Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Apr 2017

All 32 NFL Head Coaches Ranked

Here's a little item for offseason debate: Pete Prisco ranks all 32 NFL head coaches at CBSSports.com. You know who is No. 1, but Mike McCarthy at No. 2? I think this list is a bit too dependent on wins and losses without looking at the underlying questions of a) what a coach contributes with game management and b) when a coach adds to the talents of his players, and when he wins primarily because of those talents.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 19 Apr 2017

62 comments, Last at 04 May 2017, 9:40am by Mr Shush


by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Wed, 04/19/2017 - 2:10pm

" I think this list is a bit too dependent on wins and losses"

Couldn't agree more.

The standard is the standard!

by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 04/19/2017 - 2:40pm

I assume this means he didn't rank Mike Tomlin #32.

by Guest789 :: Wed, 04/19/2017 - 3:08pm

He's #5, which is why Tomlin is Infallible's fist is through his computer screen right now.

by serutan :: Wed, 04/19/2017 - 2:56pm

"without looking at the underlying questions of a) what a coach contributes with game management and b) when a coach adds to the talents of his players, and when he wins primarily because of those talents."

That would require time and thought, which is *not* what offseason fluff pieces like this are about.

Was wr

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 7:08am

I've never been a fan of Pete Prisco, so "time and thought" is also asking too much of him.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 3:56pm

IIR.C Crisco Pete has been caught- on more than one occasion-- editing his weekly "picks" after the fact without admitting it.

The standard is the standard!

by bobrulz :: Fri, 04/21/2017 - 2:49am

Pete Prisco is the sole reason I rarely go to CBS Sports' NFL page anymore.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 04/19/2017 - 3:13pm

1. buol Belichick
2. Jack Del Rio
3. john harbaugh

those are three where uyou would say this guy si the goods.

A. Reid- issues wth lcock management, isusues in playioffs with vbefy passive play

m. McCarthy- pretty close to tip but needs more playoff success t vault into tiop 3.

cant rank new guys like V,. Joseph or k. shanahan and some others. no way to tell yet if any of them can head coach their wyay out of paper bag

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 3:17am

What did you think of Hue Jackson?

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 11:00am

H. JACKSOn good coach. horribiel quarterback situation in Cleveland so cannot win yet. was okay in oakland

by RobotBoy :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 4:36am

Okay, I'll take the bait: 'Jack Del Rio?!'

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 8:59am

Current Raiders coach.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 10:47am

Surely you're familiar with RaiderJoe's blindspot/hilariously exaggerated homerism when it comes to anything Raiders.

by RobotBoy :: Sun, 04/23/2017 - 5:40am

Of course. Just trying to elicit more glorious blarney from the bard of the East Bay.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 11:02am

Del Rio amazing coach. Very goodn with Jaguars. team total disaster since he left. Raiders return to normalcy occurred when Del Rio cm,ae aboardl. Just had problem at end of year when D. Carr got injurfed. Team will be top shelf again for next several years, maybe longer. Good chance Raiders will win super bowl this season and leave mno doubt Del Rio is 2nd best head coach in nfl

by roguerouge :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 9:49pm

You're right, 5-11 from his last season there would be a high point for the current Jags.

by theslothook :: Wed, 04/19/2017 - 5:05pm

This ranking is worthless and unfortunately, impossible to suss out. Besides the obvious, who else feels like a coach that materially brings something to his club?

Short list - Sean Payton, Andy Reid, Bruce Arians, Pete Carrol.

Anyone else that anyone feels confident in saying?(full disclosure, I love Mike Zimmer, but not sure yet with him).

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 04/19/2017 - 11:48pm

Harbaugh. And I would feel ok about including Zimmer, too.

by theslothook :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 1:18am

Harbaugh has also missed the playoffs the last two times and the teams have rarely been great. I say this as someone who has read countless Dr. Z articles. Hardly anyone praises Mike Shannahan, Mike Holmgren, Greg Seifert, or other 1 time sb winners who faded away.

I was at least trying to be consistent. In fairness...I do like Harbaugh.

by BJR :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 6:35am

Harbaugh has done some innovative stuff, and there is obvious attention to detail in his coaching. I'd definitely put him in my top 10 of current coaches, maybe top 5. Any recent Ravens failures are more to do with Joe Flacco (and his contract) than Harbaugh's coaching (although clearly he should not free of all blame for Flacco's poor play).

by theslothook :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 11:47am

I guess im being inconsistent when i leave Harbaugh out. Hes a good coach

by Tracy :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 11:47am

If we're trying to be consistent...has Sean Payton had as much postseason success as Harbaugh, or any of the retired folks you mentioned here?

I'd take your short list, add Harbaugh, Marv Lewis, and Mike Tomlin, and call that tier 2: coaches who've demonstrated a track record of success over many years/with more than one group of players. I have a feeling that Carroll and Harbaugh belong in a sub-tier above the rest, but I wouldn't be able to form a cogent argument that any of them are better than another.

After that, there's a group of coaches who have shown promise, but don't yet have enough of a resume to judge (Zimmer, Gase), a group of long time veterans whose success seems much more dependent on the talent they're given (Del Rio, Tomlin, Fox, McCarthy, Garrett, Rivera), a group of rookies, and a group of coaches who must have some embarrassing pictures of their bosses (Pagano, OBrien).

by theslothook :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 12:29pm

I agree with everything you say. I guess the reason I put Harbaugh off my list is that hes never coached a great team. His teams have always been the same : tough as nails on defense, good special teams, and an eye sore on offense with a few deep bombs per game sprinkled in.

Still, im being inconsistent and hes a good coach and should be on the list.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 04/19/2017 - 11:35pm

The thing that always bugs me the most about these lists is ranking the new head coaches as a tie in last place.

If you don't feel you have enough information to rank them, that's one thing; leave them off the list. But if you're going to include them, are you saying there's no information in Kyle Shanahan's time in Atlanta or Sean McDemott's time in Carolina to help project how good of a coach they will be? Nothing in the resumes to help separate Anthony Lynn from Sean McVay? Clearly, teams saw something in their resumes to think they'll make good head coaches; why not use those resumes to project how good they'll be?

Ranking them in a dead tie in last seems lazy and pretty much definitely inaccurate, as opposed to the rest of the list which is at least defensible.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 7:06am

Yea, I agree the new coaches should have been left off. No rule that your list has to have 32 places.

As an aside, I actually think Kyle Shanahans time in Cleveland 2014, when he somehow put together a functional NFL offense with the talent at hand, was more impressive than his Atlanta stint, where he had an embarrassment of riches.

by theslothook :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 12:34pm

Does Atlanta have an embarrassment of riches? Julio is an all time great player. But Ryan never had a season like last year . The rest of the roster is rounded out by a lot of bit players and one good offense linemen.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 2:16pm

You're right, they're not top 5 or anything, so maybe the "embarrassment of riches" was too strong. Still, Jones is great, and is complemented by good to very good secondary receivers. They have a very good running back. And even if Ryan didn't just have the season of his career, I've always felt he was criminally underrated. His pairing with an atrocious defense the previous few years made him take more risks than he probably would have otherwise, and hurt his reputation.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 7:45pm

I was pretty consistently impressed by his work in Houston, too.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 3:16am

The question occurred to me is there any coach beyond Belichick who actually uses the talent to their best ability? i.e. fits the scheme to the talent.

People like Reid and McCarthy have a system and then go look for players to fit it. And they've been very successful at it.

The one example (outside of BB) I could think of who actually fitted a scheme to the talent he had was John Fox back in 2011 in Denver when he got the team to the playoffs with Tim Tebow running the ball and throwing about 8 passes per game.

I'm sure other coaches do to an extent but anyone add others?

by theslothook :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 11:46am

Bruce Arians maybe?

by PaddyPat :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 5:40pm

Tony Sparano, Miami, 2008, with the Wild Cat working around Pennington's gimpy arm. Very clever scheme that rocked the NFL and was entirely built around the talent.

by YoHoChecko :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 1:04pm

Honestly, I'm so tired of Mike McCarthy getting bagged on. This is an analytics site, so they look at things like time management and what they deem measurable by head coaches. But that's like grading a RB solely on his pass blocking and ignoring that he's a really great runner and receiver. Important, but not the bulk of his job.

McCarthy was a successful offensive coordinator for the Saints, is routinely praised by analysts for his creativity in developing offensive schemes and game plans (though maybe not play calling), and is most importantly a great leader whose players rise for him.

Further, he has one of the league's best records of maintaining wins while leading in the 4th quarter.

I feel like he's constantly discounted because Rodgers is on the team but 1) Rodgers would not have developed into the player that he is without McCarthy (or someone similar) reworking him prior to starting, and 2) I see no such discounts for, say, Sean Peyton playing with Drew Brees or Mike Tomlin playing with Ben Roethlisberger.

Mike McCarthy wins games. He puts together winning teams. And if you want to credit solely the QB, I'd tell you to look around at the Chargers and the Saints and the Steelers and the Colts to see how inconsistency can still creep up on teams with elite QBs. I'm just tired of it. He's a very, very good head coach. Period.

by theslothook :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 2:02pm

I don't necessarily disagree, but a few points.

"I see no such discounts for, say, Sean Peyton playing with Drew Brees or Mike Tomlin playing with Ben Roethlisberger"

There is a poster on this site who devotes his FO energies(possibly his life) to dismissing Tomlin. And Sean Payton has been criticized by a lot of people as well.

As for McCarthy -there's a lot to like, but there's also a worrying trend that has happened with the packers and it slightly mirrors the colts under Peyton Manning. His teams are still getting far in the playoffs, but more and more, the team feels dependent on Rodgers' heroics to get them wins. How much credit do we like giving to head coaches that feel wholly dependent on their qb?

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 3:59pm


you can't be serious.
The standard is the standard!

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 4:07pm

At least no-one is going to accuse Andy Reid of being dependent on his QB.

by barf :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 4:51pm

I disagree with this - he's very dependent on Alex Smith. He wants him to go out and execute the offense, make good decisions, and not turn over the ball. Also, make a few good throws and make plays with his feet when he gets in trouble. The Chiefs have won 43 regular season games in the past 4 years. QB isn't an issue.

by theslothook :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 5:06pm

Are the chiefs dependent on qb play for wins? Maybe to the extent that every team needs qb play to win, but I think its unanimous that the chiefs are nowhere near as dependent on qb play for wins as some of the other teams. If GB, ATL, or IND got below avg qb play - they would almost assuredly lose. If the chiefs got below avg qb play, I'd still put there chances of winning as semi decent - because they have a well rounded roster.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 7:49pm

The Texans have won playoff games with Brock Osweiler and TJ Yates. Granted, an actual quarterback of Smith's level would probably have meant a win in Foxboro too, but it is definitely still possible to win with laughably awful quarterbacking. Not that playing in hard mode is recommended, obviously, but it's possible.

by theslothook :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 9:57pm

Well...they also play in the perenially awful afc south and got playoff wins when the other teams qb either melted down (Andy Dalton) or the qb was hurt (Carr)

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:40am

Sure, but neither of those things is QB play. Good quarterbacking is extremely valuable, but not literally necessary.

by Daniel2772 :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 4:00pm

The question is, would you ditch Mike McCarthy if you could replace him with any of the guys immediately below him on the list?I think I would fire McCarthy in a heartbeat if it meant I could have Carroll, Tomlin, Payton or Harbaugh.

by PaddyPat :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 5:47pm

Gosh, I sure wouldn't. Harbaugh I think is better than McCarthy, but other posters have disparaged his teams' lack of dominance. The others are quite dubious. I don't think Sean Payton has done a good job managing his team overall since the Super Bowl run, and Pete Carroll is hard to evaluate long-term. I'd like to see how he performs after a further dissolution of talent in Seattle and how he oversees a rebuilding effort.

by LyleNM :: Fri, 04/21/2017 - 12:03pm

Pete Carroll DID oversee a rebuilding effort in Seattle. Exactly how many coaches have been forced to do that multiple times (for the same team)?

by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 04/20/2017 - 6:00pm

Payton hasn't exactly had a solid run of years, and has shown an inability to build a defense resembling anything but a train wreck. I'd currently put him in my "love to have him as an offensive coordinator, but that's it" category.

by Arkaein :: Fri, 04/21/2017 - 12:07pm

Payton has had a fully developed and healthy Drew Brees for his entire tenure with the Saints. I can't think of another coach that has had less QB adversity to deal with over such a span.

In comparison, McCarthy brought Favre out of the steady decline of the Sherman years, developed Rodgers out of college, and got key performances out of Matt Flynn in the 8-7-1 season to get to the playoffs.

McCarthy has a 7% higher reg season win pct, same number of championships, and while his playoff win pct is slightly lower, GB has nearly twice as many appearances over the same time.

So no, I can't see any objective reason why Payton should be ranked higher than McCarthy.

Tomlin is another coach who also came into a great situation. Took over a Superbowl contender, has had a top tier QB for his entire time, though he has had to weather injuries at the position. Reg season and post season win pct nearly identical to McCarthy. Same number of Championships. Good coach, but little objective evidence that he's better than McCarthy.

by jackiel :: Sat, 04/22/2017 - 5:31pm

I disagree. McCarthy is bad at the edge attributes that often determine the difference between wins and championships. His time management behavior and conservative play calling in numerous big games has reduced his team's chances of winning. Since wins are the primary metric that teams use when evaluating their coaching staff, being critical of a guy who does things that detract from winning is fair game IMO.

Hate to break it to you, but winning games has a lot to do with picking players and managing the cap. In most organizations, the GM controls much of that. GB has a fantastic scouting organization and player personnel department and they manage the cap exceptionally well. SD's talent level atrophied and then declined after AJ Smith left. NO has horribly mismanaged the cap. That's why those teams aren't good. It has little to do with coaching.

Finally, like most teams with historically great QBs, Rodgers's greatness covers up a lot of weaknesses in GB. The GB offense no longer functioned as designed by the end of last year...unless you honestly believe that the pass play calls were designed to allow pressures that forced the QB out of the pocket to run the scramble drill and that their inability to run the ball was planned. That offense would have been non functional with an average QB last year.

by YoHoChecko :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 10:26am

This is the exact comment I'm fighting back against, honestly.

The arguments all are based on an unproven counterfactual of "what if he didn't have Rodgers." The whole team would be built differently and run differently if he didn't have Rodgers. But think, even, about how the offense looked under Favre--sawed-off shotgun formation, 4-5 wide formations. And now he's looking for TEs in the middle of the field and building more of a balance. The offense is consistently top ten, and based on the same general language and scheme, but it has changed a lot from late Favre (more shorter passes and higher completion percentage) to the evolution of Rodgers (more deep passes and big plays, then edging back away from that some as personnel dictated).

All we have, observably, is time management. But even that gets overstated by a couple of visible blunders. Last season, MM held the longest consecutive REGULAR SEASON game streak of holding onto leads in the 4th quarter. So as frustrated as fans get, the overall startegy works 90% of the time.

You don't get to evaluate a coach on how the team would maybe, possibly fare absent his best player. Evaluate the reality. The reality is that MM is very successful; he runs a good program; he organizes everything. And he always has a good offense, even when he had a 1st-year starter in Rodgers taking over for a legend. The man is a good football coach, plain and simple.

by dank067 :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 1:26pm

I think McCarthy deserves credit for the offensive scheme he built in Green Bay, but you can't ignore the fact that, as jackiel alluded to, the offense has become almost totally dependent on Rodgers making plays out of structure and near-inconceivable throws. And its output and productivity have notably suffered—it was pointed out in FOA 2016 that they were legitimately one of the worst offenses in the NFL over the second half of 2015, and they rated as barely above-average through the first half of last season before they finally picked things back up.

When the Packers had better receivers (or better versions of their current receivers), they could run the isolation routes McCarthy asked and consistently get open deep and along the sidelines. This also meshed well with Rodgers's improvisational abilities because it stretched defenses out and gave the receivers space to work back into if needed. Without the same quality of receiver, it just seems like the offense too often devolves into sending guys out into space on routes/matchups they're not going to win. Eventually Rodgers makes something happen.

by theslothook :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 4:19pm

Just to piggy back - the problem with just looking at reality is that we only see one version of reality. It may be unfair to hold the rodgers standard against him, but its also pretty lazy to pretend like Rodgers isn't a significant effect.

In fact, as was mentioned above, the packers have been in slow decline since their heyday for a while now. I'm not going to predict that they will continue to slide, but I think its worrying enough that people should be concerned. The defense was pretty horrible by the end of the year and the offense has come down quite a bit from its consistent excellence. If you think McCarthy is a great coach, you need to reconcile those facts.

by MarkV :: Sat, 04/22/2017 - 1:37am

I would pick Arians #2, then Tomlin, Carroll, and probably Rivera.
Payton and McCarthy seem rather overrated by this crowd.
Reid is tricky, cause he does some things REALLY bad, and his offenses (his specialty) are meh, but he also hires really brilliant defensive coaches and he seems to be rather decent at talent development.

by BJR :: Sat, 04/22/2017 - 4:32am

Andy Reid, unlike most of the other coaches being mentioned has never (as a head coach) benefited from HOF level QB play. Indeed go one step further - are there any HOF players at all that Reid has coached? Dawkins maybe, but I'm otherwise drawing a blank.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 04/22/2017 - 5:05am

Terrell Owens was on the team for a couple of seasons and that assumes he eventually gets in the HoF but you wouldn't put that down to Andy Reid. Maybe one or two of those Chiefs defenders might be good enough?

But let's not ignore that for all the success Belichick's had, there will be very few Pats going to the HoF at the end of their careers. Brady, Vinatieri, Gronk plus Moss, Revis erm ...

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 7:52pm

I think I would put Seymour in, and I don't completely hate Law's case, either.

by Andrew Potter :: Sat, 04/22/2017 - 6:14am

Eric Berry, surely? Been in the league six years, already a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. Arguably the best safety in the game, has a bunch of highlight-reel plays including game-winning interception returns, not to mention the incredible adversity he overcame as he was approaching the peak of his career.

by BJR :: Sat, 04/22/2017 - 6:29am

Berry would have been an afterthought until this past season. Yes, if he can sustain that level of play for a further 3/4 years, and/or if the Chiefs win a championship, he'll have a good chance. But hardly a lock.

by davepyne :: Sat, 04/22/2017 - 11:33pm

Payton and Gase should be lower. Payton only had good records at the peak of Drew Brees' career. Defense sucks. Gase had what 1 year of 10-6? That's it?

Rivera and Garrett higher. Rivera adapted his scheme to fit the unique talent he has at QB. Garrett has managed high expectations every year. Coaching for a big market team creates some extra pressure along with an owner who is always nosing in on coaching decisions. A tough job for sure. Managed a good record along the way.

by BJR :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 10:22am

All this stuff is extremely subjective so I'm not going to argue passionately, but I'm not particularly high on Garrett. I'm never impressed by his in-game strategy, and don't see him bringing anything much to the table in terms of innovation - his offence is just more talented than others. In 2015 the team fell apart after Romo got hurt, which is not the sign of a well coached team.

Rivera I agree. He's won a lot of games in spite of some apparent glaring personnel deficiencies on his roster.

by LionInAZ :: Sun, 04/23/2017 - 10:09pm

I think Carroll comes in at #2. Pagano is ranked way too high, Del Rio and Garrett too low.
Hell, I think Caldwell ranks above Pagano, mainly because Pagano has been winning in a notoriously weak division. I'm not sure O'Brien deserves his high ranking either.

by JonFrum :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 4:10pm

To anyone who mentioned Harbaugh: After seeing Belichick de-pants the guy, it's hard to take that one with a straight face. There should be four categories - The Hoodie, guys the Hoodie has not made look like jamokes, guys the Hoodie has made look like jamokes, guys who are bad. A surprising number of coaches who get a lot of play in the media are in category 3. Good coaches don't lose track of time outs, and manage to get their guys on and off the field in a timely fashion. And regarding Harbaugh - they know the rules. Of if they don't know the rules, they keep their mouths shut so that we don't find out that they don't know the rules.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 7:56pm

I don't know what a jamoke is, but going from context I'm pretty sure Belichick has made some very good coaches look like one. I'm also pretty sure some very good coaches have made exactly the kind of screw-ups you're talking about - that's not disqualifying, to my mind. Sure, they're all clearly worse than Belichick. If there have been more than about 5 good coaches in the history of the game, that doesn't mean they're not good coaches.

by JonFrum :: Mon, 04/24/2017 - 4:10pm

To anyone who mentioned Harbaugh: After seeing Belichick de-pants the guy, it's hard to take that one with a straight face. There should be four categories - The Hoodie, guys the Hoodie has not made look like jamokes, guys the Hoodie has made look like jamokes, guys who are bad. A surprising number of coaches who get a lot of play in the media are in category 3. Good coaches don't lose track of time outs, and manage to get their guys on and off the field in a timely fashion. And regarding Harbaugh - they know the rules. Of if they don't know the rules, they keep their mouths shut so that we don't find out that they don't know the rules.

by Sentient :: Wed, 04/26/2017 - 8:01pm

McCarthy's strategic preparation is superior and his organization's part in that, player development, is very good. However, as other posters note, his tactical in-game decisions are, too often, not of the same caliber, and it has cost his team.
It may be that these two skills, strategy and tactics, are somewhat mutually exclusive: historians say that the greatest operational generals, Patton, Napoleon, Frederick the Great, are, strategically, idiots.
So, assuming everyone could agree on where to draw the line, maybe the ideal question is, which coaches are best at building a team and which are best at winning the game?