Who is the best NFL head coach? Who is the worst? Our rankings may surprise.
Ranking a coach isn’t just about the number of wins. It’s about consistency, longevity, level of competition, support, championships and how that all compares to history. Yes, a Super Bowl ring puts a coach into an elite fraternity and is the benchmark with which every coach is judged. But it’s not the only way to evaluate a coach, after all, only seven active NFL coaches have led their team to capturing the Lombardi Trophy.
For example, winning with the Saints has proven to be much more difficult than winning with the Giants. Winning under Jerry Jones, Bud Adams or Dan Snyder is much different than working for Green Bay Packers, Inc. Winning with the support of the Rooney family and Steeler Nation is likely easier than, say, the support and fans of Jacksonville.
All things must be considered when trying to rank the 32 NFL coaches in 2013. The new faces haven’t proven anything and, almost by default, find themselves near the bottom of the rankings. That said, it doesn’t take long to prove oneself in the cut-throat world of professional football. Will Marc Trestman or Chip Kelly be able to bring innovative offenses from the CFL and college and make them successful in the NFL? Only time will tell.
Here is how Athlon Sports ranks all 32 NFL coaches entering the 2013 season:
1. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco
Record: 24-7-1 Playoffs: 3-2 Age: 49
Harbaugh went 22-2 in his last two seasons at San Diego University, winning back-to-back Pioneer League Championships in 2005-06. He built a perennial loser into a BCS bowl winner in just four seasons at Stanford. And the former NFL quarterback is 24-7-1 in his first two seasons with the 49ers, leading them to their first two playoff appearances since 2002. He was five yards away from winning the Super Bowl in February — the powerhouse franchise’s first such appearance in the game since 1994 — and is the leader of the team labeled by many as the front-runner to win the Lombardi Trophy this season.
2. Bill Belichick, New England
Record: 187-101 Playoffs: 18-8 Age: 61
Only Tom Landry (20) and Don Shula (19) have more career postseason wins than Belichick. He has three Super Bowl rings and two other appearances in the game to lead all active coaches in both categories. Yet, his last title came nine years ago and his franchise has become more of a punch line than Super Bowl champ. That said, the Pats have won at least 10 games in 10 straight seasons and there is no reason to think this team won’t run away with the AFC East for the 13th time in 14 seasons.
3. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay
Record: 74-38 Playoffs: 6-4 Age: 49
In seven years as a head coach, McCarthy has one losing season (2008, 6-10), three NFC North titles, one Super Bowl, helped his quarterback win a MVP trophy and he still hasn’t reached the age of 50. He’s made the playoffs four years in a row and five of the last six years, and only 24 coaches in NFL history have more than his six career postseason wins. A second Super Bowl is well within reach and his consistent performance in the NFL Draft makes him one of the best sideline generals in the league. His career winning percentage (66.1) trails only Mike Smith and the Harbaugh brothers among active NFL coaches.
4. Sean Payton, New Orleans
Record: 62-34 Playoffs: 5-3 Age: 49
The Saints' 7-9 record last season might be all the data we need to evaluate Payton. The Saints were 37-11 in the three seasons prior to Payton being suspended. The bottom line is New Orleans had one playoff win in five total postseason trips in four decades prior to his arrival in 2006. He has led this team to the playoffs four times in six seasons and last year’s 7-9 record was the team’s first losing record since 2007. He has a Super Bowl title, ranks sixth in the league among active coaches in winning percentage (64.6) and isn’t yet 50 years old.
5. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
Record: 151-121 Playoffs: 12-7 Age: 66
The hard-nosed Coughlin has two Super Bowl championships and is seventh all-time with 12 career postseason wins. He is the oldest coach in the league, and after 17 seasons, won’t be around for too much longer. He has seven total division titles in his career but has won 10 or more games just once in the last four years. He may never be viewed as one of the league’s greatest but he is consistent and has overcome plenty of adversity.
6. John Harbaugh, Baltimore
Record: 54-26 Playoffs: 9-4 Age: 50
The Ravens coach supplemented himself as one of the league’s elite coaching talents with a Super Bowl championship in just his sixth season. He’s never missed the playoffs, never posted a losing record, won three AFC North titles and is one playoff win away from becoming just the 16th NFL coach in history with 10 postseason victories. He trails only Mike Smith and Jim Harbaugh in career winning percentage (67.5).
7. Mike Smith, Atlanta
Record: 56-24 Playoffs: 1-4 Age: 54
Other than Jim Harbaugh, who hasn’t coached enough games to technically qualify, no active coach wins at a higher rate than the Falcons leader. He is currently fifth all-time behind John Madden, Vince Lombardi, George Allen and Guy Chamberlin with a 70.0-percent winning clip. He finally got his first playoff win but still needs to prove himself amongst the league’s best by finishing a season by competing for the Lombardi Trophy. He’s never had a losing season and is 36-12 over the last three years.
8. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh
Record: 63-33 Playoffs: 5-3 Age: 41
One of the younger coaches in the league, Tomlin won a Super Bowl championship in just his second season as a 36-year old. He got back to the big game in his fourth season at the age of 38 but lost to the Packers. He has never had a losing season and has four AFC North titles in six years. He is coming off of his worst year as a coach last fall (8-8). So despite all his past success, Tomlin is facing pressure to return his team to the postseason this fall as the rest of the Steelers' divisional foes wins championships and improves.
9. Jeff Fisher, St. Louis
Record: 149-128-1 Playoffs: 5-6 Age: 55
His 149 wins rank 19th all-time and is fourth among active coaches. He has won four division titles and took the Oilers/Titans franchise to its one and only Super Bowl — which they fell one yard short of winning. He is a no-nonsense guy who was run out town by a meddling owner in Nashville before landing in St. Louis. He appears to be rebuilding a once dormant franchise by bringing his signature physicality to every aspect of the team. From 1996-2008, Fisher had just three losing seasons.
10. Mike Shanahan, Washington
Record: 167-125 Playoffs: 8-6 Age: 60
Shanny’s first two seasons in D.C. were rough as he went 11-21 before finally reaching the postseason last year due in large part to Robert Griffin III. He is the second winningest active coach with 167 wins, which is good for 12th all-time in NFL history, and is one of 13 coaches to claim two Super Bowl titles. Shanahan posted one losing season from 1996-2005 but has just one 10-win season since 2006 and has to prove last year was the rule rather than the exception.
11. Andy Reid, Kansas City
Record: 130-93-1 Playoffs: 10-9 Age: 55
From 1961 to 1998, when Reid was hired in Philadelphia, the Eagles made 10 postseason appearances. Under Reid, the Eagles went to the playoffs nine times in an 11-year span. The divorce between Reid and the Eagles, however, was an amicable one for both as the 55-year old coach quickly landed back in the league with the Chiefs. If he can turn a two-win team around in short order, it will only help validate his 130 regular season wins and 10 postseason victories.
12. Gary Kubiak, Houston
Record: 59-53 Playoffs: 2-2 Age: 52
How many franchises have just two head coaches in team history? After Dom Capers posted four straight losing seasons in the Texans' first four years, Kubiak was hired and in just his second year, set a franchise record for wins (8). He has continued to build this team and has a winning record in three of the last four years. He has led the Texans to back-to-back playoff appearances and back-to-back seasons with at least one playoff win. The next step is finishing in the postseason.
13. John Fox, Denver
Record: 94-82 Playoffs: 6-5 Age: 58
The proud and normally dominant AFC franchise had fallen on hard times, winning no more than nine games in any season from 2006-11. Enter Fox, who has returned the Broncos to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. Originally, he took over the Panthers in 2002 and immediately built a winner by taking Carolina to its only Super Bowl in just his second year. He lacks the consistency of the game’s elite and has one glaring black-eye — his 2-14 2010 campaign. But he also has four seasons with at least 11 wins, five division titles and just four career losing seasons. He is a hard-nosed coach that we will learn more about once Peyton Manning retires.
14. Pete Carroll, Seattle
Record: 58-54 Playoffs: 3-4 Age: 61
As a college coach, he is a Hall of Famer who completely dominated the West Coast for the better part of a decade. As an NFL coach, his final legacy is still left to be decided. He had two winning seasons as the Patriots' head coach (1996-98) after one bad year in New York (Jets, 1994). It has taken three years but he has Seattle poised to be a Super Bowl contender this season. Will his laid-back, players-first attitude last in the grind-it-out NFL world?
15. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati
Record: 79-80-1 Playoffs: 0-4 Age: 54
Lewis is a bit of an enigma. He is one of the longest tenured coaches in the NFL as he enters his 11th season in Cincinnati. He has taken a franchise used to playing the role of whipping boy and turned them into a playoff contender. He has been in the postseason three of the last four years and has just three losing seasons as a head coach. His overall record is still under .500 and he has yet to win a playoff game. Should that all change in 2013, he could find himself as a top-10 NFL coach in short order.
16. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota
Record: 16-22 Playoffs: 0-1 Age: 54
After three seasons, Frazier is still a big unknown as an NFL coaching commodity. He has two full seasons under his belt with one utter 3-13 failure and one mild 10-6 playoff success. He did an excellent job last year and has done good work in the draft to rebuild his aging defense, but 2013 is a critical year for both Frazier and his starting quarterback Christian Ponder — who he hand-picked to run his team.
17. Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay
Record: 7-9 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 47
Many look at the Bucs as a downtrodden NFC doormat, however, the Bucs have had three winning seasons in the last six years and made the playoffs seven times since 1997. The flip side of this is that Tampa Bay hasn’t been to the postseason since 2007, something Schiano aims to rectify this fall. He is largely responsible for building Rutgers from an also-ran to a league contender in college and took a 4-12 Bucs team and improved them by three games (7-9). Will his tough-nosed style work for a team that is starting to stockpile a deep and talented roster?
18. Jason Garrett, Dallas
Record: 21-19 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 47
No coach will be under more scrutiny this fall than Garrett but that comes with the territory as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He has produced back-to-back 8-8 seasons after his predecessor, Wade Phillips, posted three winning seasons in four years. And each of the past two seasons have ended with losses in games in which a win would have sent Dallas to the postseason. This franchise has a meddling owner and has won one playoff game since 1996, so Garrett is on an extremely short leash.
19. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis
Record: 2-2 Playoffs: 0-1 Age: 52
Pagano isn’t the first former Ravens defensive coordinator to land a big-time NFL coaching job. He dealt with a cancer scare during his first season and only registered five total games on the sidelines in 2012. His two wins did come against playoff teams (Houston and Minnesota), but Pagano also lost his first postseason game. His coaching staff has been rebuilt but he is leading a great organization with a future Hall of Famer under center.
20. Joe Philbin, Miami
Record: 7-9 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 52
The Fish have made the playoffs just one time since 2001 and fans in South Florida are hoping Philbin is the answer. He helped the Packers win a Super Bowl, go 15-1 and coached an Aaron Rodgers-powered offense from 2007-12. The Dolphins had some impressive wins over Cincinnati and Seattle last year en route to a respectable 7-9 season. With a team lacking in upside talent, Philbin deserves credit for a solid first year. That means expectation levels might be higher in Year 2.
21. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Record: 34-30 Playoffs: 4-2 Age: 50
There aren’t too many NFL coaches with Rex Ryan’s resume. He has a winning record after four seasons with two trips to the AFC Championship game. But his locker room has more crazies than "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," he is in the NFL’s biggest media market and has a quarterback situation that is a punch line for the second straight season. Many believe he is a lame duck in 2013.
22. Mike Munchak, Tennessee
Record: 15-17 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 53
Munchak is a lifer for the Oilers-Titans organization. He was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and hasn’t coached for another organization since retiring in 1993. He took a slight step back in year two, going from nine wins in 2011 to six wins last year, and made changes on his coaching staff. Much of his potential will be tied to the health and productivity of Jake Locker. Is he simply a company man who was given the job almost by default or a legitimate long-term head coach?
23. Bruce Arians, Arizona
Record: 9-3 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 60
He won AP Coach of the Year last fall after filling in for Pagano during his battle with leukemia, going 9-3. He has won two Super Bowls as an assistant with Pittsburgh and has had his hands on some great quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck). He is a solid offensive mind but is one of the older new coaches in the league.
24. Marc Trestman, Chicago
Record: 0-0 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 57
Trestman comes to the NFL after winning two Grey Cup titles in the Canadian Football League. He hasn’t been in the NFL since 2004 and there is concern about his ability to unite a locker room. However, his offenses have been incredibly successful and early reports are that the players are enjoying his leadership thus far.
25. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia
Record: 0-0 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 49
In just seven years Kelly has gone from offensive coordinator at New Hampshire to OC at Oregon to head coach at Oregon to head coach of the Eagles. His innovative and unapologetic style is why he went 46-7 in four seasons as the head coach in Eugene. But it remains to be seen if his offense can be successful at the NFL level.
26. Doug Marrone, Buffalo
Record: 0-0 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 49
Opponents of Syracuse came away battered and bruised no matter the outcome. He built a physical brand of football at the Cuse and is bringing that — and an up-tempo offense — to Buffalo. He has a solid track record as an NFL assistant and is a native of New York. But there is a reason the Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999.
27. Mike McCoy, San Diego
Record: 0-0 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 41
McCoy makes the intradivisional jump from OC of the Broncos to head man in San Diego. He has shown adaptability with both Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning running his offenses in the postseason the last two seasons. He is the second-youngest coach in the league and should be able to improve on the previous regime.
28. Jim Schwartz, Detroit
Record: 22-42 Playoffs: 0-1 Age: 47
The 2011 season featured big numbers on offense, 10 wins and a trip to the postseason. The other three seasons, Schwartz is 12-36 as a head coach. This team has weapons and should show improvement or Schwartz will find himself a defensive coordinator once again.
29. Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland
Record: 0-0 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 45
The Browns have new ownership and plenty of new faces on the roster. That includes Coach Chud, a 45-year old making his head-coaching debut at any level. Pat Shurmur was fired after just two years (9-23) for an organization that has made the playoffs just once (2002) since returning to the NFL.
30. Dennis Allen, Oakland
Record: 4-12 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 40
It is virtually impossible to accurately rate Allen’s job in an organization in such disarray. This team has no quarterback, finished 26th on offense and 28th on defense last year. He won’t last long in Oakland but it’s impossible to see his tenure with the Raiders as a fair measuring stick.
31. Ron Rivera, Carolina
Record: 13-19 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 51
His long slow rise culminated when he got his first head coaching job for Carolina as a 49-year old two seasons ago. He drafted Cam Newton and has won six and seven games respectively. He needs to win in Year 3 to keep his job.
32. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville
Record: 0-0 Playoffs: 0-0 Age: 47
The Minnesota native made his NFL coaching debut in 2006 as the Bucs linebackers coach. He has quickly moved through the ranks, by way of defensive coordinator in Seattle, to his first head-coaching job. Best of luck in Jacksonville.