The NFL head coach may have the toughest job in all of sports. Unlike in other leagues, an NFL head coach must not only teach players and manage in-game decisions, but must also dedicate countless hours to devising a playbook and strategy on how to win games.
The modern era of professional football is known as the Super Bowl Era. Since 1967, there have been 51 Super Bowls. The big game has been won by 32 different coaches and 13 coaches have won the Super Bowl more than once.
Determining who is the greatest head coach in NFL history is a very tough argument. There are so many factors to consider when choosing. An obvious must have on one’s resume is wins. Winning is everything in the NFL. However, one must also consider the effect a coach had on the game and the surrounding competition at the time of his tenure. Championships and playoff appearances are also a very important factor.
For this article, we have limited the discussion to only coaches whose tenures took place in the Super Bowl Era. The game has changed so much since the early days when George Halas and Curly Lambeau roamed the sidelines that including coaches from this time period makes the list very complicated and almost impossible to construct due to the number of innovations they made in the game of football. Therefore, we are sticking with the coaches you remember watching and cheering for. Here they are: the top best coaches of the modern era of professional football.
10. Bud Grant
Bud Grant was the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 1967 to 1985. Over his tenure he compiled a 168-105-5 regular season record. He was named the NFL Coach of the Year three times. Grant’s team, led by quarterback Fran Tarkenton, won the 1969 NFL Championship. This was the final game before the NFL and AFL merged together. Unfortunately, despite making four Super Bowl appearances, Bud Grant and the Vikings never won the big game.
9. John Madden
At the time he was hired by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, John Madden was the youngest coach in NFL history. He spent ten seasons as the team’s leader. From 1969 to 1978, Madden compiled a 103-32-7 regular season record. His .759 winning percentage is the highest of any coach with at least 100 wins. During his time with the Raiders, Madden never had a losing season. He retired after winning Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings.
8. Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi is the model of the NFL head coach. When a team wins the Super Bowl, they are presented with the trophy bearing his name. Lombardi’s Packers won the first two Super Bowls. During his nine years as an NFL head coach, Lombardi never posted a losing season. He finished his career with a 96-34 record and was declared the NFL’s Man of the Decade for the 1960s. It is hard to imagine that the man who could very easily be argued as the greatest coach of all time would only make number eight on this list. However, most of Lombardi’s victories came before the Super Bowl era. In fact, he only coached three seasons during the era, but his legacy makes him a definite member of this list.
7. Marv Levy
Following a four year stint as the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Marv Levy took over as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 1986 to 1997. During this tenure, he led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls, This feat had never been done before and is made even more impressive by the fact that he accomplished it after the NFL installed their salary cap. Levy compiled a 154-120 regular season record and the Bills were able to make the playoffs eight times in his 11-year career.
6. Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick is the only active head coach on this list. He has coached the New England Patriots since 2000. Before joining the Patriots’ organization, Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns from 1991-1995. His 196 regular season wins are the most among active head coaches. He has over 200 wins when playoff victories are included. Belichick is a member of the NFL’s All Decade Team for the 2000s. He led the Patriots to victories in Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX. However, since then he has lost two Super Bowls to the New York Giants. His legacy is in question due to his involvement in the “Spygate” scandal. Prior to his two Super Bowl losses, Belichick had his assistant coaches tape opposing teams’ practices in order to learn what plays they would call in certain situations and what signals they used at the line of scrimmage.
5. Joe Gibbs
Joe Gibbs was one of the most successful coaches during the 1980s. He led the Washington Redskins from 1981 to 1992. During this time, he posted a 120-60 regular season record. His teams won Super Bowls XVII, XXII and XXVI. He is the only head coach to ever win three Super Bowls with three different starting quarterbacks. He also led the Redskins to Super Bowl XVIII, but the team was defeated by the Los Angeles Raiders. A three-time NFL Head Coach of the Year, Gibbs won ten or more games eight times during his tenure.
4. Bill Walsh
Bill Walsh might be the greatest offensive mind to ever coach a football team. From 1979 to 1988, Walsh roamed the San Francisco 49ers’ sideline. During this time, his teams won Super Bowls XVII, XIX and XXIII. He posted a 92-59-1 regular season record, which made the 49ers the winningest team of the 1980s. He would have led them to a fourth Super Bowl victory, but he retired before the 1989 season. His successor, George Seifert would lead the team to its fourth title. Walsh’s greatest contribution, however, is the installment of the West Coast offense. This offense based on quick, high percentage pass plays has been one of the most popular offensive schemes in the NFL since the 49ers started it in the 1980s.
3. Tom Landry
For twenty eight years, a man with a suit, hat and straight chin roamed the Dallas Cowboys’ sideline. This man was head coach Tom Landry. During his coaching tenure, Landry’s Cowboys went 270-178-6 during regular seasons and had 20 winning seasons. His 270 wins are the third most all-time. He is credited for popularizing the spread offense and reviving the use of the Shotgun formation in professional football. He led the Cowboys to five Super Bowls, including victories in Super Bowls VI and XII.
2. Chuck Noll
The NFL head coach with the most Super Bowl rings is Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach Chuck Noll. Noll coached the Steelers from 1969 to 1993. The team won four Super Bowls during the 1970s. Prior to Noll’s arrival in the Steel City, the team had never won a title of any kind. During his 24-year tenure, the Steelers were 193-148-1 during regular seasons. Noll won of 200 games when including his post season record.
1. Don Shula
Without a doubt, the greatest head coach of the Super Bowl era is Don Shula. Shula coached the Baltimore Colts from 1963 to 1969. When the Colts lost Super Bowl III to the AFL’s New York Jets, Shula was release and picked up the following year by the Miami Dolphins. He would coach Miami from 1970 to 1995. He would lead the team to victories in Super Bowls VII and VIII. His 1972 Dolphins went 17-0, making them the only team to ever go undefeated through a 17 game schedule. Shula holds many very important coaching records. He appeared in six Super Bowls, more than any other coach in history and also holds the record for most wins of all time. During his 33 years as a head coach in the NFL, Shula won an incredible 347 games. This is one record that might never be broken.