Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Head Coaches in 2012

If you had to hire an head coach today, which NFL head coach would you hire?

Championships. Leadership. Awards. Longevity. Statistical records. Likeability. Talent development.

An NFL head coach can be evaluated with many criteria. Generally, winning championships over a long period of time is the easiest (or not-so-easiest) way to the top of any ranking. Who does more with less? Who gets his team to the playoffs the most consistently? Who is the best motivator? Whose team is best prepared come crunch time? And who has the shiny hardware to back it up?

So as of July of 2012, Athlon Sports has magically given the reins of an NFL franchise to you the fans. And you have your pick of the 32 NFL head coaches. The question becomes:

Which NFL coach would you hire to lead your franchise?

Here is Athlon's take:

Note: Age is as of Sept. 5, 2012, the first game of the 2012 NFL season

1. Bill Belichick, New England (2000-present), Cleveland (1991-95)
Age: 60, Regular season record: 175-97 (17 seasons), Postseason record: 17-7 (10 appearances)

Outside of Tom Coughlin, Belichick is the oldest coach on this list. But age isn't what matters here, it's results, and in that respect Belichick is cleary head and shoulders above the rest of his coaching brethren. He has the most regular-season and postseason wins, conference championships, and most importantly, three Super Bowl titles. He's been named the AP NFL Coach of the Year three times and already has secured his spot in the Hall of Fame even though his career is nowhere near finished. Fans may love to hate him, but Belichick has earned the respect of both NFL players and his coaching peers alike, just as he has earned his spot atop this list.

2. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco (2011-present)
Age: 48, Regular season record: 13-3 (1 season), Postseason record: 0-1 (1 appearance)

If Belichick is the present top dog in the NFL coaching ranks, Jim Harbaugh may be the future, which is saying something considering he has a grand total of one season under his belt. But that's what happens when you take a San Francisco team that hadn't produced a winning season since 2002 and turn into an NFC West champion and earn AP NFL Coach of the Year honors in the process. The 49ers came up short in the playoffs, but the future of the once-proud franchise that won four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s and another in 1994 looks extremely bright with Harbaugh at the helm. He's already got the coaching bloodlines (his father, Jack, has been in coaching for more than four decades and his brother, John, is Baltimore's head coach), the NFL pedigree (14-year career as QB), the leadership skills and the persona, now all he needs is the on-the-field results to establish himself as the league's next great head coach.

3. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay (2006-present)
Age: 48, Regular season record: 63-33 (6 seasons), Postseason record: 5-3 (4 appearances)

McCarthy already has what Harbaugh is chasing — a Super Bowl title — and could very well end up being the 49ers' head coach's greatest obstacle in achieving that goal. In six seasons leading the Packers, McCarthy has managed the transition from Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre to current reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, and done so with great success. Not only did the Packers win Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season, McCarthy has his team positioned to contend for more titles in the near future. In fact, McCarthy is the same age as Harbaugh and more than a decade younger than Belichck, meaning his best years could still be ahead of him.

4. Tom Coughlin, NY Giants (2004-present), Jacksonville (1995-2002)
Age: 66, Regular season record: 142-114 (16 seasons), Postseason record: 11-7 (9 appearances)

Coughlin may be the old guy on this list, but he's showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The first head coach in the hisotry of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise, Coughlin got his second chance with the Giants, and has made the most of it. Showing the toughness and perseverance that he instills in his teams, Coughlin teetered on the brink of unemployment several times only to come back stronger. Now with two Super Bowl titles in the past five seasons, Coughlin has every bit of the notoriety, respect and job security that accompany his accomplishments. The only real question surrounding the hard-nosed veteran coach is how much longer will he be on the sideline?

5. Sean Payton, New Orleans (2006-present)
Age: 48, Regular season record: 62-34 (6 seasons), Postseason record: 5-3 (4 appearances)

In his six seasons at the helm of one of the NFL’s most inept franchises, Payton has been anything but. He has one losing season, three division titles, four playoff berths, one AP Coach of the Year award and one Super Bowl championship over Peyton Manning. He also is suspended for a full season after his involvement in the Saints' bounty scandal. He is still relatively young, has one of the brightest offensive minds in the game and will assuredly bounce back from this PR black eye. Yet, it is impossible to currently separate the champion from the suspension at this moment. Time will heal all wounds and Payton will be back winning games soon enough — just not in 2012.

6. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh (2007-present)
Age: 40, Regular season record: 55-25 (5 seasons), Postseason record: 5-3 (4 appearances)

Tomlin, like Belichick, McCarthy and Payton, has already reached the ultimate summit when it comes to being an NFL head coach — he's won the Super Bowl. The youngest to ever win the Lombardi Trophy at 36 years old, Tomlin is currently the second youngest head coach in the league. Dennis Allen, Oakland's first-year head coach, is six months younger than Tomlin. However, similar to Coughlin with the Giants, Tomlin hasn't let his age define nor limit him. Look no further than the fact that he's yet to have a losing season, has won 10 or more games in every season but one, and already has two AFC Championships on his resume.

7. John Harbaugh, Baltimore (2008-present)
Age: 49, Regular season record: 44-20 (4 seasons), Postseason record: 5-4 (4 appearances)

Younger brother Jim may get more of the headlines and attention for his work with the 49ers, but that shouldn’t take anything away from what the elder Harbaugh has accomplished in his first four seasons as an NFL head coach. Under the older Harbaugh brother, the Ravens haven’t won fewer than nine games in the regular season and have won at least one game in the playoffs each season. The next step for Harbaugh and his team is getting over the hump in the AFC Championship game. The Ravens are 0-2 in their conference title game, including last season’s gut-wrenching 23-20 loss to the Patriots in Foxboro.

8. Jeff Fisher, St. Louis (2012-present), Tennessee (1994-2010)
Age: 54, Overall Record: 142-120 (16 full seasons), Postseason record: 5-6 (6 appearances)

Few have ever been as consistent over a longer period of time than Fisher. Especially, in the modern what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL world coaches currently operate within. Since his first full season in 1995 at age 36 (7-9), Fisher has posted only four losing seasons while moving a team from Houston to Nashville via Memphis, and is the franchise's winningest coach. He reached the playoffs six times, won four division titles and came up one famous yard short of a Super Bowl title following the 1999 season. He is a model of consistency and his hard-nosed attitude plays in any NFL city. His most impressive work might have been the reclamation project of the Titans from a paltry 9-23 in 2004 and 2005 to NFL prominence (23-9 from 2007-08) two years later.

9. Gary Kubiak, Houston (2006-present)
Age: 51, Regular season record: 47-49 (6 seasons), Postseason record: 1-1 (1 appearance)

Despite a sub-.500 record, Kubiak has earned his No. 4 ranking due to his transformation of the Texans from expansion team to Super Bowl contender. It took longer than fans, and probably owner Bob McNair, had originally envisioned, but the first fruits of Kubiak’s persistence and labor came forth last season in the form of the franchise’s first 10-win regular season, division title, postseason appearance and playoff victory. Kubiak has produced a .500 or better season in four of his six seasons at the helm of the Texans. That’s no small feat for any team, let alone an expansion team that had to start from scratch.

10. Andy Reid, Philadelphia (1999-present)
Age: 54, Regular season record: 126-81-1 (13 seasons), Postseason record: 10-9 (9 appearances)

For a coach who is constantly on the Hot Seat while constantly defending his players, coaching staff and family, few have ever won as much as Reid. The Eagles have posted one losing season in 12 years since Reid’s first campaign, with only one 8-8 mark on the ledger (2007). He has made the playoffs nine times, has eight double-digit win seasons, went to four straight NFC title games, earned 2002 NFL Coach of the Year honors and nearly pulled-off a Super Bowl upset of the Patriots back in 2004. He has seen major roster and coaching overhaul (eight different coaches have left his staff to become NFL head coaches) and has made the playoffs through it all. While he has yet to win the big one and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008, Reid seems completely unjustly criticized for his performance as the Eagles' winningest coach.

Best of the Rest

Mike Smith, Atlanta (2008-present)
Age: 53, Regular season record: 43-21 (4 seasons), Postseason record: 0-3 (3 appearances)

Smith has done nothing but win since taking over the Falcons. He has never posted a losing record, has made the playoffs three times in four years and won the NFC South in 2010. He earned NFL AP Coach of the Year honors in his first year (2008) after taking over a 4-12 team and turning them into an 11-win playoff team. In fact, Atlanta had just two winning seasons in the nine years prior to Smith taking over. His next hurdle is winning when it counts as his 0-3 playoff record has left Falcons fans craving more.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit (2009-present)
Age: 46, Regular season record: 18-30 (3 seasons), Postseason record: 0-1 (1 appearance) 

An eight-year Fisher henchman at Tennessee, it hasn't taken Schwartz long to instill his former boss’ toughness in the Motor City. For a franchise that is three years removed from the only 0-16 mark in NFL history and hadn’t seen a playoff berth since 1999, Schwartz has the Lions poised for their second straight postseason trip in 2012. Five separate coaches have tried to return the Lions to success and only the Baltimore native has been able to do it. His offense shattered multiple offensive team records a year ago. He is the youngest coach in the NFC by one day over Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano.

Rex Ryan, New York Jets (2009-present)
Age: 49, Regular season record: 28-20 (3 seasons), Postseason record: 4-2 (2 appearances)

Some of the bloom has come off of Ryan’s rose as his Jets failed to make the playoffs last season after finishing 8-8. However, Ryan still has yet to post a losing record in his three seasons and did come a game away from the Super Bowl in each of his first two seasons. Ryan has shown he can talk a good game, but he also knows he better back it up with the results on the field, starting this season.

John Fox, Denver (2011-present), Carolina (2002-10)
Age: 57, Regular season record: 81-79 (10 seasons), Postseason record: 6-4 (4 appearances)

Fox’s record may not look that impressive, but in 10 seasons as the Panthers’ head coach he won three division titles and led the team to Super Bowl XXXVIII following the 2003 season. Fox’s overall .506 winning percentage in the regular season is also largely the result of his disastrous 2-14 campaign in 2010, his final season in Carolina. Now in Denver, Fox turned a Broncos team that went 4-12 in 2010 into an AFC West division champion in 2011, albeit one with an 8-8 record. Expectations are even higher this year for Fox and his Broncos, who will have Peyton Manning directing the offense.

Mike Munchak, Tennessee (2011-present)
Age: 52, Regular season record: 9-7 (1 season)

Munchak’s got only one year as a head coach on his resume, but he led the Titans to three more wins than the previous season and just missed a wild card berth in his rookie season. Munchak had the unenviable task of replacing mainstay Jeff Fisher, who had been the franchise’s head coach the previous 17 seasons, but now there’s no question whose team this is.

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati (2003-present)
Age: 53, Regular season record: 69-74-1 (9 seasons), Postseason record: 0-3 (3 appearances)

Lewis deserves plenty of credit for the two division titles and three playoff appearances he has led the Bengals to in his nine seasons in charge. Remember, when Lewis and the Bengals won the AFC North title in 2005 that ended a 15-year playoff drought for the franchise. However, Lewis also deserves his share of the criticism for his teams’ lack of consistency. Under Lewis the Bengals have yet to post consecutive seasons with a winning record or back-to-back playoff berths.

— by Mark Ross and Braden Gall, published on July 12, 2012

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2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

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