I know exactly how this goes. You ignore these introductory paragraphs, look at the rankings, identify a coach that is too low, probably the coach of “your” team, and then criticize the entire list as being stupid without looking at the reasons why he is ranked where he is and the logic behind the selection. I know that’s what people do because I am probably guilty of the same thing from time to time.
With that caveat out of the way and my eyes wide open to what’s about to happen, I will say this is an interesting exercise that truly makes you think. How do you compare coaches with long track records like Ron Rivera and Mike McCarthy to youngsters with only one season at the helm like Mike McDaniel and Kevin O’Connell?
On the one hand, they only have a one-year sample size. On the other hand, that small sample size for each is pretty darn good and the only thing we have to go off at this point.
It’s also hard to compare coaches who have had vastly different rosters to this point. Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott has a much better-winning percentage than Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith, but the talent they’ve had to work with across the board and especially at quarterback isn’t even in the same stratosphere.
If you were just going to rank coaches by their records that’d be a lot easier and require zero thought but then where is the nuance and understanding of the myriad of factors that go into whether or not an NFL team is successful?
In the end, I tried to account for what each coach has done with what they’ve been given for as long as they’ve been doing it. That’s really all you can do and to even call it an “inexact” science is an insult to scientists everywhere. This is just my current opinion on these 32 guys — for better or worse — with the three newbies ranked at the bottom for obvious reasons.
33rd Team’s Head Coach Rankings
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Seasons With Team: 10 | Head Coaching Record: 247-138-1
Analysis: Reid has sustained success for more than 20 years with two different franchises and an assortment of quarterbacks. Plus, he’s been to three of the last four Super Bowls and won two of them. There’s nobody better right now than Big Red.
2. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Seasons With Team: 23 | Head Coaching Record: 298-152
Analysis: Belichick was the best schematic head coach of the nine I played for in the NFL. However, one playoff victory in 10 seasons without Tom Brady as his starting quarterback is beginning to take some of the shine off those six Super Bowl rings they won together. It feels like Belichick the general manager isn’t giving Belichick the coach enough to work with.
3. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Seasons With Team: 16 | Head Coaching Record: 163-93-2
Analysis: Yes, Pittsburgh Steelers fans want more recent postseason success but 16 seasons without a losing record is crazy impressive, especially when you consider the manner in which they’ve done it the last few years.
4. Sean Payton, Denver Broncos
Seasons With Team: 0 | Head Coaching Record: 152-89
Analysis: I give coaches that have success with multiple organizations and/or multiple quarterbacks a huge boost over those that haven’t, so Payton’s tenure with the Denver Broncos will prove significant for his coaching legacy.
5. Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles
Seasons With Team: 2 | Head Coaching Record: 23-11
Analysis: Finding a way to make the playoffs in his first “transition” year in 2021 might’ve been more impressive than getting to the Super Bowl with a loaded roster in 2022. Losing both coordinators will show us just how good Sirianni is this year.
6. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
Seasons With Team: 6 | Head Coaching Record: 98-52
Analysis: Shanahan went to a Super Bowl and almost got to another one with Jimmy Garoppolo. Plus, Shanahan was on the doorstep again last year with Mr. Irrelevant (Brock Purdy) at quarterback. His three seasons of six or fewer wins is not a good look, but the 49ers look poised to make another run in 2023.
7. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
Seasons With Team: 6 | Head Coaching Record: 98-60
Analysis: I’m curious to see how McVay bounces back from a down year with a team that appears to be in transition, but his first five years are as impressive as any coach in modern NFL history.
8. Brian Daboll, New York Giants
Seasons With Team: 1 | Head Coaching Record: 9-7-1
Analysis: Daboll has a small one-year sample size, but I still don’t know how he got that New York Giants roster into the postseason at all let alone winning a road game against the Minnesota Vikings.
9. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Seasons With Team: 13 | Head Coaching Record: 161-112-1
Analysis: He’s won championships in both college and the NFL and sustained success for a long time in Seattle. With that said, last year’s season getting a Geno Smith-led bunch, which I thought might be the worst in the NFL, to the playoffs may have been his masterpiece.
10. Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Seasons With Team: 1 | Head Coaching Record: 51-45-1
Analysis: The guy beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl with Nick Foles and then had the Jacksonville Jaguars giving the Kansas City Chiefs all they could handle in Year 1 in the Divisional Round. Maybe he should be higher?
11. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Seasons With Team: 15 | Head Coaching Record: 147-95
Analysis: He’s been the Baltimore Ravens‘ coach since 2008 and for good reason. He’s racked up the playoff berths with now two different quarterbacks and has a ring from 2012 to top it all off.
12. Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
Seasons With Team: 4 | Head Coaching Record: 28-36
Analysis: Two years ago I might have had him ranked dead last on this list. What a difference a couple of years and a guy named Joe Burrow can make, although Zac Taylor’s staff, including defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, is really impressive.
13. Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
Seasons With Team: 5 | Head Coaching Record: 48-34
Analysis: Last year was the first losing season for my former teammate. Although, he still almost got the Tennessee Titans into the postseason by starting Josh Dobbs like a week after they signed him, which speaks to some of the injury and personnel decisions (see: trading A.J. Brown) recently in Tennessee.
14. Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins
Season With Team: 1 | Head Coaching Record: 9-8
Analysis: It’s a small one-year sample size, but McDaniel had Tua Tagovailoa playing at a darn near MVP level and almost won a road playoff game against the Bills with rookie Skylar Thompson under center, which is wild.
15. Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota Vikings
Season With Team: 1 | Head Coaching Record: 13-4
Analysis: Again only a one-year sample, but O’Connell went 13-4 and seemingly won every single close game the entire season, so he must be doing something right with his late-game coaching decisions.
16. Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions
Seasons With Team: 2 | Head Coaching Record: 17-28-1
Analysis: Campbell is another former teammate of mine. This might be a little too high for what he’s accomplished thus far, but the buzz around this Detroit Lions team is real, and so was that win in Lambeau in Week 18 to kick the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs.
17. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
Seasons With Team: 4 | Head Coaching Record: 47-19
Analysis: LaFleur’s winning percentage is impressive, and when he had the NFL’s MVP they won a lot of regular season games but faltered in the playoffs. When his quarterback wasn’t playing at an MVP level, they had a losing season and didn’t even make the postseason. The Jordan Love era will be the tale of the tape for LaFleur.
18. Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Seasons With Team: 2 | Head Coaching Record: 14-20
Analysis: Smith has exceeded every reasonable expectation for his team each of the last two years and found ways to be competitive with a roster that has been — to be kind — subpar.
19. Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders
Seasons With Team: 3 | Head Coaching Record: 98-90-2
Analysis: Rivera is a good football coach and a better man, but the Washington Commanders‘ seeming commitment to mediocrity isn’t helping his cause for lists like this.
20. Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers
Seasons With Team: 2 | Head Coaching Record: 19-15
Analysis: I’m not quite sure what to make of Staley at this point. He has two winning seasons, but it feels like the Los Angeles Chargers lose a bunch of close games they shouldn’t. Case in point, their Wild Card playoff debacle in Jacksonville.
21. Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys
Seasons With Team: 3 | Head Coaching Record: 155-97-2
Analysis: He deserves credit for back-to-back 12-win seasons in Dallas after the way his tenure in Green Bay ended, but it still feels like he hasn’t played that great of a hand the last 16 years given the cards he’s been dealt.
22. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
Seasons With Team: 6 | Head Coaching Record: 62-35
Analysis: He’s done a lot of winning and deserves credit for that but the combination of losing games against far inferior teams in the regular season, which hurts playoff seeding, and then getting outcoached in the postseason is troubling. It seems like it’s going to get harder, not easier, for this group of Bills to break through with a Super Bowl berth.
23. Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
Seasons With Team: 3 | Head Coaching Record: 26-24
Analysis: This feels like a big year for Stefanski after he won a playoff game and had the Cleveland Browns on the precipice of an AFC Championship game in Year 1. They’ve gone in the wrong direction the last two years. With Deshaun Watson eligible to play the whole year, Stefanski better make sure Browns owner Jimmy Haslam starts to get a return on that absurd investment, or Haslam will try to find someone else who can.
24. Frank Reich, Carolina Panthers
Seasons With Team: 0 | Head Coaching Record: 40-33-1
Analysis: Reich is a solid NFL coach, and I’m happy he gets a second chance with the Carolina Panthers after Jim Irsay reportedly forced him to bench Matt Ryan in favor of Sam Ehlinger even though the Indianapolis Colts were still in the race in the AFC North. The late-season collapse in 2021 is a bigger concern than anything that happened in 2022.
25. Robert Saleh, New York Jets
Seasons With Team: 2 | Head Coaching Record: 11-23
Analysis: There are no built-in excuses for Saleh and the New York Jets this season now that Aaron Rodgers is in the fold. Anything less than a playoff berth would be a disaster but is just punching a ticket to the postseason enough considering what they gave up for Rodgers?
26. Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Seasons With Team: 1 | Head Coaching Record: 34-50
Analysis: Other than a fun Fitzmagic-led 2015 season for the Jets, Bowles’ head coaching track record isn’t good. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers limping to an 8-9 record in Tom Brady’s last season doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, either. Neither does the quarterback “battle” between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask.
27. Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints
Seasons With Team: 1 | Head Coaching Record: 15-38
Analysis: I’m not sure Dennis Allen is a bad coach, but he hasn’t done anything yet to prove he’s a good one. Perhaps this is the year since his New Orleans Saints are the clear favorite in a wide-open NFC South.
28. Matt Eberflus, Chicago Bears
Seasons With Team: 1 | Head Coaching Record: 3-14
Analysis: Has any coach with a career .176 winning percentage ever received more kudos than Eberflus did with the Chicago Bears last year? It’s almost as if people gave him extra credit for losing so much the Bears got the No. 1 pick while making it interesting thanks to a Justin Fields highlight each week.
29. Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders
Seasons With Team: 1 | Head Coaching Record: 17-28
Analysis: I liked McDaniels when he was my OC in New England and think he has a bright offensive mind, but it feels like both in Denver and now with the Las Vegas Raiders, the personnel decisions have hurt him as much as anything. Plus, Mark Davis hiring him after popular interim coach Rich Bisaccia got the Raiders in the playoffs did McDaniels no favors.
30. Shane Steichen, Indianapolis Colts
Seasons With Team: 0 | Head Coaching Record: 0-0
Analysis: All first-year coaches are starting at the bottom, but I was impressed with the work Steichen did with the Eagles’ offense and Jalen Hurts in particular. That gives him a template of sorts as he tries to mold rookie QB Anthony Richardson in a similar fashion.
31. DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans
Seasons With Team: 0 | Head Coaching Record: 0-0
Analysis: If his reputation comes to fruition then this is a slam-dunk hire for the Houston Texans. It seems like every person you talk to from every organization in which Ryans has been a part of loudly and proudly sings his praises. Now, we’ll see if it carries over to being a good head coach.
32. Jonathan Gannon, Arizona Cardinals
Seasons With Team: 0 | Head Coaching Record: 0-0
Analysis: It took me about five minutes into my first time meeting Jonathan Gannon to realize he was going to be a head coach in the league. He will have to be impressive for longer than that to turn around an Arizona Cardinals team that went from giving out contract extensions like the Oprah meme to rebuilding in a matter of months.