The Greatest Coach in Every NFL Team's History
It’s difficult to compare coaches from different eras and different points of NFL history, but it’s also part of the fun in tracing the rich roots of this game.
While some teams have been more successful than others throughout time, each fanbase has that one coach it can hang its hat on with pride. It might be someone who delivered the most titles, or for less decorated teams, it might be someone who helped reshape the organization with a new winning way.
The NFL has evolved over the years. Part of that evolution is a testament to the brilliant coaches on this list.
Here are the greatest coaches in every NFL team’s history. Please note that all coaching statistics and records are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Arizona Cardinals: Don Coryell
The Cardinals are “the oldest professional football team in terms of continuous operation,” according to the official site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thus, it can be tricky pegging down a clear-cut favorite for this storied group.
However, Don Coryell makes a fine candidate. He coached the then-St. Louis Cardinals from 1973 to 1977, going 42-27-1
Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had this to say about the respected coach:
By the mid-1970s, Coryell’s “Cardiac Cardinals” had morphed into the most entertaining team in the NFL and the toast of the town. During the 1975 season, the Cardinals finished 11-3 with eight of their games – including seven wins – decided in the final minute.
Coryell’s exciting offense brought success to the Cardinals, and he set a high standard during his time as head coach.
Atlanta Falcons: Dan Reeves
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Dan Reeves didn’t have as much statistical success with the Falcons as he did with the Denver Broncos, but his impact on Atlanta’s organization was significant.
In his best season with the Falcons, he led the team to a Super Bowl appearance in 1998 after compiling a regular-season record of 14-2.
Reeves took over as Atlanta’s head coach in 1997. The year before, the team went 3-13. As the new head coach, Reeves got the Falcons flying again, going 7-9 in his first year before winning the NFC in just his second season.
In seven years with the Falcons, he posted a record of 49-59-1 with two playoff appearances.
There’s a case to be made for Leeman Bennett and even current head coach Mike Smith, but Reeves gets the nod here for now.
Baltimore Ravens: Brian Billick
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The Ravens joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1996 after the Cleveland Browns relocated under Art Modell. As a result, there have only been three head coaches in Ravens history.
Brian Billick is the clear choice here for guiding the team to its lone Super Bowl victory in 2000. In nine seasons with Baltimore, he totaled a record of 80-64 and won five out of eight playoff games.
Though Billick’s Ravens were infamous for being a defensive juggernaut, he’s best known for his offense, as evident by winning a championship with the one and only Trent Dilfer at the helm.
As of 2012, Billick remains out of coaching, but he remains a great football mind as an NFL analyst for Fox Sports.
Buffalo Bills: Marv Levy
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Even though Marv Levy never won a Super Bowl championship with the Buffalo Bills, he led them to four consecutive appearances—a feat that we may never see again.
The mastermind behind the infamous K-Gun offense—led by star quarterback Jim Kelly—Levy made the no-huddle offense come to life in the '90s. His Bills were an offensive force, and he put together some of the best teams Buffalo has ever seen.
He coached the Bills from 1986 to 1997, totaling a 112-70 record and four straight AFC Championships. He also won the AFC East seven times.
Since he retired from coaching, the Bills have yet to win the division.
Carolina Panthers: John Fox
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John Fox took over as head coach for the Carolina Panthers in 2002, going 36-28 in his first four seasons. In just his second season with the team, he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl, where they lost a heartbreaker to the New England Patriots.
From 2002 to 2010, Fox did some great things with Carolina. While his 73-71 record as head coach was strong, but his ability to put the team on the NFL map was arguably more important. After becoming an expansion team in 1995, Fox helped make the Panthers relevant, and quickly.
He’s currently the head coach of the Denver Broncos, where he's continuing his coaching success in the AFC.
Cincinnati Bengals: Sam Wyche
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The pioneer behind the no-huddle offense with the Cincinnati Bengals, Wyche is a renowned name in NFL circles. He coached Cincinnati from 1984 to 1991 and played a huge part in the team’s scoring efficiency.
During those years, Wyche couldn’t get above the .500 mark in overall winning percentage, going 61-66. However, his impact on the Bengals offense is a huge part of his legacy, and he regularly helped Cincinnati rank in the top five in various offensive categories.
Wyche led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance in 1988, their second of only two appearances in team history.
Chicago Bears: George Halas
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Chris Farley might have made “da Bears” popular to the younger generation, but George “Papa Bear” Halas has long been this team’s emblem of success, consistency and longevity.
At the green age of 25, Halas became head coach while also serving as a player. Imagine that in today’s NFL (well, maybe Peyton Manning could do it…).
In all seriousness, though, Halas coached this storied team from 1920 to 1967, an incredible feat to say the least. His achievements include a career coaching record—all with Chicago—of 318-148-31 (.682), six championships as a coach and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Cleveland Browns: Paul Brown
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Paul Brown is the father of modern professional football. He was the first Modern Era coach to racially integrate his squad, the first coach to regularly call plays for his offense, and the first to hold classroom practice sessions. The list goes on (modern pass-blocking techniques and the quarterback "pocket") and on (year-round coaching staffs and positional coaches) and on.
Brown accumulated a record of 158-48-8 with Cleveland in 17 seasons, earning three NFL titles and four AAFC titles from 1946 to 1962.
In addition, he led the Browns to an undefeated season in 1948, which is something no other team would do until the Dolphins' perfect season under Don Shula in 1972.
Dallas Cowboys: Tom Landry
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Let the debate begin here between legendary Tom Landry and his replacement, Jimmy Johnson. We’ll take Landry here with all due respect to Johnson’s equally impressive achievements.
Landry was the first head coach of the Cowboys, setting the foundation for what has grown into a truly historic team. He coached Dallas from 1960 to 1988 and had a .607 winning percentage (250-162-6). Under Landry, the Cowboys won two Super Bowls and made five total appearances.
In 29 seasons as head coach, he won the division 14 times and fielded some of the league’s most well-rounded squads.
There’s no denying what Jimmy Johnson did as his replacement, but Landry deserves his due credit for what he helped the Cowboys accomplish.
Denver Broncos: Mike Shanahan
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When Mike Shanahan took over as the Broncos head coach in 1995, he inherited one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game in John Elway. The combination proved to be fruitful.
Shanny served as Denver’s head coach for 14 seasons, from 1995 to 2008. During that time he led the Broncos to an overall record of 138-86 and won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. He even defeated former Broncos coaching great Dan Reeves in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Elway’s presence certainly helped Shanahan succeed, but the coach also utilized a young running back by the name of Terrell Davis. Ever since, Shanny’s been well known for his Shanahan shenanigans at running back and his ability to get production out of any player he uses in his one-cut system.
Detroit Lions: Raymond "Buddy" Parker
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Raymond “Buddy” Parker coached the Detroit Lions from 1951 to 1956, winning back-to-back NFL Championships in 1952 and 1953. It was a time that ESPN’s Kevin Seifert described as “the golden age of Lions football.”
Parker’s .671 winning percentage with the Lions is second only to George “Potsy” Clark (.679) in team history, but Parker's two NFL titles give him an upper hand here.
According to the March 23, 1982, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via Google news), “Buddy Parker also is credited with bringing the two-minute offense to the NFL,” which he featured in Detroit with quarterback Bobby Layne.
Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi
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With all due respect to Curley Lambeau, is there really any other choice here?
From 1959 to 1967, Vince Lombardi served as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, and his success has made him a legend in the sport as we know it today.
Lombardi won back-to-back NFL Championships in 1961 and 1962. He won another in 1965 and added two Super Bowl titles in 1966 and 1967.
In nine seasons with the Packers, he posted a winning record in each one. His career winning percentage with Green Bay stands at .754 (89-29-4), and the Super Bowl trophy is named after him.
While Lambeau was this team’s first head coach and has an enormous spot in its history, Lombardi remains as one of the best coaches ever.
Houston Texans: Gary Kubiak
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This is an easy choice, as Kubiak is just the second coach in Houston Texans history (the other being Dom Capers) since they became an expansion team in 2002.
Kubiak continues to serve as the team’s head coach, and as of the publication of this slideshow, his record with Houston is 56-50.
The team continues to evolve under his leadership. In 2009, he led the Texans to their first winning season and brought them to their first ever playoff appearance in 2011.
This year, Houston is arguably the league’s best team as Kubiak’s résumé continues to glow even brighter.
Indianapolis Colts: Tony Dungy
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This is a tough selection here with names like Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula on the board—and each having accomplished great things with the Colts—but Tony Dungy has the most wins in team history and also led the team to a Super Bowl championship.
Dungy certainly benefited from offensive coordinator Tom Moore and a future Hall of Fame signal-caller in Peyton Manning. But his efforts on defense, though not always perfect, proved good enough to get the team to where it needed to be (h/t Michael Smith, ESPN.com). He showed patience in his Tampa-2 system, and it ultimately paid off.
Dungy coached the Colts to an 85-27 record during his tenure, taking them to the playoffs in every single season from 2002 to 2008. His team won the Super Bowl in 2006 and reached the AFC Championship Game in 2003.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Tom Coughlin
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The Jaguars entered the league in 1995 along with the Carolina Panthers. Since then, there have only been three head coaches for the team, including current head coach Mike Mularkey.
The other two names are Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio, and while the latter did some good things with this organization, the former deserves the call here.
Coughlin was the team’s first ever head coach, and he didn’t disappoint. In his eight years with the Jags, Coughlin’s record was 68-60 and his tenure included two division titles. He also led the team to four playoff appearances and two AFC Championship games, both losses.
That’s more than Del Rio can say, as he’s “the only coach in history to spend nine seasons with a team without winning a division title,” (h/t SI.com).
Kansas City Chiefs: Hank Stram
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With only Marty Schottenheimer to challenge him for this spot, the iconic Hank Stram earns the title of best coach in Chiefs history.
Stram’s record of 124-76 with the Chiefs includes three AFL Championships and one Super Bowl victory (Super Bowl IV). He also took his team to the first ever Super Bowl in the 1966-67 season, losing to Vince Lombardi’s Packers.
Frank Litsky of the New York Times notes his “innovative” achievements:
Stram was the first coach in pro football to use a moving pocket for the quarterback. He also pioneered a two-tight-end offense and a stack defense, in which the linebackers lined up behind the defensive linemen rather than between them.
After leading the Chiefs for so long, Stram coached the Saints for two seasons before retiring.
Miami Dolphins: Don Shula
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The legendary Don Shula had quite the coaching career, highlighted by his brilliant stint with the Miami Dolphins.
Shula’s 1972 Dolphins remain the only NFL team to win a Super Bowl in a perfect season, but that’s not the only reason he tops the list of head coaches for the 'Phins.
From 1970 to 1995, Shula orchestrated an unbelievably consistent team over 392 games. His record during that time was 257-133-2.
His success is further evident by what he did in the postseason. In 26 years as Miami’s head coach, he made the playoffs 16 times, won five AFC Championships and won two Super Bowls (back to back in 1972 and 1973).
Shula is an easy choice here.
Minnesota Vikings: Bud Grant
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Bud Grant became the second head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 1967. It was the beginning of a long journey that would eventually mold the identity of this organization.
According to an article from the Ottawa Citizen (Dec. 16, 1968, via Google news), Grant instilled a “discipline program” that was designed to “reduce the mistakes that troubled the Vikings in their previous 3-8-3 season.”
A 2001 article from Viking Update has further details on the program:
Getting new talent wasn't Grant's biggest problem. Changing the team's mindset from Van Brocklin's to his was. It was a great contrast and Bud's system was simpler, but sturdier. It concentrated on eliminating dumb mental mistakes in practice and the games, no smoking, no booze, and to respect the American flag.
Grant coached the Vikings from 1967 to 1985, and it’s clear his discipline program paid off. His record with the team was 158-96-5, including an NFL Championship and three NFC Championships.
New England Patriots: Bill Belichick
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It’s been an amazing career for Pats head coach Bill Belichick, and what’s even more amazing is that it’s still going.
Since taking over in New England in 2000, Belichick has led the Patriots to a 146-56 record (through Week 11 of the 2012 season). He won three Super Bowls in four years from 2001 to 2004, and he’s reached the Super Bowl two other times (2007, 2011).
Belichick has completely dominated the AFC East with 12 consecutive division titles, led by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady at quarterback. The coach is all business with both the media and his team, though he’s proved to set an unquestioned precedent with the Pats organization for all future players.
The only criticism some might pose here is the Spygate incident that unfolded in 2007. Speak on that as you may, but there’s no denying this man’s dominance as a head coach.
New York Giants: Bill Parcells
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The New York Giants have been fortunate enough to have a rich history of successful head coaches, which makes this decision extremely difficult.
There are legitimate candidates on both ends of the spectrum. Steve Owen, who coached the Giants from 1931 to 1953, has coached the most games (268) in Giants history, has the most victories (151) and won two NFL Championships.
Current head coach Tom Coughlin has two Super Bowl victories in nine years, and he’s still coaching.
Jim Lee Howell? Allie Sherman?
Ultimately, we have to ride with Bill Parcells, who had a winning percentage of .611 in 127 games and delivered two Super Bowl victories in eight years. Parcells only had two losing seasons with the Giants, and his postseason record further strengthens his case, as he was 8-3 with this team in the playoffs.
New York Jets: Weeb Ewbank
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Hall of Famer Weeb Ewbank led the Jets to a 71-77-6 record from 1963 to 1973. His career with the Jets was bookended with losing seasons, but it was the middle portion that makes him stand out in history.
He led the Jets to an AFL Championship and a surprising win in Super Bowl III in the 1968 season against the Colts (his former team), making him the “only coach to win world championships in both [the] NFL [and] AFL,” (h/t Pro Football Hall of Fame).
The official site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame also writes that he succeeded through “patient, effective building programs paced by brilliant quarterbacks” and that he “possessed great ability to judge [and] handle young talent.” The site adds, “Spurred along by Weeb's careful prodding the Jets pulled one of the most stunning upsets in history.”
New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton
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Sean Payton has already done some great thing with the New Orleans Saints, and he’s not done just yet.
Even though Jim Mora has the most wins (93) in team history, Payton won the team’s first and only Super Bowl to date (2009) and has 62 wins of his own—and counting.
Perhaps more importantly, Payton helped ease the pain of an entire city after the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina, winning the NFL Coach of the Year award in 2006, his first season at the helm.
With the help of star quarterback Drew Brees, Payton has become known for his dynamic offenses and exotic play-calling. He’s currently suspended for the 2012 season because of his involvement with Bountygate, but there’s no doubt Payton will continue to do great things with the Saints moving forward.
Oakland Raiders: John Madden
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The younger generation knows and loves him for his Madden NFL video game series, his Thanksgiving game traditions and his adoration for Brett Favre, but the legend of John Madden goes well beyond that.
Madden’s coaching career with the Oakland Raiders lasted from 1969 to 1978, and during that time he helped make the Silver and Black a dominant and feared franchise. CBS San Francisco notes a couple of highlights:
At 32 years of age when he was hired, he became the youngest head coach in the American Football League. In his first year at the Raiders’ helm, Madden earned American Football League Coach of the Year honors as he led the team to a 12-1-1 record and an AFL Western Division title.
His mark with the Raiders of 103-32-7 (.763 winning percentage) also included a Super Bowl victory in 1976 and eight total playoff appearances, while never posting a losing season.
It’s a model of consistency he’d carry with him throughout every facet of the game in his involvement with the league.
Philadelphia Eagles: Andy Reid
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Regardless of what’s going on with the Eagles in 2012, current head coach Andy Reid deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done for this team. Other fanbases would have loved to have had such a consistent playoff contender over the years such as the one Reid built in Philadelphia.
Reid has the most wins in Eagles history by far with 129. Dating back to 1999, he’s led the Eagles to the playoffs nine times for a 10-9 postseason record and has won the division seven times. He also reached the Super Bowl in 2004 for Philadelphia’s second appearance in team history.
Regardless of his shortcomings and criticisms, Reid has done some great things during his time with the Eagles and turned them into consistent contenders each year. His remaining time with the team may be in doubt, but there’s no denying what he’s achieved over the years.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Chuck Noll
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The man behind the “Steel Curtain,” Chuck Noll is a name Steelers fan know and revere to this day.
ESPN writer Chad Millman has this detailed writeup of Noll’s successes in Pittsburgh. Some of Millman’s highlights include Noll’s sterling track record in drafting quality players, and his understanding of how to treat his players:
Noll knew how far to push. He was there to make the Steelers better football players, not to be their father. Gone were the petty rules players hated. No more dress codes. Noll looked the other way when Mansfield snuck players out for a late-night beer. He even let reporters stay in the dorms, partially so they'd talk to players instead of bothering him. Noll's philosophy was simple: Dress codes didn't improve performance.
Noll coached the Steelers from 1969 to 1991, winning four Super Bowls during that time and each coming in separate back-to-back fashion. His 23-year record stands at 193-148-1, giving him the most wins of any Steelers coach in team history.
San Diego Chargers: Sid Gillman
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Sid Gillman’s numbers alone say a lot about his success with the Chargers. From 1961 to 1971, he posted a record of 86-53-6, giving him the most wins in team history. He also won the AFL Championship in 1963.
In addition, Gillman has received praise from other all-time greats for his coaching achievements. Raiders legend Al Davis called him “‘the father of modern-day passing,’” and 49ers icon Bill Walsh described him as “‘one of the great offensive minds in football history’” (h/t New York Times).
Gillman was the Chargers’ first ever head coach, which makes his innovations all the more impressive in the big picture of the modern-day NFL. He was well respected in NFL circles, and we’ll maintain that respect here.
San Francisco 49ers: Bill Walsh
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Taking over for the 49ers in 1979, Bill Walsh helped turn San Francisco into a dynasty by winning three Super Bowls in 10 seasons.
Walsh fielded some excellent teams during his time with the Niners and was responsible for drafting many key players, including Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. His offenses ranked in the top 13 for offensive yards in every season he coached there, specializing in the West Coast offense that Walsh designed in Cincinnati.
His teams also ranked in the top three of point differential six times, emphasizing the balanced success Walsh had in San Francisco.
George Seifert, Walsh’s pupil, went on to win six more games than Walsh in 24 fewer games. He also won two Super Bowls of his own and fielded some dominating teams. But his efforts have a lot to do with what his mentor taught him.
Seattle Seahawks: Mike Holmgren
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Chuck Knox deserves some legitimate consideration here, but ultimately we’ll go with Mike Holmgren for a couple of reasons.
First, Holmgren led the Seahawks to their first and only Super Bowl appearance to date, a loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
Second, he turned this team into a consistent playoff contender, taking the ‘Hawks to the postseason in five of his final six seasons.
Holmgren is the winningest coach of all time in Seahawks history, and he accomplished that through a terrific offensive mind and an ability to develop quarterbacks. The News Tribune called him “a superior game-day coach with a knack for scripting offensive plays that demanded defenses to adjust,” adding that he “knows as much about the quarterback position as any man who has stood along a sideline.”
Though he never brought a championship to Seattle, Holmgren gave Seahawks fans a legitimate shot at a title.
St. Louis Rams: George Allen
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There have been some great coaches in Rams history. Dick Vermeil led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl championship. Mike Martz led them to another Super Bowl appearance. And greats like Chuck Knox and John Robinson each had widely successful tenures.
But considering all factors, George Allen is a quality fit here.
Allen helped revitalize the Rams when they needed him most. From 1959 to 1965—prior to Allen arriving—the Rams were 25-65. Once Allen took over in 1966, he guided them to an 8-6 record in his first season and went on to post a record of 49-17-4 in five seasons.
He never had a losing season with the Rams and won the AP NFL Coach of the Year award in 1967, one of many bright achievements in his Hall of Fame career.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tony Dungy
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Even though Jon Gruden brought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their only Super Bowl in franchise history and has the most wins of any head coach the Bucs have ever had, Tony Dungy is the best coach in team history.
Gruden certainly deserves his credit for capitalizing on a strong roster and delivering in the postseason, which is exactly why he was brought in to replace Dungy. However, Dungy’s consistency and his efforts to rebuild the team were more praiseworthy.
Yes, Dungy struggled to win in the postseason with the Bucs, and “Chucky” won the Super Bowl in his first season with Tampa Bay. But many argue that was Dungy’s team, as ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas notes.
Dungy went 54-42 at the helm with Tampa and made four playoff appearances. Gruden, meanwhile, won the Super Bowl in his first year there, but only made the playoffs twice more after that (being eliminated after one game each time). In addition, Gruden only won one more playoff game than Dungy, as all of his postseason wins came during the Super Bowl year.
And, as noted in the Indianapolis section, Dungy’s Tampa-2 defense put a stamp on his time with the Bucs.
Tennessee Titans: Jeff Fisher
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Jeff Fisher isn’t just the best head coach the Titans have had, but he’s also the best coach this team has had including its time as the Houston Oilers.
The Oilers moved to Tennessee and became the Titans in 1997. Fisher took over the Oilers in 1994 and went on to coach the team until 2010, becoming the winningest coach in team history by a long shot.
His 142 wins are 87 more than Bum Phillips’ 55 with Houston.
Fisher clearly had a lot of success with the Titans, but perhaps he’ll be best remembered for his Music City Miracle victory in the 1999 playoffs, and the subsequent Super Bowl loss that year, when his team infamously was stopped on the 1-yard line to end the game.
Washington Redskins: Joe Gibbs
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Joe Gibbs had two stints with the Washington Redskins, but it was his first that earns him this spot.
Gibbs first took over as Washington’s head coach in 1981. Prior to his arrival, the team lacked that surefire dominant head coach to hang its hat on. Ray Flaherty and George Allen certainly accomplished a lot in their tenures, but Gibbs brought newfound success and long-term consistency to the Redskins.
He coached in Washington from 1981 to 1992, going 124-60 during that time and posting a losing record just once (1988). He also won three Super Bowls and appeared in a fourth.
With the most wins in Redskins history and multiple titles to his name, Gibbs earns this spot.