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
This upcoming season — between Tom Brady's departure, COVID-19 and a slate of opt outs — could be Belichick's most challenging yet. It may also underscore just how good one of the game's all-time greats really is.
2. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Big Red finally got the one thing missing from his Hall of Fame resume in hoisting that Lombardi Trophy in Miami. Now the debate over Reid has shifted from can he win the big one to just how many can he and Patrick Mahomes win over the coming decade?
3. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Payton has won at least 11 games seven times the past decade and has helped build one of the best rosters in the league as well. He's been on the losing end of some classics in the playoffs but few are as consistent as the Saints' top man.
4. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Add in his track record at USC and few have been at the top of their game across both levels of football better than Carroll the past 20 years. His teams are consistently tough defensively and few are better at finding relatively unknown players and turning them into productive stars like the energetic 68-year-old.
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Harbaugh went all-in with Lamar Jackson and it's paid off for them both as the QB has blossomed into an MVP and one of the most exciting players in the game. It's not often one gets a second NFL life with the same franchise you won a Super Bowl with but the former special teams coach has been great at changing with the times.
6. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
Pederson's aggressive nature has gotten the better of him at times but has also allowed his team to feed off it to fuel some big wins at the same time. Few are better at getting their backup QB ready to play like the former backup QB is either.
7. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have missed out on the playoffs for two years in a row but Tomlin may have just pulled off one of his better coaching jobs in recent memory last year after Ben Roethlisberger went down. The talent on hand wasn't the greatest due to injuries but the fact that the team overcame it to finish .500 is a testament to their head coach.
8. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
It felt like the Rams were a huge disappointment in 2019 but it speaks to the new standard in LA that McVay has established that 9-7 is considered a down year for the franchise. One of the brightest offensive minds in the game impressively has managed around injuries and a roster in flux while keeping the team competitive week in and week out.
9. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
Shanahan is only 23-25 overall as a head coach but laid the seeds for the 49ers' Super Bowl run well before the team made it to Miami last season. One of the best play-callers in the game has a clear vision, a great plan to execute and is a few second-half performances away from moving way up on this list.
10. Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Bucs
Arians didn't have the record he wanted in Year 1 of his stint in Tampa but still managed to produce one of the best offenses in the league. Now he goes from turnover-prone Jameis Winston to the great Tom Brady as he chases a title as a head coach.
11. Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts
Injuries zapped the Colts from having a good year last season but Reich has done quality work making the team better on both sides of the ball. The head coach handled the Andrew Luck retirement situation as well as any and should be an annual contender in the division going forward.
12. Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys
The ending in Green Bay certainly went sour but McCarthy had a consistent track record of producing quality, high-end teams with the Packers. He turned Aaron Rodgers into a star and there's hope around Big D that he can keep elevating the play of Dak Prescott and a loaded offense in 2020.
13. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
The team locked Zimmer up with a contract extension this offseason, adding to the stability he's brought to the Twin Cities since arriving in 2014. He hasn't gotten over the hump in the playoffs yet but he's still made the Vikings a consistent winner despite not having an elite QB to lean on.
14. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
McDermott not only ended the long playoff drought in upstate New York but he's led the Bills to the postseason in two of his first three seasons. The defense is notable as expected given his background but the tough attitude the team brings every Sunday is reflective of the culture McDermott has established in Orchard Park.
15. Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
Vrabel's switch at quarterback to Ryan Tannehill saved the Titans' season in 2019 and led to one of the more remarkable stretch runs in the league the last couple of years. That included an impressive upset of old boss Bill Belichick and top-seeded Ravens before eventually falling to the Super Bowl champs. Vrabel can be a bit uncanny at times but he's gotten the franchise pointed in the right direction.
16. Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders
Chucky has improved the Raiders during his short tenure transitioning them out of Oakland but not quite to the level that his ginormous contract suggests. It remains to be seen if he can get back to his Super Bowl-winning ways but at least there's a little momentum heading into Las Vegas.
17. Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
Houston has given O'Brien even more off-field control over the years as the once lowly franchise has won the AFC South four times in the last five years. He's helped develop Deshaun Watson quite nicely and has overachieved with the rosters he's given more often than Texans fans would like to admit.
18. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins
Few knew what to expect when Flores got the Miami job but he turned heads in a hurry. Sure the 5-11 debut wasn't a ton of wins but given the state of the roster (i.e. one of the worst in the league), it also signaled a pretty impressive coaching job from where the team was at the beginning of the season to the end.
19. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
Last season's struggles took some of the shine off the former Coach of the Year. It will be fascinating to see what Nagy does at quarterback going forward as Nick Foles was brought in to compete with Mitchell Trubisky in an effort to get back the positive momentum the Bears had in 2018.
20. Ron Rivera, Washington Football Team
Things trailed off in the end down in Carolina but Riverboat Ron still had a pretty solid run overall across his nine seasons in charge. Now he's moved onto Washington, where the problems are not limited to the team's play on the field and have made the former linebacker much more than just a head coach taking over a troubled franchise.
21. Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers
Injuries have hampered Lynn's ceiling some the past few years but he's put together some solid runs with the Chargers despite dealing with what amounts to two seasons on the road as part of the transition to LA. The talent is certainly on hand to do some damage and 2020 could be a critical one for Lynn and his staff going forward.
22. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
While LaFleur took over a good situation in Green Bay, few could have seen a 13-3 debut coming in Titletown. While some of that was done with a little smoke and mirrors, the 40-year-old seemed to learn pretty well on the fly during his first time as a head coach. Following that campaign up with suitable tweaks to get back to Super Bowl contention will be a key test of where the team goes next.
23. Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers
Rhule took over a dreadful Temple team and made them a winner. He took over a dreadful Baylor program and made them winners. Now it's time for the rebuilding maestro to do the same at the pro level.
24. Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals
Kingsbury's hire was met with plenty of skepticism but he certainly adjusted to the pro game better than many thought he would. He not only made the Cardinals better in Year 1 but also made them fun to watch and an intriguing team going forward despite being in a heavyweight division.
25. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
It feels like that Super Bowl run was forever ago in Atlanta as Quinn still hasn't been able to get things quite right again. A 6-2 run after the bye in 2019 saved his job for another year but he has arguably underachieved given some of the talent on hand.
26. Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos
Fangio's tenure got off to a rocky start but he managed to turn things around in the second half of the year to improve the win total from the season prior. While we know his defenses will be stout, a lot is riding on the veteran coach getting a productive offense to match.
27. Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
Marrone did bring along Gardner Minshew out of nowhere last season but his tenure in Duval has been trending downward ever since that one surprise season in 2017.
28. Adam Gase, New York Jets
Much of Gase's reputation has lived on his 2016 campaign with Miami and track record as an offensive coordinator, neither of which were on full display early in his first year in New York. A 6-2 finish and some signs of life out of Sam Darnold helped but fans of Gang Green want to see more out of their head coach.
29. Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
Can Stefanski finally be the one to bring stability to the Browns? He's got a solid offensive track record and will have plenty to work with on both sides of the ball. The only question is putting it all together for a franchise that has a lot of Sisyphean qualities to it.
30. Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
It figures to be a make-or-break year for Patricia, who has garnered more attention for his trademark pencil than he has for wins. Injuries have been a factor but it still feels like for every step forward, it's been two steps back in Detroit so far.
31. Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
Getting off to the worst start in franchise history isn't a great beginning to Taylor's tenure but he'll ultimately be judged by how well he brings along Joe Burrow and turns things around in Cincinnati.
32. Joe Judge, New York Giants
Having worked for Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, Judge certainly has the background to be a successful head coach. The hope is he can follow in the footsteps of fellow special teams coordinator John Harbaugh but until then, the relatively under-the-radar rookie coach will have to settle for avoiding the back page too many times in the Big Apple in 2020.
— 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.