Marv Levy - Head Coach - 1973-77
Levy honed his craft on Alouettes' sideline
Coach led Larks to 1974, '77 Grey Cup titles before guiding NFL's Bills to four straight Bowls - Ian MacDonald - Freelance
Marv Levy credits his CFL coaching experience as a key to his being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, three years ago. Sure, leading the Buffalo Bills to a record four straight Super Bowls (all losses) from 1991-94 while riding a shotgun offence led by quarterback Jim Kelly, running-back Thurman Thomas and wide-receiver Andre Reed was a factor in Levy's induction as a coach. But the five years he spent as head coach of the Alouettes from 1973-77 were important as well.
"Absolutely," Levy, 79, said in a telephone interview this week from the West Virginia home he and his wife Fran are in the process of selling. The couple also maintains a home in Chicago, as Levy waits for his beloved Cubs to win a World Series. Levy will be back in Montreal this evening to address a Quebec Junior Football League banquet at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Levy led the Alouettes to the Grey Cup game in 1974, '75 and '77, winning in '74 and '77. He posted a 50-34-4 record with the Als - the best of any CFL coach over that period - which helped open the head-coaching door to the NFL.
After a solid head-coaching career at the U.S. collegiate level, Levy managed to land assistant jobs in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams, before joining head coach George Allen's staff with the Washington Redskins. His responsibilities under Allen were special teams and the kicking game, and Levy became recognized as one of the best in those fields.
"I was in charge of special teams and I think I did a decent job," Levy said. "But there's that big step from being an assistant to the head man.
"Many times, someone proves they are a good co-ordinator or a specialist coach and remains assigned to those aspects of the game. They never get the head coaching chance.
"I had had success as a college head coach, but that's not always enough."
Alouettes general manager J.I. Albrecht approached Levy about leaving Washington after the 1972 NFL season and becoming a head coach in Montreal.
"I left a very fine job as an assistant with a team that had just gone to the Super Bowl with a great head coach," Levy said. "I was given the opportunity to be head coach again, this time with professionals. It proved I could be a head coach, and that's why subsequent opportunities came my way.
"I feel strongly about that. Of course, it helped that we won in Montreal, as well."
Levy refers to his time in Montreal as a "tremendously memorable five years." He also said he became a better coach during that period.
"Whatever level you are at in football, the same things win," he said. "You throw, you run, you tackle, you block.
"But coming to Canada, there were things for me to learn. There are nuances, differences in the Canadian game. So I was in the position where it was to my benefit to listen to players - especially veteran Canadians - who gave me insights on the Canadian game.
"I listened and incorporated things into our game plan. I learned that you can learn from players."
Levy left the Alouettes after the team's 41-6 rout of the Edmonton Eskimos in the 1977 Grey Cup game at Olympic Stadium, before what is still a Grey Cup record crowd of 68,318, to become head coach of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs.
He spent five years with the Chiefs before being fired. He joined the Bills in 1986 and stayed in Buffalo through 1997, being named the NFL's coach of the year in 1988 and 1995.
In the years since leaving the coaching business, Levy has held various TV jobs as an NFL commentator and last season worked on a pregame radio show and postgame television show in Chicago. He also wrote regular reports for NFL.com.
"I think I'll be doing that again, and there is talk of other things as well," said Levy, who also is often asked to give motivational speeches.
Levy also wrote a book titled Where Else Would You Rather Be?, which was published late last year and within months was on the New York Times best-seller list. Three chapters are devoted to his time with the Alouettes. Among other things, Levy said that if former Alouettes tight-end Peter Dalla Riva, a CFL Hall of Famer, "had so desired, he had the ability to play in the NFL."
Levy spent a year and a half penning his memories from 47 years of coaching for the book and is proud there is no ghost writer. The Harvard English history graduate has put together a riveting and entertaining description of the highs and lows involved in his chosen line of work.
And Levy feels he could still coach.
"If an NFL head-coaching job was there, I'd like to try," said Levy, who will be 80 in August. "I think I can do the job.
"I won't wither up and cry myself to sleep if nobody calls," he added.
Levy stays in shape with regular three-mile walks and also does light weight exercises.