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The Indisputable Top NFL Head Coaching Rankings

Updated: Mar 7

The NFL Players Association released its annual Team Report Card on Wednesday, and as it does every year, it caused quite a stir.

Wait a minute, the Kansas City Chiefs got an F- for their ownership??  But the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings owners were A+?  You’d think creating the conditions for a dynasty could at least get you a passing grade.  The Packers’ ownership got an A even though technically they don’t have an owner.  I’d ask what kind of calculus the NFLPA was using to get these results, but I’m afraid they might kidnap me in the night and force me to do an Oklahoma Drill with Ndamukong Suh.

Seriously, the grades were a result of an NFL-wide survey that polled 1,706 players.  A quick check of the ol’ phone calculator tells us that given 53 players on an active roster and 32 teams in the NFL, that’s 1,696 active NFL players during any given week during the season.  Of course, injuries, suspensions or anything else that might cause a player to miss a game means that more than 1,696 will play during the season, but the NFLPA’s significant sample-size means this report card is a pretty good indicator of how NFL players feel about their employers.

Some grades, like KC’s ownership, were stunning.  Others, like the Bengals getting an F- for Food/Cafeteria, were predictable.  For the most part, these grades don’t matter.  I mean, is someone really going to pick the Carolina Panthers because they got a B+ for their Nutritionist over the Pittsburgh Steelers who got a D?  One category, though, stood out in a major way: the head coach grades.

For reference, here’s a quick rundown of the grades handed out to each coach by the polling results:

Hmm.  Now this is interesting.  Andy Reid got an A+ but that’s no surprise.  But Bill Belichick with a B-?  You’ve got my attention.  Frank Reich was fired midseason but still pulled out an A- but reigning Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski (make that two-time CotY) got a B-?  This is getting juicy.

But before we lose our minds here, let’s remember that 1,706 players participated in this survey, and they all certainly didn’t come from just the Chiefs, Patriots and Browns.  Sadly, we may have to take these results with a few pounds of salt.

(And before someone comments that the above list is not 100% in alphabetical order, I copied this directly from the NFLPA’s website, so if we need another indicator that this survey is pretty unserious, just keep looking at how the New York Giants and New York Jets are separated by two teams and no one who works for the NFLPA noticed.)

So, how do we interpret this?  Don’t worry, I’ve figured it out.  I’ve separated the wheat from the chaff.  Allow me to divine this mystery.  I’ve ranked the Top NFL Head Coaches in tiers in order of worst-est to first-est for your reading pleasure.

(Another note: this is the Top NFL Head Coaches, not just the Top Head Coaches in the NFL.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t get to poke some more fun at Josh McDaniels’ expense!)

Josh McDaniels

Josh McDaniels

I didn’t make you wait long!  For self-destructing in epic fashion in two different spots (Denver and Las Vegas) with over a decade gap in between, McDaniels gets a tier all his own.  Some guys just aren’t made out to be head coaches.  But don’t worry, McDaniels will get another shot to be an offensive coordinator once Belichick finds a new gig.  Bill always bails out his buddy.

Back to Coordinator for You

Arthur Smith

Matt Nagy

Steve Spagnuolo

Arthur Smith might be the heir to the FedEx fortune, but that doesn’t mean he could figure out how to get air and ground working together while he was the head coach of the Falcons.  Now, he’s with the Steelers as their offensive coordinator.  Maybe it’s a given that he can get more out of this Steelers offense than Matt Canada could, but with Kenny Pickett still in line to be QB1 I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

Matt Nagy and Steve Spagnuolo both belong in this category as former head coaches who found a life beyond being the top dog with their teams.  Both ended up with the Chiefs (Nagy as OC and Spags as DC), and now they have rings (multiple, in Spags’ case) to show for it.  See, Arthur, there’s still hope!

One More Chance

Dennis Allen

Dan Quinn

Todd Bowles

Raheem Morris

Each of these current head coaches is under varying stages of pressure and is facing different expectations to win – and, critically, has already wasted one opportunity.  Dennis Allen, who failed miserably with the then-Oakland Raiders from 2012-2014, is going into his third season with a not-too-shabby Saints roster and all they have to show for it is .471 winning percentage and a now-floundering Derek Carr.

Former Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn parlayed an abysmal defensive showing in the NFC Wild Card Round into a head coaching job with the perpetually hapless Commanders, making him the latest chump to fall for the Commanders’ schtick.  Maybe he can recapture some of the magic he found with the Falcons back in 2016 when they held a 28 - 3 lead in the Super Bowl, but without a Kyle Shanahan-esqe offensive genius to handle all things scoring-wise, that seems like a pipedream.

Todd Bowles managed wash some of the stink from his tenure with the Jets away and got his Buccaneers into the playoffs in 2023 – and they even knocked off a drunk Eagles team in the Wild Card Round – but after being dispatched quite effortlessly by the Detroit Lions (and being bailed out by a woeful NFC South), it’s clear much of the Buccaneers’ success was the direct result of their opponents actively sabotaging themselves.  If the Buccaneers can’t show any improvement, expect Bowles to be out of a job.

Finally, we have Raheem Morris, who finally got his second chance to be a head coach thirteen years after being fired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Incredibly, amongst all above names Morris is actually the youngest at 47-years-old.  He’s slightly-used goods, but there’s plenty of life left in his coaching career.  But still, don’t expect the Falcons to give him a long leash…

First Year, Who Knows?

Dave Canales

Brian Callahan

Jerrod Mayo

Mike Macdonald

Unlike the other head coaches who got jobs this coaching cycle, the three above have never been in the top spot before now.

I’ll be honest, I follow football pretty closely and I don’t think I heard Canales’ name once all year.  Granted, I didn’t watch many Buccaneers games but even in the ones I watched the attention was focused solely on Bowles and quarterback Baker Mayfield.  Oh, and usually the other team.  Canales will now try to win with the Panthers and their notoriously short-tempered owner, the aptly named David Temper, I mean Tepper.

Callahan got an opportunity with the Tennessee Titans after five seasons as OC with the Cincinnati Bengals.  Like Canales, Callahan was a bit of an unknown, though he has the benefit of being the direct descendant of legendary offensive line coach Bill Callahan.  Smartly, Callahan the Younger called upon Callahan Greyhair for aid, and Greyhair responded.  Together, perhaps they can breathe life into the career of Will Levis, the Cannon-Armed.

Now we get to the coach with the toughest act to follow: Jerrod Mayo of the New England Patriots.  The man replacing Bill Belichick as head honcho in Foxborough.  The guy after the guy.  The odds are, obviously, well-stacked against him, but thankfully, Mayo’s first order of business will be simple and straightforward – find somebody, anybody, to play quarterback.

The Seahawks decided to part ways with long-time head coach Pete Carroll and hired a guy with a near-complete-opposite personality in Macdonald, the former Ravens defensive coordinator. Carroll was the chatty, social type while Macdonald is the quiet, introverted type, but what they both have in common is a knack for building lock-down defenses.  It would seem the Seahawks do, in fact, have a type.

What Would You Say…You Do Here?

Matt Eberflus

Robert Saleh

Brian Daboll

Nick Siriani

None of the coaches above seem to have much going for them right now.  Eberflus is probably looking down the barrel of a midseason firing if the Bears come out of the gates flat.  Given they have the first pick along with a billion other draft picks, that actually feels warranted.

Saleh was given his stay of execution with the Jets, if only because they only got about five minutes of Aaron Rodgers last year, but if Saleh is counting on a 40+ year-old QB coming off an Achilles tear to save his career, I hope for his sake he’s renting.

It’s not completely his fault, but if Daboll had anything to do with the Giants handing Daniel Jones $40 million this year, then he deserves the heat he’s getting.  Sure, he has a Coach of the Year award on his resumé, but that’s become more of a sign of impending doom than a stamp of approval.  He might be safe for another year, but if he can’t at least get the Giants back to the playoffs, he’ll be in hot water.

Fellow NFC East coach Nick Siriani has had – by far – the most success of anyone in this tier, but after the Eagles utterly disintegrated during the second half of the season, it’s fair to wonder if Siriani is in over his head.  After his two top coordinators left town, the Eagles haven’t looked the same on either side of the ball.  Let’s not forget: Siriani gave up play-calling duties early in his tenure to Steichen.  So, Nick, what is it you do around here?

We Just Enjoy Not Sucking

Marvin Lewis

Sean McDermott

Kevin Stefanski

These guys are all middle of the road, and nobody exemplifies that better than Lewis.  He coached in Cincinnati for nigh on a millennium, never really sucking that bad to get fired, but never coming close to overachieving.  If Marvin’s your coach, you aren’t winning the Super Bowl, period.  For anyone in the tiers below Marv (except for the rookie head coaches), you aren’t winning a Super Bowl either.

What Lewis was to the Bengals is what McDermott is for the Bills – and Stefanski for the Browns for that matter.  Between his bizarre 9/11-referencing pep talks and his penchant for blowing winnable postseason games, McDermott is showing to have a distinct ceiling even though he employs arguably the most versatile and explosive QB in the game in Josh Allen.

For Stefanski and the Browns, this has been one of the most productive marriages in recent memory, though that’s saying basically nothing.  Because it’s the Browns, Stefanski has two Coach of the Year awards just because writers everywhere are still baffled he hasn't hopped on the first flight out of Cleveland since he first arrived.  But with Deshaun Watson hurt, ineffective and costing the Browns approximately the equivalent of the US national debt, the Browns are in a pickle, and it’s one that might, fairly or unfairly, cost Stefanski his job.

Looking Good, but Jury’s Still Out

Antonio Pierce

Jonathan Gannon

Shane Steichen

DeMeco Ryans

Pierce turned an interim gig into a full-time one after he replaced McDaniels midseason.  He leaned into the Raider image, turning a team without an identity into a menacing, smash-mouth bully.  It’s a very small sample size, but the Raiders weren’t about to let Rich Bisaccia 2.0 get away this time.

The entire NFL landscape thought the Cardinals would not only suck, but they would tank and suck, creating an inferno of dysfunction as they incinerated anyone else’s chances of getting the first pick.  Gannon had other ideas.  Even with (alleged) franchise QB Kyler Murray out for a good chunk of the season, Gannon had the Cardinals competitive week-in and week-out.  There are too many question marks to say for sure that Gannon is the man moving forward, but year one was encouraging.

Like Gannon, Steichen was without his (alleged) franchise QB for much of the season.  Instead of having # 4 pick Anthony Richardson at his disposal, Steichen had to turn to journeyman Gardner Minshew to make a surprise run at the playoffs with the Colts.  They fell short, but they look like a team that could make some noise with a healthy Richardson – provided Steichen can develop him, of course.

The one-year turnaround by the Texans last year behind Ryans’ leadership was extraordinary.  After looking like the worst team in football in 2022 and facing that endless NFL purgatory that is not having a franchise QB, the Texans selected two cornerstones on either side of the ball in C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson.  They reached the playoffs and stomped a good Browns team in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.  Ryans looks like a star, but the AFC South was a dumpster fire and the Browns were starting Joe Flacco at QB.  I’m not saying it was a fluke, but I’m not not saying it was a fluke either.

Re-Treads and Has-Beens but Still-Goods

Mike McCarthy

Pete Carroll

Doug Pederson

Mike Vrabel

Sean Payton

Jim Harbaugh

This is…an eclectic group.  McCarthy has been on the hot-seat since he arrived in Dallas and he has done nothing but fan the flames.  It’s gotten to the point that Jerry Jones is beginning to consider drastic action…like having another press conference to talk about how secure McCarthy’s job is!

Looks like Carroll’s days of chewing his gum into powder on the Seahawks sidelines has come to a close.  It’s been a good run, but the NFL seems to be passing him by – not too dissimilar to what’s happening with Pederson in Jacksonville.  We’re a long way from Super Bowl LII.  After getting run out of Philly, Pederson is now under fire for a disappointing late-season collapse from the Jags.  A Super Bowl ring only gets you so far – just ask McCarthy and Carroll.

Mike Vrabel, on the other hand, seemed to be entering his coaching prime as he got the axe from the Titans.  Despite getting a team with Ryan Tannehill to the AFC Championship Game and allowing Derrick Henry to become the last, true, great I-Formation running back, he ultimately paid the price for overachieving.  Oh well, it’s the Titans' loss.

After mortgaging their future for Russell Wilson, the Broncos immediately regretted their decision and tried to salvage the situation by wooing Payton out of retirement with a ludicrous offer.  It looks like Wilson is already on the way out, and it remains to be seen if Payton can find similar success in Denver that he found in New Orleans.  He already failed his first test of getting Wilson back into shape, and who knows how many more chances he’ll get.  After all, the Walton family has quite a bit of money to throw around if they start to get bored…

A man who can never be accused of being boring is Harbaugh, who finds himself with the Chargers after winning a national title with the Michigan Wolverines.  His previous NFL tenure with the Niners mirrored all of Harbaugh’s previous stops: chaotic, mostly effective, and always ending abruptly.  He fell just shy of a Super Bowl with the Niners, and with a QB like Justin Herbert in tow, it’s not far-fetched to say Harbaugh’s in the best position of his career to make that happen.

They’re All the Same Guy

Matt LaFleur

Kevin O’Connell

Mike McDaniel

Zac Taylor

Kyle Shanahan

Sean McVay

I will give you $100 if you can tell the difference between any of these coaches.  They all run the same system, they’re all offensive play-callers, they’ve all been successful in the league and they’re all middle-aged-dad lookin’ dudes.  See for yourself!

Real Gs, Thoroughbred from the Streets

Dan Campbell

John Harbaugh

Mike Tomlin

These are the head coaches you wouldn’t want to see in a dark alley.  Dan Campbell is a monster of a man who crushes venti coffees with the same intensity that he does all things: with as much brute force as humanly possible.  The Lions have become the embodiment of Campbell’s persona, and it’s turned them into one of the most entertaining and dogged teams in the NFL.  Getting the Lions back to the NFC Championship Game won’t be easy, but if anyone has it in him, it’s Campbell.

It’s still a mystery whether Lamar Jackson has the ability to throw with enough poise and accuracy to win a critical playoff game, but he at least has one of the best coaches in the NFL to keep giving him opportunities.  With Harbaugh, you always know two things are coming: run game and defense.  It’s tough to see that ending any time soon.

Tomlin never gets enough credit.  His QB situation has been a nightmare for a while now, he plays in consistently the toughest division in the NFL, one of his all-time best players (Antonio Brown) basically quit on the team in his prime, and yet year after year, Tomlin keeps winning games.  Yes, he hasn’t gotten them over the hump of late, but when Mason Rudolph is your best option at QB, you’re in some serious shit.  Tomlin, as always, handles it elegantly, but patience does have a way of wearing thin in the NFL…

The Best

Bill Belichick

Andy Reid

Nobody knows how patience can eventually wear thin like Belichick.  It’s gratuitous to continue to bring up his accomplishments at this point, but let's understand something: Belichick can still outcoach anyone.  His personnel decisions haven’t been great recently, and it led to him and the Patriots parting ways, but in a need-to-have-it game there’s only one man I’d rather see on the sideline…

And that’s Andy Reid.  Face it – he’s on top of the NFL world right now.  Sure, Patrick Mahomes has been a godsend, but like Belichick will always get credit for seeing something in Tom Brady, so too will Reid get credit for seeing something in the raw, but extremely gifted hurler from Texas Tech.  It led to three Super Bowls in five seasons and the Chiefs are on the precipice of three-straight – the first three-peat in NFL history if they can manage it.  Belichick may have wrapped up the greatest head coach of all-time debate long ago, but if the Chiefs can pull off the unthinkable next year, Reid may force us to re-evaluate.

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