I don’t think there’s any statistic ignored faster in the NFL than a head coach’s win record. All it takes is one bad season for the media and the fans to become up in arms, calling for the coach’s head. After the abysmal 2013 campaign in Washington D.C. it seemed like everyone got their pitchforks and torches and were ready to run Mike Shanahan out of town, one season removed from a stellar campaign in which his scheme took a rookie QB to the playoffs. It would seem previous success makes it worse for the coach, against all logic. The thought process isn’t ‘he’s done it before,’ instead it’s ‘he’s lost the team.’ You don’t hear much of an uproar over Gus Bradley or Dennis Allen keeping their jobs. Something about falling from success to failure drives people crazy. No one has any stomach for variance, it would seem.
With that in mind, very good football coaches punch in and punch out at a ridiculous turnover rate. I mean, after the miserable 2013 Giants season there were fans calling for Tom Coughlin to be given the axe. Come on now, people. I heard you clamoring about him being too old or no longer a fit on various sports radio stations. In 10 years he’s given you two Vince Lombardi trophies, with arguably one of the least talented teams in the playoffs both times. What, do you think he forgot how to coach? Fans need to be very realistic about realizing what is a shortcoming of coaching, and what is a shortcoming of the players on the field.
Change for the sake of change does no one any good. It certainly forces many NFL coaches to look over their shoulders the second they lose a few games. The old adage goes “quarterbacks get all of the praise when teams win and all of the blame when they lose”. With all these highly drafted QBs being franchise idols, I think it has become they get all of the praise, and when they lose their coach gets all the blame. Almost every one of the coaches below on this list have had the star QB to keep them snugly in their seats.
10. Pete Carroll – Seattle Seahawks – 38 Wins
The coach at the top of the mountain, the mad genius whose brain every NFL executive wants to pick, is number ten on our list. The good news for him is the silvery football-on-a-stick he brought home to Seattle from New York basically guarantees he’s going to have plenty of time to climb this ladder. Hired in 2010 taking over for Jim Mora, Carroll has gone 38-26 in that time for a win percentage of .594. He’s made the playoffs three times since then. (Hilariously the first was 2010 when they got in winning the NFC West at 7-9. And to think this past year the Cardinals wouldn’t even make the playoffs in the NFC West at 10-6.) Carroll’s coaching style is best known for his tough love; he wants tough as nails, disciplined players– but he wants them to be free to be who they are, as individuals, not as soldiers falling in line. It’s an ingenious combination, as far as large-scale coaching strategies go. Unless the ‘hawks are your divisional rival, it’s hard not to be entranced by this old-school/new-school hybrid team and their unorthodox coach.
9. Rex Ryan – New York Jets – 42 Wins
It’s pretty rare a head coach lasts six years without a true star QB these days. Rex Ryan has pulled it off with a combination of charisma, defensive pedigree, and good luck. Most coaches wouldn’t survive the transition to a new GM, but Rex got one chance and made the most of it, taking a team projected to be the bottom of the barrel to an 8-8 record last year with what might be the worst offense in the league. He has stayed alive due to the early playoff success the team experienced with him at the helm, and was lucky enough to be working with an open-minded new GM in John Idzik (a rare quality). Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I think they complement each other well, and I commend Rex on his adaptation. Not many coaches are willing to admit they’ve done things wrong and change their ways. Mornhinwheg was a great hire, working miracles offensively last season to win them games with such an offensively anemic roster. In his five years, Rex has gone 42-38, a win percentage of .525. This is probably a make or break year for Rex, so for his sake let’s hope in 2014 there’s another year-end locker room celebration for a different reason.
8. Mike Smith – Atlanta Falcons – 60 Wins
Replacing the infamous, short lived NFL career of Bobby Petrino, Mike Smith has wrangled plenty of success out of his team in the regular season since he arrived in 2008 (the disastrous 2013 campaign aside). One of the many coaches on this list whose job is protected by the success of his franchise QB, Smith has led Matt Ryan and the Falcons to a 60-36 record, which is a .625 win percentage, as well as two division titles and four playoff appearances. Unfortunately, the playoffs have not treated them well, only having one playoff win amidst those four appearances. Smith did however win the Associated Press Coach of the Year Award in 2008. If the Falcons are unable to fortify their O and D lines and have another subpar year, Mike Smith’s job might be in jeopardy.
7. John Harbaugh – Baltimore Ravens – 62 Wins
The Ravens have been a team with so much success in their short history that getting a head coaching job there must feel like a dream. Well, as strong as the defense has been, the QB position had been a temp job from hell for many years, and it eventually cost Brian Billick his job. A special teams coach named John Harbaugh would take the reins in 2008, and that very year they’d draft a young QB from the University of Delaware, Joe Flacco. Once again, the head coaching job and QB position’s stability seem to go hand in hand. Harbaugh proved to be an excellent leader, winning the franchise another Super Bowl in the 2012 season. Since 2008 Harbaugh and the Ravens’ record is 62-34, a percentage of .646, along with 5 playoff berths with an amazing 9-4 record in the playoffs. Baltimore has themselves a fantastic coach; expect him to stay awhile.
6. Mike Tomlin – Pittsburgh Steelers – 71 Wins
It’s not a coincidence the AFC North is known as a very strong division, and we already have two head coaches who hail from there on this list. Tomlin has had the rare honor of coming into a head coaching job with an established, Super Bowl champion franchise QB in Ben Roethlisberger. Tomlin certainly hasn’t wasted the opportunity, going 71-41 since he replaced Bill Cowher in 2007. Cowher had retired, and Tomlin hopped over from the Vikings to lead them to two Super Bowl appearances, winning one championship. Under Tomlin they have gone to the playoffs four times with a record of 5-3. He’s also the only coach in NFL history to have gone to two Super Bowls before his 40th birthday. So long as they can replenish their roster with talent as their aging stars retire, Tomlin should be secure in Pittsburgh. Heck, as long as Roethlisberger plays well, he’ll be rocking the black and yellow.
5. Sean Payton – New Orleans Saints – 73 Wins
Talk about the transformative power of a head coach. Sean Payton is arguably the best coach in the NFL when you consider the effect he has on a team. An offensive innovator, an aggressive risk-taker, and a coach who demands performance from his players, Sean Payton means more to the Saints franchise than any other cog the team has. Players will come and go, but Payton is already a cornerstone in changing the franchise from a legacy of failure into a dominant NFL team. Payton saw the potential of Drew Brees even though he had been cast off by the Chargers, and turned the team into a furious torrent of passing efficiency that overwhelm opponents regularly. Using creative offensive schemes involving pass-catching running backs and tight ends, the offense has become an unpredictable machine controlled by Payton’s incisive offensive instincts. His record since 2006 is 73-39 with a percentage of .652, his numbers reduced after he missed the 2012 season due to the bounty-gate suspension. They went 7-9 without Payton that season, going 13-3 and 11-5 in the years with him before and after. He’s taken the team to the playoffs five times, with a record of 6-4. Did I mention Payton won the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance with a masterful coaching performance in 2009? The Saints would be fools to ever let this guy walk.
4. Mike McCarthy – Green Bay Packers – 82 Wins
Mike McCarthy must’ve been fist-pumping (not really, he doesn’t seem the type) when he landed the Packers HC job in 2006. To start your career with Hall of Famer in Brett Favre, and then transition seamlessly to superstar Aaron Rodgers, well, it doesn’t get much better than that. Give the man his credit though, he’s a fantastic coach who demands a lot of his players without being too constricting. Green Bay knows how to run a football team, and the personnel and coaching decisions reflect that. It couldn’t have been easy handling the delicate offseason situation when Favre was traded to the Jets and Rodgers had to fill enormous shoes, but McCarthy led the ship true, going 11-5 in 2009, losing to the Cardinals 45-51 in one of the most epic wild card games in NFL history. The Cardinals would go on to lose the Super Bowl, but anyone who watched that game realized just how incredible Rodgers and the Packers were. McCarthy channeled that emotional loss in the 2010 playoffs, where they dominated everyone who crossed their path to become Super Bowl XLV champions. The bottom line, McCarthy has gone 82-45 for the Packers for a percentage of .645, and taken them to 6 playoff berths with a record of 6-5. Expect to see him continue to deliver monolithic postgame press conferences for years to come.
3. Marvin Lewis – Cincinnati Bengals – 90 wins
Possibly the strangest case of a coach making it this far on our list. Not because he’s not a good coach; I believe he’s one of the better coaches in the NFL. It’s just rare for a coach to stay with a team struggling with mediocrity for so long. Clearly, the front office is smart enough to realize how good of a defensive football coach Lewis is. Strangely, he survived a wacky QB era with Carson Palmer, and only two winning seasons in six years with him as a starter (mostly). When the franchise moved on to 2nd round QB Andy Dalton, they wanted Lewis to stay despite intense speculation he’d be fired after a 4-12 2010 campaign. He’s rewarded them with three straight winning seasons, and three straight playoff appearances, despite first round exits every year. The team is so rife with talent that the only questionable position is QB, an unfortunate deficiency. It will be interesting to see how that situation plays out in the years to come. In 11 seasons Lewis has gone 90-85, for a percentage of .514 (the lowest on this entire list). He’s brought 5 playoff berths, but they have gone winless in all five. Sounds like they need an upgrade at the QB position or Lewis will end up a part of the fired coaches association.
2. Tom Coughlin – New York Giants – 90 Wins
It was clear from Coughlin‘s masterful coaching of the downtrodden Jacksonville Jaguars over eight seasons he was a darn good coach. The Giants picked him up in 2004, and he produced almost immediately for them. Despite having to rush the development of young QB Eli Manning, it took them only a year to become an NFC East powerhouse. A true disciplinarian, Coughlin was exacting and very no-nonsense as a football coach. It brought out great potential in his players, but it also rankled with them as well. This most notably came to a head with defensive superstar Michael Strahan, a goofy fun-loving guy. Coughlin had to learn how to still be demanding while giving his players enough liberties to eliminate team conflict. It worked beautifully; in 10 years he’d taken the team to five playoff berths, and won them two Super Bowls; an incredible playoff record of 8-3. As for the regular season, he’s gone 90-70 for a percentage of .563. He’s got the rings to shoo away doubters with. Be grateful, Giants fans.
1. Bill Belichick – New England Patriots – 163 wins
Is this a shock to anyone? The Patriots really must’ve seen something when they traded a first round draft pick to the Jets for the rights to sign Belichick as their head coach in 2000. It worked out pretty dang well for them. 163 wins and only 61 losses in fourteen seasons. A staggering win percentage of .728. If you don’t yet know, Belichick will be coaching the Patriots until the day he decides to retire. The man has won the AFC East 11 times. They’ve been AFC champions 5 times, thus going to 5 Super Bowls and winning 3 of them. As we all know, his success is shared by (and I daresay, because of) future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady. Once again long coaching tenures are coupled with franchise QBs. There’s no doubt how good of a football mind Belichick is, but for coaches like him to get the chance to show it, they need the QB to keep their job secure. He certainly didn’t have that good fortune when he was the head coach of the Browns. His playoff record with the Pats is a monster 18-8. The coach he replaced in 2000? #10 on our list, Pete Carroll. Maybe NFL head coaching is one of those infinite loops.