Cantonmetrics: 2024 Senior/Coach/Contributor (Semi)finalists

Offseason Snapshot | All-Snub Team

This month the Pro Football Hall of Fame began the process of naming its class of 2024. The Senior Committee, tasked with choosing players who last played over 25 years ago, and the Coach/Contributor Committee, tasked with choosing persons who made their mark on football in capacities other than as a player (with coaches required to be retired at least five years), each named lists of at least 25 semifinalists, and this Thursday they further narrowed the field to 12… semifinalists (more on that in a bit). Next month the Senior Committee will choose three finalists while the Coach/Contributor committee will name one, which will move directly to the final stage of consideration in January where the full selection committee will vote up-or-down to induct each candidate into the Hall of Fame. As such most of these candidates won’t be inducted this year and some may never be inducted at all, but we can still see who the Hall of Fame voters consider most worthy among the candidates in each category, who might be likely to be chosen by the committees in future years, and look at the relevant honors and argue over who should be inducted. 

Candidates are generally sorted according to their performance on last year’s ballot, with those candidates that have advanced the furthest listed above those that haven’t advanced as far. Generally, the order in which candidates are listed will only change to arrange players based on the stage reached in the most recent year. Candidates in their first year in the senior pool are listed below the equivalent senior selection stage of whatever stage they reached in their last year in the modern-era pool, as a) they have more competition now and b) candidates tend to advance significantly further in their last year or two on the ballot as they did in the 18-19 years prior. Coaches in their first year of eligibility are placed between those candidates that reached the final 12 last year and those that only made the final 25.

Senior candidates

This list is formatted the same as the lists of modern-era players; to the right of the stage each player reached last year are the various stats and honors that go into the Hall of Fame Monitor, along with the Monitor itself, which is color-coded with the background moving from red to green as the number climbs from 40 to 80. To the left of the Monitor are those awards that apply regardless of position: All-Decade team membership, MVPs (but not Defensive Player of the Year awards even though PFR treats them as equivalent to MVPs), first-team All-Pro selections, and Pro Bowl selections. There are two different columns for All-Pro team selections, with the one on the right counting only the most commonly cited selections by the Associated Press, while the one on the left counts each year a player was selected All-Pro by any of the organizations recognized by the NFL’s official record books. Currently those are the AP, the Pro Football Writers Association, and the Sporting News, but other lists from organizations such as the Newspaper Enterprise Association and UPI have been included in the past, and in fact an asterisk in the AP All-Pro column means it incorporates UPI All-Pro selections from before the AP named All-Pro teams that PFR considers equivalent to AP All-Pro selections. (Note that I’ve left the “All” column blank for most players that played a significant amount of time in the AFL, as it’s not quite clear which lists I should count there.) Even though PFR’s own Approximate Value calculation can make up close to half of each player’s Monitor number, I haven’t listed it here. Statistical categories specific to particular positions are not listed here. The “Semifinalists Not Advancing” section lists those players that made the list of 25 but not the list of 12, and below that is the player that made the list of 25 last year but not this year.

So first things first, let’s talk about terminology. Last year the list of twelve candidates named at the end of July were called senior or coach/contributor finalists. I’m guessing the change in terminology to “semifinalist” was intended to avoid confusion with the candidates the committees ultimately decide to send to the final stage of consideration, who are officially considered finalists in the overall process of choosing candidates for induction, but it creates a new, more concrete form of terminology confusion, since the list of 25 candidates were also called semifinalists. The Hall’s press releases on each are carefully worded to avoid calling too much attention to the repeated use of the term, and you could argue that narrowing the list of semifinalists to a smaller list of semifinalists makes sense, especially considering the cutdown stages that will come into play later, but I fully expect the terminology to change again next year, even though I didn’t really see anyone other than me call it out.

Now then, I’m not going to attempt to predict who I think the Senior Committee is going to forward for induction, as its thinking can change a lot more from year to year than the full selection committee. Before the Hall started to pull back the curtain more on the selection process, the Senior Committee seemed to focus more on choosing candidates they thought were deserving of induction, but not necessarily the most deserving – especially since senior finalists weren’t necessarily guaranteed to reach the necessary threshold for induction from the full panel and you didn’t want to waste their time by re-nominating a player they’d just rejected. Also, whether or not a player might be at death’s door or has recently died can weigh on the Senior Committee’s thinking, but is normally less of a factor for modern-era players. (As such, I may add birth and death years to this chart next year.)

In the chart above, note that Bob Kuechenberg reached the last stage of deliberation before forwarding candidates to the full panel last year, but didn’t make the final 12 this year; conversely, three players who weren’t even among the 25 semifinalists last year made the final 12 this year. Note, too, the significant number of All-Senior Candidate team members that didn’t even make the final 25 last year, none of whom made it this year either; obviously the committee has no obligation and no reason to accept PFR’s Monitor as the end-all and be-all (and the worst such omissions played primarily in the 60s if not actually in the AFL, likely the trickiest period to assess, especially when it comes to postseason honors), but it still illustrates how there’s a lot more room for variation and unpredictability here. You’d think Randy Gradishar and Sterling Sharpe would be favored for advancement given their making the last cut last year, but there’s no guarantee they even make it that far this year, as Kuechenberg can attest. (Similarly, Ken Anderson being a member of the All-Snub Team means less than nothing in terms of how likely he is to make it to the final six, let alone the full panel, despite being in the final 12 last year.)

Also worth noting: in the past, since the advent of the semifinalist stage in modern-era balloting, the soonest a player has been forwarded to the full panel after having their modern-era eligibility run out was Ray Guy, inducted in his third year after having his modern-era eligibility expire. Last year the most recently-retired player to make the final 25 senior candidates was Clay Matthews II, in his second year after aging out of the modern-era pool. Based on that I wondered if players had to take one year “off” before the senior pool could consider them. But two players who were in the modern era pool just last year made the final 25 this year, with one of them making the final 12. Steve Tasker is the only player in his second year in the senior pool to make this year’s final 25, and he only made the semifinalists nine times in his modern-era eligibility with his 2020 semifinalist listing in his third-to-last year on the ballot being his first time getting that far in seven years, so it’s probably more like that the committee just didn’t see any first-year senior candidate players as worthy of naming to the final 25 last year. I kinda doubt that the committee will send Albert Lewis to the full panel, effectively bailing him out of aging out of the modern era pool; while he did make the last stage of consideration before naming the final five players to get up-or-down votes last year, that was only the second time he’d so much as made the semifinalists in his entire modern-era eligibility. (Note that Matthews also reached the final ten his last year on the modern-era ballot but has yet to so much as make the final 12 in two years that’s been officially published, and he’d at least been named a semifinalist four previous times instead of one.) That being said, don’t be surprised if Joe Jacoby, who similarly got a finalist push late in his eligibility, or Roger Craig, an All-Snub Team member who had a one-year stint as a finalist midway through his eligibility, were the most likely candidates to go from not making the final 12 to at least making the final six.

Finally, I wonder if the senior and coach/contributor committees are too small – 12 members each, compared to up to 50 for the full panel – to be naming a full 25 semifinalists. The top 25 seniors list actually named 31 players, and the analogous coach/contributor list named 29, suggesting only one or two panelists likely made the difference in who did or didn’t get named.

Coach/Contributor candidates

For (head) coaches only, I’ve listed the closest analogues to the categories that matter the most for players: whether they were selected to an All-Decade Team (all inactive coaches that have been named to All-Decade Teams are already in the Hall), their win-loss record, their championships won, and any Coach of the Year awards won (though this last category doesn’t necessarily correspond with Hall of Fame-worthiness, as it tends to go to coaches who led teams that weren’t expected to do as well as they did, neglecting coaches who engage in year-to-year excellence; no coaches on the list below won both Super Bowls and Coach of the Year awards). For contributors (including assistant coaches), who can cover a very diverse range of categories, some of which can’t be clearly quantified at all, I’ve attempted to summarize their accomplishments based on the Hall of Fame’s descriptions and what I know of them. As with senior candidates, the “Semifinalists Not Advancing” category consists of anyone who made the final 25 but not the final 12; I’m not bothering to list any coaches or contributors who didn’t even make it that far, as as it stands the 1-in-25 odds for a coach or contributor named to the first list of semifinalists to make it to the full panel is, at best, on par with what a modern-era player named to the initial list of nominees can expect.

The Coach/Contributor committee is more consistent in who they name from year to year; note that the only two contributors who made the final 12 last year, but didn’t this year, didn’t make it any further last year. Tom Coughlin going from outside the list of 25 last year to being in the final 12 this year, despite not being in his first year of eligibility, is a bit eyebrow-raising, but it’s still a better mark than the senior candidates see. On the other hand, a full five candidates who made the final 25 last year aren’t on the list this year, compared to just one such senior candidate (though the senior candidate list grew more, as the coach/contributor list extended significantly beyond 25 due to ties last year as well; eight senior candidates who weren’t semifinalists or modern-era candidates last year made the final 25 this year, compared to six coaches/contributors). Still, I can say with a little more confidence that Mike Holmgren and Robert Kraft are probably the favorites to advance to the full panel this year (the average fan is far more likely to have heard of either of them than John Wooten, and I’d like to imagine that would give them the edge)…

…but that’s all I can say, because despite iteratively reducing the list of candidates down to four, as opposed to the senior committee’s six, the coach/contributor committee then picks only one candidate to advance to the full panel, meaning at most a quarter of candidates that make the last cut will get inducted, compared to half for the senior and modern-era pools. There’s always going to be three candidates that make the last cut that carry over to the next year, and at least two of them are going to carry over to the year after that. I’d likely need three years of data to say with any confidence who I think is going to be inducted, and there’s no guarantee the committee’s thinking is going to stay that unchanged from year to year, let alone across three or four years. Consider, too, how Don Coryell seemed to clearly be the coach on the clearest path to induction the last few years coaches were on the same ballot as players, only to be passed over for the two coaches’ spots in the centenary class as well as the two years following, including by two coaches (Bill Cowher and Dick Vermeil) that hadn’t so much as made the semifinalists when mixed in with the players, before being inducted last year. Add it all up, and I’m not really in any better position to predict who the coach/contributor committee will advance than who the senior committee will. If you pushed me to choose I might say Kraft, since the last coach to so much as make the semifinalists in the last few years the coaches were in the same pool as the players just got inducted, but I wouldn’t bet on it (and for all I know the committee might be leaning more towards Wooten even if they follow that train of logic).

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