In the NFL head coaching fraternity, everyone looks up to Bill Belichick
Being in the NFL nowadays is not an easy job. You can win a game and you’ll still get picked apart by fans and the media for any number of decisions and you might as well hole up in the office for another week if you take a loss. Such is life as a head coach in the league however, where some are better equipped to handle the rigors of a life beyond X’s and O’s more than others.
With that in mind, here’s a look at how each head coach stacks up against their peers — factoring in everything from their historical record to how they’re getting better (or worse) in recent seasons. While the best of the best are easy to pick out of the crowd nowadays, the separation starts to become razor-thin beyond the big names at the top.
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Is there much more that needs to be said at this point? While there's at least a little debate about his quarterback being the best ever, there seem to be no doubts about Belichick's place atop the NFL coaching ladder.
2. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Those three 7-9 campaigns seem like such an aberration given what Payton has done with the franchise in recent seasons. While he is still upset about the non-calls in the most recent NFC title game, the window is still open for the NFC's best head coach to hoist another Lombardi.
3. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Despite having a roster that few would want to begin 2018, Carroll performed one of his better coaching jobs in getting the Seahawks back to the playoffs. Despite being the oldest head coach in the league, he still has the youthful energy of someone three decades younger and the rings at the college and pro level that nobody else does.
4. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
The hottest head coaching candidate of the most recent offseason? Friends of McVay. That speaks to the influence the youngster has developed in a short time in the league, something he backed up on the field with the Rams run to the Super Bowl.
5. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Reid is far from perfect as an NFL coach (see his timeout management and playoff record) but you cannot understate what he's done over the course of his career. Turning Patrick Mahomes into an MVP out of left field and sparking a trend of using concepts from college football are only two of his recent feathers in a very large cap.
6. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
The longtime backup QB in the league is also one of the most prolific developers of the position in the league right now. He's not only won a Super Bowl with one but he's also worked with the front office to develop some of the best depth of any team in the NFC.
7. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
It's been over a decade since Super Bowl XLIII but Tomlin continues to keep the Steelers among the AFC's elite season after season. He's never had a losing record as a head coach and may be primed to put last year's drama-filled campaign behind him in 2019.
8. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Harbaugh's reinvention of his team last season with Lamar Jackson at QB was one of the more impressive coaching jobs of the year, even if it felt like a bit of a throwback involving some of the concepts they ran. While there was a thought that 2018 could have been his last in Baltimore that notion was certainly put to bed.
9. Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Bucs
Health concerns drove Arians to retirement from the Cardinals but it didn't take long for him to get back into the league. It speaks to what he did with that franchise with how quickly Arizona plummeted after he left and why Tampa Bay fans have to be excited at what the veteran brings to the table.
10. Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts
Reich had some unconventional moments as a rookie head coach but his impact was undeniable in the turnaround that happened in Indy. He may have been the franchise's backup choice but he quickly proved to be the right one for the Colts.
11. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
To put Nagy's work in perspective, there are some out there who are advancing the opinion that QB Mitchell Trubisky is an MVP candidate in 2019. That might not be quite the case but there's no doubting what the coach has brought to the franchise on the offensive end.
12. Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers
It took a few games for Lynn to find his sea legs as a head coach but he's turned into one of the quick risers in the NFL. It has been impressive to see how the team has rallied around his leadership and the way he's handled the still-new LA market.
13. Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
Last season finally felt like the kind of breakthrough in leading into the playoffs that O'Brien and the Texans had been capable of ever since his tenure began in Houston. He's won a number of power struggles at the organization and appears to be putting his stamp on the team in a big way going forward.
14. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
He's just 10-22 as a head coach but the way he was able to keep the 49ers fairly competitive each week after his starting QB was lost was still rather impressive. There are few who could make things work with Nick Mullens of all people but Shanahan wasn't too far off from doubling his win total last season.
15. Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders
There's no doubt that Gruden's contract and reputation exceeded the results he brought to the table in his first season with Oakland. He remains one of the few active head coaches with a Super Bowl ring, however, which helps balance out the fact that he's been roughly a .500 coach everywhere he's been.
16. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Zimmer made his name as one of the better defensive coordinators in the league and he's put together some of the best Vikings squads in recent memory. Getting over the hump in the playoffs and making it to the Super Bowl is the one thing that the veteran coach still has to figure out though despite plenty of success.
17. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
Quinn's record with Kyle Shanahan as OC was 21-14 with a Super Bowl appearance. Since? 18-16. Injuries certainly played a huge role in the dip last season but we'll see if a coaching staff reset will do the trick for Quinn and company going forward in Atlanta.
18. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
It's kind of hard to believe that Rivera is going into his ninth season with the franchise, which has seen the team yo-yo between being either pretty good or fairly mediocre. Riverboat Ron has developed a reputation as a gambler so he'll need to double-down on his abilities to get the Panthers back to the playoffs.
19. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
McDermott performed a miracle upon all miracles in getting the Bills to the playoffs for the first time in forever as a rookie head coach. His sophomore campaign had far more ups and downs however and it's not hard to think that his tenure will be tied to Josh Allen developing into the kind of QB that Buffalo thinks he can be.
20. Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
Considering he was only a coordinator at any level of football for just a season before taking over the big chair with the Titans, Vrabel had a pretty solid debut in 2018, nearly leading the team to the playoffs while dealing with a rash of injuries.
21. Adam Gase, New York Jets
It's not often you can get fired from one job and then have a number of other teams lined up to hire you the next day but such is life as Gase. The quarterback position proved to be his Achilles heel in Miami but just might be the ticket to shooting up this list in New York by tutoring Sam Darnold.
22. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Leading America's Team and coaching for Jerry Jones makes Garrett's position one of the most stressful in the sport but he continues to show up with a smile just about every week. There's not been the postseason success Cowboys fans have hoped for over the past nine years but there have been flashes.
23. Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
Washington rarely extends coaches but did give Gruden an elusive second contract for the work he put in with the franchise early on. Despite missing the playoffs three years in a row, he's still managed to keep the team interesting down the stretch despite a revolving door at QB and numerous roster issues exacerbated by the front office.
24. Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
After a dream season in 2017, last year was anything but for Marrone and the Jaguars. He's still put in solid work with both his current and former franchise but at the end of the day, his record is still four games below .500 overall.
25. Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos
The veteran defensive coordinator finally gets a crack at running the show for once and Denver fans have to be excited over the prospect of what he can do with the talent on the team. He's on the older end of the spectrum (soon to be 61) in terms of being a first-time head coach but there are few sharper minds on the defensive side of the ball.
26. Pat Shurmur, New York Giants
Shurmur's second crack at an NFL head coaching gig didn't fare as well as he would have liked, with the Giants having plenty of drama on their way to 5-11 last year. He's still a bright offensive mind and will have the added challenge of dealing with a potential QB succession at some point in the Big Apple.
27. Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
Patricia's hire got off to a rocky start before games were ever played and getting blown out by the Jets in your debut doesn't help prolong any honeymoon period he had in Detroit. He did guide the team to wins over his old boss Belichick and Green Bay (twice) but Lions fans are still looking for a little more consistency from the ex-rocket scientist.
28. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins
Flores' hire by Miami was well respected by those in league circles even if the casual fan in South Beach has little idea what he did other than be a member of the Patriots coaching staff for over a decade. He's had a hand in all three phases of the game and could be just the guy to put the franchise back on solid ground.
29. Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns
Kitchens' work with Baker Mayfield as a rookie earned him the permanent gig in Cleveland but the first-time head coach will need to learn on the fly quickly as the leader of the organization. His biggest challenge might not be showcasing his prolific offense but managing all the personalities that are now on the team.
30. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
LaFleur has risen quickly up the ranks in the NFL the past decade and worked with two of the best offensive minds in the game between Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. His first year calling plays produced only the 25th-ranked offense in the league however and there will be a lot more pressure on him to sort out a re-tooling defense while getting along with Aaron Rodgers at the same time.
31. Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
It really wasn't that long ago that Taylor was throwing passes as a college QB but the youngster now finds himself thrust into an interesting situation with the Bengals. The organization seems willing to allow him to grow into the role given his promise as a budding young offensive mind even if he's one of the least experienced head coaches ever hired.
32. Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals
The Kingsbury experiment in the desert has everybody in the NFL talking and it feels like it will either end in disaster or be a rousing success nobody saw coming. Having a 35-40 record as a college head coach and getting fired isn't exactly a great sign but if anybody can make the Air Raid work in the NFL with a QB like Kyler Murray, it's the hard-working former sixth-round pick.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.