Ranking The NFL’s Head Coaches
With NFL training camps due to begin shortly and the regular season opener just around the corner, I figured it was time to get back into my annual football mentality with a column dedicated to naming the best and brightest of the NFL coaching fraternity.
There are only 32 men who make a living in the entire world coaching professional football in the world’s greatest league. For some, their genius shines through like a ray of hope for an underachieving team. Others are adequate at best and some look like they are totally clueless. Here’s the skinny on the brotherhood of NFL coaches.
1. Bill Belichick
What more can I say about Belichick that hasn’t already been said? The man is a certified genius. He is, hands down, the best coach in the game today - and possibly - ever.
2. Bill Parcells
Simply put, Parcells is a winner who will go down as one of the best coaches in NFL history. As much as it pains me to say this, if you know football, then you know it’s only a matter of time before he turns the Cowboys into winners again.
3. Andy Reid
I’ve seen Reid up close for the last five years and I can unequivocally say, that he’s as good as any coach in the league when it comes to making adjustment on the fly. If you don’t believe me, just watch what happens if Terrell Owens holds out for more money. I loved Reid’s quote on the Owens debacle when he said, “We have an understanding that if he's here, he's here. If he's not, he's not. We have an understanding that, if you're not here, we move on without you. We have been very successful doing that, so we don't waste a lot of time worrying about those things."
4. John Fox
Placing Fox this high may surprise some, but the job that he did last season with an injury-ravaged Panthers team was as fine a performance as I’ve ever seen from any head coach in over three decades of watching and covering professional football. After starting the season 1-7, the Panthers could have easily tanked the rest of the season and no one would have blamed them with the myriad injuries they suffered on an almost weekly basis. However, Fox rallied his troops and Carolina fell just short of qualifying for the playoffs after playing absolutely amazing football the second half of last year.
5. Bill Cowher
Cowher has been a model of consistency for the majority of his time in Pittsburgh. The only knock here is, can he win the big one? He’s had chances for sure. For Cowher to have his name mentioned with reverence, like Steelers great, Chuck Knoll, he will have to win at least one Super Bowl before he’s done and the clock is ticking.
6. Marty Schottenheimer
So what, Schottenheimer doesn’t have a Super Bowl victory on his resume. He’s been one of the best coaches in the league for almost two decades. Besides, 75 percent of his playoff losses have come at the hands of Dan Marino, John Elway or Jim Kelly. How interesting.
7. Jon Gruden
A couple of seasons ago, Gruden looked like he had the makings of greatness. After a couple of relatively unsuccessful seasons though, he has shown himself to be mortal after all. He does however have a Super Bowl win to his credit and a lengthy career still ahead of him.
8. Tony Dungy
Dungy is most successful African-American coach in the league’s history next to Arizona’s Denny Green. Were it not for his lack of producing in big games, Dungy would have cracked my top five. He’s built successful programs in both, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. All he has to do now is figure out a way to beat Bill Belichick and win a Super Bowl and he will instantly become the greatest African-American coach the game has ever known.
9. Dick Vermeil
Vermeil may be slowing down a tad but he can still inspire his players to run through a brick wall for him. His legend was already etched in stone well before he won a Super Bowl title with the St. Louis Rams a few seasons ago.
10. Dennis Green,
Green like Dungy, is an excellent coach who has consistently taken his teams to the playoffs. In 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, he led the team to the playoffs eight times and won four division titles and went to two NFC championship games. Until he wins a Super Bowl title though, he won’t attain the status that is reserved for the game’s greatest coaches ever.
11. Herman Edwards
Edwards’ combativeness as a player for the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 70’s and early 80’s has carried over to coaching style. He goes to bat for his players which has earned him their ultimate respect even if it has offended some of New York’s finest media members. Edwards tells it like it is and let’s the chips fall where they may. Oh, he’s also had the Jets in postseason play in three of his first four seasons and the Jets 35 wins since 2001 are the ninth most in the league over that span.
12. Mike Shanahan
I’ve always liked Shanahan and I still think he is an excellent coach, but he had better do something quick because the Broncos haven’t won a playoff game since a guy named John Elway decided to call it quits after the 1998 Super Bowl.
13. Jeff Fisher
Fisher has been nothing short of spectacular since taking the helm for Tennessee in 1994. He has built the Titans into a perennial powerhouse and would already have one Super Bowl victory on his resume were it not for a touchdown-saving tackle in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever in 1999.
14. Brian Billick
I’ve got to give Billick credit. He came to the Ravens as the high-octane offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings and promptly realized he had a team fit for defensive prowess. So what did he do? He changed his philosophy and style to fit that of his team and in the process, won a Super Bowl in 2000.
15. Marvin Lewis
For Lewis to change the entire mentality of a franchise that has been floundering in futility for the better part of the last two decades and turn them into a .500 team that plays hard week in and week out is an accomplishment in itself. Lewis is truly one of the finest defensive coaches in the game today and I expect him to continue to improve a young Cincinnati Bengals team that has shown marked improvement in his two years.
17. Jim Mora
Mora certainly has the blood lines for greatness if nothing else. His father Jim Sr., was an excellent coach for years in the USFL and for the New Orleans Saints and Jim Junior looks like a chip off the old block. He did an absolutely exceptional job in his first season as a head man last year with the Falcons this past season. There is no reason to think Mora won’t move up on this list with each passing season.
18. Dom Capers,
Capers is a low-key guy who knows the game as well as any coach in the league and better than most. He led the Panthers to the NFC title game a few years ago and the Texans have improved each year since his arrival. No matter how much notoriety Capers doesn’t get, this man knows how to coach and his peers know it as well.
19. Mike Holmgren
I know Holmgren has a Super Bowl victory on his resume, but that seems like eons ago. Since his arrival in Seattle, all Holmgren has done is find out he’s not a general manager while simultaneously failing to motivate some talented teams to fulfill their full potential. I’m sorry, but Holmgren’s star is falling quickly.
20. Steve Mariucci
Mariucci is a great offensive mind who has been put in some tenuous situations as a head coach. First, he had to deal with head cases like Terrell Owens in San Francisco now he has to work wonders with a team with no defense. Mariucci will have plenty of offensive firepower this season but he may want to think about going back to being an offensive coordinator if Joey Harrington doesn’t get a clue soon.
21. Mike Martz
I can unequivocally say that I’ve never liked Martz and although he’s a fine offensive mind, he would be better served being just that - a coordinator. To me, Martz is so wrapped up on displaying his so called ‘genius’ that he outfoxes his own self. Martz is the epitome of a head coach who was much better as a coordinator. One more thing. Have the Rams played any defense since he’s taken over?
22. Tom Coughlin
Coughlin is another guy that gets too caught up with asinine matters. His tough guy routine wears thin on his player’s nerves after oh, about one season. His idiotic decision to replace Kurt Warner as the starting quarterback last season in favor of the talented but highly inexperienced Eli Manning told me all I need to know about Coughlin. The Giants were 6-5 and not playing bad when Coughlin made the decision to start Manning. Needless to say, they didn’t win another game last season and Manning looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming 18-wheeler.
23. Jack Del Rio
Del Rio has a superb defensive mind and relationship with his players. It’s only a matter of time before JDR moves up on this list. Del Rio did a fine job last year with a young Jaguars team that improved by leaps and bounds from the prior season.
24. Jim Haslett
Simply put, Haslett has been slightly above average during his tenure in New Orleans. The worse part to me though is the fact that the Saints have had quality players on both sides of the ball since his arrival and still have not found a way to win consistently. Unless Haslett takes the ‘A’ints’ to playoffs this year, he a’int going to be their coach anymore.
25. Mike Mularkey
Mularkey was an outstanding offensive coordinator with the Steelers before becoming the head coach of the Bills. He transformed the Bills into a competitive bunch last year and just missed the playoffs. Mularkey is only going to get better with each passing season.
26. Mike Sherman
Sherman looks completely lost on some occasions. His 53-27 record looks good until you realize that the Packers have lost four playoff games by an average of 16 points and have lost two of the last three home playoff games at Lambeau, which is a big no-no in the land of the cheesheads.
27. Norv Turner
Like Martz, Turner is another coach who is much more proficient as an offensive coordinator. Turner had ample opportunities with the Washington Redskins to achieve some measure of success but could only get them to the playoffs once in six years. He is, no doubt, a wonderful offensive coordinator who just needs to realize that’s where he belongs.
28. Lovie Smith
Smith is acknowledged as being one of the game’s best defensive coaches in the game today. However, he will have his work cut out for him in Chicago. Fortunately for Smith though, is the fact that, like Vermeil, players are willing to knock down an old lady or two for him.
29. Mike Tice
Tice was an underrated overachiever as a player, but that character trait obviously hasn’t followed him into the coaching ranks. Frankly, Tice looks overmatched on many occasions and many would say he’s about as bright as a three-watt lightbulb for getting caught scalping his complimentary Super Bowl tickets. Unless the Vikings make some serious noise this year, it will be Tice’s last in Minny.
These three new head coaches don’t get a ranking until they’ve completed their first season. However, I will be watching all three with a keen interest.
Well now I guess we’ll see exactly how much of New England’s great defense had to do with Crennel now that he’s taking over as head coach of the Browns. It’s a good thing Crennel isn’t some young college hotshot who doesn’t have a clue about how the NFL works because he’s going to need all the patience he can get with the floundering Browns.
Nolan isn’t entering the most enviable situation either. The 49ers are in need of help at just about every position. Like Mora, he has the bloodlines in place from his father Dick to be a fine coach for a long time. Only time will tell if he can transform the Niners into winners again.
Saban definitely comes to the Dolphins with impressive credentials, having recently won an NCAA championship with LSU. He is known as a disciplinarian who is a near carbon copy of his close friend, Belichick. The Dolphins are hoping he can produce Belichick-like results sometime in the near future.