Whether you think he is the greatest coach to never win a Super Bowl or not, Marv Levy has packed a ton of life experience into his 85 year-old frame, not all of it football related.
Born in Canada, raised in Chicago, Levy joined the Air Force in 1943 and fought in World War II. After the war he got a degree in English and then got his master’s degree from Harvard in English history. From 1951 to 1968 Levy coached at various high schools and colleges before getting hired by legendary coach George Allen as a special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.
He coached special teams for the Rams and Redskins over the next three years before getting hired as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, a team he coached to three Grey Cup’s in five seasons, winning the CFL’s ultimate prize two times and coach of the year once.
Levy’s coaching odyssey continued from there, getting his first NFL head coaching job, leading the Chiefs for five seasons, improving a 4-12 team to 9-7 before getting fired. Levy then actually coached the Chicago Blitz of the USFL for one season prior to getting the job he would become known for, as coach of the Buffalo Bills. Before his arrival the franchise had struggled through back to back 2 and 14 campaigns (ouch!), so his 4-12 record in year one equaled their win total over the first two seasons.
From there, Levy and the Bills took off winning coach of the year honors in 1988 and at least nine games in nine of the next 11 years, 10+ in seven of those years and won seven AFC East titles. The key to Levy’s success was the “No-Huddle Offense” he installed in Buffalo, executed perfectly by Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly.
Famously, the Bills won four straight AFC titles (1990-93), an amazing accomplishment that has never been duplicated in the modern NFL, only to lose all four Super Bowls. For a ten year period under Levy’s watch from 1988 to 1997, the Bills were first in the AFC in winning percentage, second in the NFL to the 49ers. His 141 victories is 18th most in NFL history.
For all he accomplished as a coach in every conceivable professional arena, Levy will always be remembered and minimized as the coach who made it to four Super Bowls without winning one. Not that it bothers him.
When a report asked Levy prior to the Bills fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance if the game was a “must win”, Levy famously replied, “This is not a must-win; World War II was a must-win.”