Top 5 Longest Tenured Active NFL Head Coaches

If you look for longevity and stability in a career, becoming an NFL head coach may not be for you. According to a USA Today report, the average NFL head coach only lasts roughly 4.39 years with their team. I suppose that’s not too abnormal, since the average workers outside of football stay at their jobs for about 4.4 years, according to Forbes. However, the difference is that the latter party usually chooses to look for a more lucrative or awarding position. NFL coaches are usually forced out of their roles.

The coaches below have lasted the test of time, so to speak. All have been with their franchises for more than a half a decade. They have grown with their franchise, team and city. You may even say they’ve become an integral part of the team culture they’ve established. They are a part of their team’s history, and not just a footnote like other coaches before them.

These coaches have stayed head coach for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they’ve accomplished one thing: They’ve met their owner’s expectations. Winning is mostly everything in the NFL, but there are cases where even the most successful head coaches have worn out their welcome despite a good record. Just recently, reports indicated San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh was wearing out his stay in the Golden State despite a 36-11-1 record and two NFC Championship appearances.

Along with winning, these coaches know how to put together a team, as well as communicate to their players on game day. You will also notice their teams have maintained winning records through the years.

So, if longevity in a career is important to you, you may not want to become a head coach, but you may want to talk to these guys. They are some of the best in the world at keeping their jobs despite tremendous pressure.

5 T4. Sean Payton, 7 years, New Orleans Saints

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Prior to Sean Payton being named head coach in 2006, the team had enjoyed only two winning seasons since 1992. Payton, the former quarterback’s coach of the Dallas Cowboys, effectively changed the culture of the “Aints” into the modern-day, aggressive and explosive Saints. Most Saints fans remember their team’s nickname, “the Aints,” being born in the 1980s after fans witnessed radio and TV personality Bernard “Buddy” Diliberto wear a paper bag over his head to promote a Saints’ sponsor. The fans believed the paper bag represented their stumbling team well, so they also wore bags over their heads during games.

However, those days are long gone. Not surprisingly, one of Payton’s first acts as coach was to find himself a franchise quarterback. With Drew Brees falling out of favor with the Chargers, his former team, he signed a free-agent deal with the Saints. While Payton’s second act, drafting Heisman Trophy winning running back Reggie Bush, had just as much flare as signing Brees, it ultimately fell short of expectations. Many thought Bush could carry the work-load, but he became more of a change-of-pace back. In 2010, he departed for Miami.

Payton hit on many of his other first-round picks, including Robert Meachem, Sedrick Ellis and Malcolm Jenkins. All helped form a formidable Saints team who finished 2009 with a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl ring. It was the team’s first Super Bowl victory.

On March 21th, 2012, Payton’s career, as well as others in the organization, took an interesting turn. Roger Goodell, the NFL’s Commissioner, suspended Payton for the 2012 season because of his involvement in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ bounty program. The program basically offered players cash prizes for harming certain players during games. Other players and coaches faced lesser penalties, but the Saints were hit hard. The NFL fined them $500,000 and they lost second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.

While “Bountygate” was a stain on Payton’s stellar career, most people will remember Payton for how he turned around the team and even helped lift the city above the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. Natalie Jayroe, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans once said, “I never had followed football, but became an instant Saints fanatic because there was no single organization that was holding together the spirit of the people in this community like the Saints.” In 2008,  Payton and his wife created the Play It Forward Foundation to raise funds and awareness for disadvantaged families and children in the areas of health, education and welfare.

4 T4. Mike McCarthy, 7 years, Green Bay Packers

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While head coach Mike Sherman put together a nice string of winning seasons from 2000-2005, he was 0-4 in the playoffs. After Sherman’s first losing season in 2005 and a career record with the Packers of 59-43, Packers’ general manager Ted Thompson fired Sherman. While Thompson initially denied it was because of the 4-12 record, many assumed it was a part of the decision.

In January 2006, the Packers hired 49ers’ offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, who had last worked with Brett Favre in 1999 as the Packers’ quarterbacks coach. McCarthy was (and still is) known as a coach with a creative offensive mind with a history of working with quarterbacks. His impressive list includes Joe Montana, Matt Hasselbeck, Rich Gannon, Jake Delhomme and more recently Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Interestingly enough other coaches who interviewed for the Packers’ head coaching vacancy were Wade Phillips, Ron Rivera, Tim Lewis, Jim Bates, Maurice Carthon and Sean Payton. Three out of those six coaches went on to coach other teams. Payton found his way to the Saints and won Super Bowl 44, while Rivera later settled in Carolina and rebuilt a dysfunctional Panthers team.

With the Packers, McCarthy led a team only two years removed from a playoff birth and four playoff appearances. In 2006, he brought the Packers back to an even 8-8 record and then helped propel them to the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants the following season. Favre struggled in the game and the Packers lost 23-20. The playoff game would be Favre’s last in a Packers' uniform. Green Bay traded Favre to the Jets, which left McCarthy to head a new era with unproven backup Aaron Rodgers.

Sometimes the unknown brings unexpected riches, and in the case of Rodgers, the riches equaled a Super Bowl ring. While McCarthy’s Packers went 6-10 following their devastating championship loss, they’ve made the playoffs ever since and even won Super Bowl 45 in 2010.

3 Tom Coughlin, 9 Years, New York Giants

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It’s fair to criticize Coughlin for his Giants team’s in-season performances. Many times they've appeared to struggle through games and seasons, fighting and clawing their way forward. It’s not the most picturesque way of leading a football team—and maybe not the best way—but Coughlin has made it work. He has two Super Bowl rings to prove it.

Alongside his highly criticized quarterback Eli Manning, Coughlin beat the vaunted New England Patriots twice in the big game. In 2007-2008, his team quietly snuck into the wild-card round of the playoffs and effectively marched to the Super Bowl where they defeated the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42. Four years later, his 9-7 team more impressively made their way from the wild-card round to the Super Bowl and beat the Patriots 21-17 at Lucas Oil stadium.

In 1994, Coughlin began his journey as a head coach with the newly minted expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. In eight seasons with the team, he led the Jaguars to four playoff appearances, including one AFC Championship against the New England Patriots. New England would win that game 20-6. In 1993, prior to his head coaching gig with the Jaguars, he actually turned down the Giants offer to become their head coach. He was still coaching at Boston College.

At the time of Coughlin’s hiring in 2004, Giants’ executive vice president John Mara said, “Tom Coughlin is the right person for the job….he is going to bring an intensity and focus and commitment to winning that we need and want.” Coughlin certainly has lived up to Mara’s expectations despite the team’s terrible performance last year and during most regular seasons. Mara will likely let Coughlin retire when he chooses too.

2  2. Marvin Lewis, 10 Years, Cincinnati Bengals

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Upon his hiring in 2003, Marvin Lewis began to turn around a franchise that had last reached the playoffs in 1990. That year was also the last time the Bengals owned a winning record. While his tenure with the team has been somewhat shaky—five times in 10 years, the Bengals have finished with a .500 record or worse—he has instilled a tough culture into a once feeble franchise.

Due to the team’s poor playoff performances in recent years, some critics wonder if he has hit his ceiling in Cincinnati. His team has won the AFC North three times, but is 0-5 in the playoffs under his tenure. David Steele on SportingNews provided a thought to ponder. He wrote, “At this point, his fate is likely tethered to Dalton’s,” who Lewis selected 35th overall in the 2011 draft. In three career playoff games, Dalton owns a paltry 56.9 completion percentage, one touchdown and six interceptions. He is 0-3 in the post season.

While critics will judge Lewis by his most recent successes, or failures, they should remember him for how he anchored a franchise in distress and put together a competitive team. Before Lewis, three other coaches led the Bengals. Collectively they held a .295 winning percentage. Marvin Lewis owns a .514 winning percentage, which is the highest winning percentage of any Bengals’ coach since Forrest Gregg in the early 1980s.

Lewis should also be remembered for his stellar 2009 season when he was awarded AP NFL Coach of the Year. Despite the death of their wide receiver Chris Henry and Vikki Zimmer, the wife of their defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals made the playoffs. Many teammates also were also affected by the tsunami in the Samoan Islands.

No one will question his success at building the Bengals’ foundation, but many have questioned his ability to finish the house. Bad analogy? Yes. But true? Also, yes.

1 Bill Belichick, 13 years, New England Patriots

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For 13 years, Bill Belichick has continued to build and lead one of the league’s most successful team. He’s been their head coach, general manager and unofficial offensive and defensive coordinators. He’s provided the league with a number of coaches, despite their poor success rate, and also a ton of headaches. Whether it was how he formed his team’s injury list, his team’s consistent winning, or controversial “Spygate” scandal, Belichick certainly knows how to write his own way into NFL lore.

Belichick started his coaching career as an assistant for the Baltimore Colts’ head coach Ted Marchibroda in 1965. From there, he worked his way up to assistant special teams coach with the Lions and then moved on to the Denver Broncos. He then landed with the Giants, and for over ten years began to build his resume as a defensive wizard. In 1986, Belichick earned his first of five Super Bowl rings and won his second in 1990 when he put together a Hall-of-Fame worthy defensive plan to stop the Buffalo Bills. During his time with the Giants, his defense was never ranked lower than 11th in the NFL.

In 1991, the Browns hired Belichick to help rebuild the franchise. Although his time in Cleveland was less illustrious than his career with the Giants, he had some bright spots. By 1994, Belichick had built the Browns into one of the AFC’s best teams. Surprisingly, they held the second best record in the AFC and finished 11-5, but less surprising was how they won. During 1994, Cleveland’s defense allowed a league-low 204 points. Belichick’s first playoff victory as a head coach came that year against his future team, the New England Patriots, but they would lose in the divisional round.

The following season, many thought the Browns would again compete for a playoff spot. By early November the team owned a .500 record and were at a crossroads. Art Modell made sure to steer the team in a direction he thought best for the franchise, but the decision left Browns’ fans by the wayside. Soon after the team’s 37-10 loss to the Houston Oilers, Modell announced the Browns would move to Baltimore after the season. The Browns collapsed and finished 1994 with a 5-11 record. Belichick was fired.

While with Cleveland, Belichick’s two greatest accomplishments may have been the lessons he learned (e.g., how to deal with the media and build a team) and the relationships he fostered. Cleveland’s staff was stacked with eventual management stars such as Ozzie Newsome, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, Jim Schwartz, Kirk Ferentz, Thomas Dimitroff, Nick Saban, Eric Mangini, Phil Savage, George Kokinis and Michael Lombardi. Five years later, the new Cleveland Browns (the Ravens) would win their first Super Bowl. Ozzie Newsome was their general manager. In 2001, alongside Scott Pioli, Belichick would also win his first Super Bowl as a head coach with the New England Patriots.

It’ll take forever to go through Belichick’s entire career with the Patriots, so just know this: His winning percentage as the Patriots head coach stands at .724. His career winning percentage stands at .654, which is good for 13th all time. Also, his 199 career victories is 7th all-time among head coaches. Belichick’s Patriots have appeared in five Super Bowls and won three. The Patriots were also the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to finish the regular season undefeated.

Many will look at Belichick with disdain because of his seemingly arrogant and cold-hearted personality, as well as his run-ins with the National Football League. Others will also question his team’s playoff performance since their last Super Bowl victory in 2004. Since then, he and Brady are only 8-8. Belichick’s post season record in the last six years stands at a bland .444. He has lost six of his past 10 playoff games. However, despite the shortcomings, he has put together one of the greatest runs in sports history, and his teams are constantly in the hunt for the Super Bowl championship.

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