of them."
Well, he looked at me and he apologized and said, "It will never happen again." And, nope, it never did.
-- Former Packers quarterback and Hall of Famer Bart Starr, as told to Greg Garber
ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.