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25 Greatest Head Coaches in NFL History

Bill Belichick is the greatest head coach of his era, but what about all time?

Winning championships can certainly cement a head coach’s greatness, but his place in history cannot be defined by titles alone. One must look at the full body of work throughout his NFL career and factor in all of his individual seasons, his performance at every team he coached and his contribution to the game. With those variables in mind, here are the 25 greatest head coaches in NFL history.

 

25. Blanton Collier

Cleveland 1963-70

76-34-2 (8 years), 3-4 in playoffs

5 division titles

1964 NFL championship

 

Collier followed two legends, Bear Bryant at Kentucky and Paul Brown with Cleveland. He won on both the college and professional levels, including leading the Browns to the 1964 NFL title.

 

24. George Allen

Los Angeles Rams 1966-70; Washington 1971-77

116-47-5 (12 years), 2-7 in playoffs

3 division titles

Super Bowl VII appearance

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2002

 

Allen never had a losing season in 12 years with the Rams and Redskins, and his coaching innovations inspired generations that followed him.

 

23. Marv Levy

Kansas City 1978-82; Buffalo 1986-97

143-112 (17 years), 11-8 in playoffs

6 division titles

4 Super Bowl appearances (XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2001

 

How do you make it to four straight Super Bowls? Through great coaching. Despite coming up short on Super Sunday, Levy’s Bills went 58-19 (including playoffs) from 1990-93.

 

22. Hank Stram

Dallas Texans 1960-62; Kansas City 1963-74; New Orleans 1976-77

131-97-10 (17 years), 5-3 in playoffs

4 division titles

3 AFL championships (1962, ’66, ‘69)

2 Super Bowl appearances (I, IV); Super Bowl IV champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2003

 

The AFL’s greatest coach won three AFL titles and Super Bowl IV and showed that wearing a microphone during football games makes for great television.

 

21. Marty Schottenheimer

Cleveland 1984-88; Kansas City 1989-98; Washington 2001; San Diego 2002-06

200-126-1 (21 years), 5-13 in playoffs

8 division titles

 

Schottenheimer coached four different teams and had only two losing seasons. That tells you how good he was.

 

20. Steve Owen

New York Giants 1931-53

151-100-17 (23 years)

10 division titles

2 NFL championships (1934, ’38)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1966

 

Owen coached the Giants for 23 seasons and won two NFL titles. He is still the franchise’s all-time winningest coach.

 

19. Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh 2007-Present

103-55 (9 years), 8-6 in playoffs

5 division titles

2 Super Bowl appearances

Super Bowl XLIII champion

 

If Tomlin continues to sustain his success with the Steelers, he will end his career near the top of this list.

 

18. Ray Flaherty

Boston Redskins 1936; Washington 1937-42; New York Yankees (AAFC) 1946-48; Chicago Hornets (AAFC) 1949

80-37-5 (11 years), 2-4 in playoffs

6 division titles

2 NFL championships (1937, ’42)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1976

 

Flaherty won two NFL titles with the Redskins and many credit him with inventing the screen pass.

 

17. Bill Cowher

Pittsburgh 1992-2006

149-90-1 (15 years), 12-9 in playoffs

8 division titles

2 Super Bowl appearances (XXX, XL)

Super Bowl XL champion

 

Cowher and Paul Brown are the only coaches in NFL history to make the playoffs in each of their first six seasons.

 

16. Dick Vermeil

Philadelphia 1976-82; St. Louis Rams 1997-99; Kansas City 2001-05

120-109 (15 years), 6-5 in playoffs

3 division titles

2 Super Bowl appearances (XV, XXXIV)

Super Bowl XXXIV champion

 

Vermeil turned three different teams into winners and won a Super Bowl along the way.

 

15. Tony Dungy

Tampa Bay 1996-2001; Indianapolis 2002-08

139-69 (13 years), 9-10 in playoffs

6 division titles

Super Bowl XLI champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2016

 

The recent Canton inductee turned Tampa Bay around and then he took Indianapolis to the next level. Unlike many of the coaches on this list, he was also genteel and classy at every turn in his career.

 

14. Bud Grant

Minnesota 1976-83, ‘85

158-96-5 (18 years), 10-12 in playoffs

11 division titles

4 Super Bowl appearances (IV, VIII, IX, XI)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1994

 

Ironically, Grant and Marv Levy are the only coaches in history to lead teams to the CFL’s Grey Cup and the Super Bowl.

 

13. John Madden

Oakland 1969-78

103-32-7 (10 years), 9-7 in playoffs

7 division titles

Super Bowl XI champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2006

 

Madden’s .759 winning percentage is the best of any coach in the modern football era.

 

12. Guy Chamberlin

Canton Bulldogs 1922-23; Cleveland Bulldogs 1924; Frankford Yellow Jackets 1925-26; Chicago Cardinals 1927

58-16-7 (6 years)

4 division titles

4 NFL titles (1922-24, ’26)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1965

 

As a player/coach, Chamberlin won four NFL titles with three different teams in the 1920s.

 

11. Curly Lambeau

Green Bay 1921-49; Chicago Cardinals 1950-51; Washington 1952-53

226-132-22 (33 years), 3-2 in playoffs

8 division titles

6 NFL championships (1929-31, ’36, ’39, ’44)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1963

 

Lambeau founded the Packers and then led them to six NFL titles.

 

10. Bill Parcells

New York Giants 1983-90; New England 1993-96; New York Jets 1997-99; Dallas Cowboys 2003-06

172-130-1 (19 years), 11-8 in playoffs

5 division titles

3 Super Bowl appearances (XXI, XXV, XXXI)

Super Bowl XXI, XXV champion

Pro Football of Fame, Class of 2013

 

The Big Tuna won two Super Bowls and made the playoffs with four different teams.

 

9. Chuck Noll

Pittsburgh 1969-91

193-148-1 (23 years), 16-8 in playoffs

9 division titles

Super Bowl IX, X, XIII, XIV champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1993

 

The Steelers had never won a championship since being founded in 1933. Then Noll arrived and they won four in six seasons.

 

8. Tom Landry

Dallas 1960-78

250-162-6 (29 years), 20-16 in playoffs

13 division titles

5 Super Bowl appearances (V, VI, X, XII, XIII)

Super Bowl VI, XII champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990

 

Landry’s record of 20 straight winning seasons is one that may stand forever.

 

7. George Halas

Decatur/Chicago Staleys (APFA) 1920-21; Chicago 1922-29, ’33-42, ’46-55, ’58-67

318-148-31 (40 years), 6-3 in playoffs

10 division titles

6 NFL championships (1921, ’33, ’40-41, ’46, ’63)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1963

 

Pro football would not be where it was without “Papa Bear,” who coached the Monsters of the Midway for 40 seasons, racking up 324 total wins and six NFL titles.

 

6. Joe Gibbs

Washington 1981-92, 2004-07

154-94 (16 years), 17-7 in playoffs
5 division titles

4 Super Bowl appearances (XVII, XVIII, XXII, XXVI)

Super Bowl XVII, XXII, XXVI champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1996

 

Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. That’s a testament to a great coach.

 

5. Paul Brown

Cleveland Browns (AAFC) 1946-49; Cleveland 1950-62; Cincinnati 1968-75

213-104-9 (25 years), 9-8 in playoffs

14 division titles

4 AAFC championships (1946-49)

3 NFL championships (1950, ’54-55)

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1967

 

One of the game’s greatest innovators was the first coach of two franchises, the Browns and the Bengals, and he won with both teams. His ten straight title game appearances with Cleveland is a record that will likely never be broken (Note: Four of them were with the All-America Football Conference.).

 

4. Bill Walsh

San Francisco 1979-88

92-59-1 (10 years), 10-4 in playoffs

6 division titles

Super Bowl XVI, XIX, XXIII champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1993

 

Walsh invented the last true revolutionary offense in NFL history and won three Super Bowls with it.

 

3. Don Shula

Baltimore Colts 1963-69, Miami 1970-95

328-156-6 (33 years), 19-17 in playoffs

16 division titles

6 Super Bowl appearances (III, VI, VII, VIII, XVII, XIX)

Super Bowl VII, VIII champion

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1997

 

Pro football’s all-time career wins leaders coached in six Super Bowls and commandeered the only perfect season in NFL history.

 

2. Bill Belichick

Cleveland 1991-95; New England 2000-Present

237-115 (22 years), 26-10 in playoffs

14 division titles

7 Super Bowl appearances (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI, XLIX, LI)

Super Bowl XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI champion

 

Whether you love him or hate him, Belichick’s Patriots have been dominant in an era designed for parity. If he wins a sixth Super Bowl (which does not seem far-fetched at this point) and/or has 20 straight winning seasons, he will move to the top of this list.

 

1. Vince Lombardi

Green Bay 1959-67; Washington 1969

96-34-6 (10 years), 9-1 in playoffs

6 division titles

3 NFL championships (1961-62, ’65)

Super Bowl I, II champion
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1971

 

Lombardi won a total of five championships (3 NFL tiles, 2 Super Bowls) with the Packers in nine seasons. He might have had similar success with the Redskins if his life had not been cut short by colon cancer.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

 

(Vince Lombardi photo courtesy of NFL.com)

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