Elite quarterbacks win championships, but so too do elite coaches.
In this year's NFL playoffs, coaching has never been more important. Seven teams have already axed their coaches. The 12 to make the postseason can feel confident that their jobs are secure, but they'll still be looking for wins to buy more time at the helm.
An elite coach gets the same level of effort and focus out of his team every game and consistently gets his team to play above its talent level. To rank these coaches, I'll look at team discipline, consistency and, most importantly, the ability to win.
12. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
Leslie Frazier has been a revelation this season for the Vikings, getting the most out of a team with practically no passing game.
He's been helped by a very talented roster on the upswing, but Frazier deserves credit for recognizing where the strengths of his team are and playing accordingly. Sure, it's simple to just keep getting the ball to Adrian Peterson, but Frazier also helped develop some solid young talent like Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith.
The Vikings are a team on the rise, but Christian Ponder will keep them from taking the next step and winning a playoff game. Frazier hasn't yet gained upper-echelon status among head coaches.
11. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Marvin Lewis is a guy who has always done just enough to save his job, but he is also the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL. There's a reason for that: Lewis always gets his team to be competitive.
Like the Vikings, the Bengals are a team on the rise with tons of young talent. Lewis is a great defensive mind and leader who gets the most out of his young squad, but he lacks attention to detail in terms of discipline and time management.
10. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll was occasionally accused of running up the score at USC, but all he cared about was winning. He has brought that attitude to Seattle, where Carroll has turned the Seahawks into competitors with the ability to roll over inferior teams.
Carroll has done a tremendous job accumulating talent and fostering a winning attitude. He even has a playoff win to his credit. Carroll might occasionally ruffle some feathers, but few coaches can bring a team together like this guy can.
9. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts
Chuck Pagano might not have spent much time actually coaching this season, but he is the most inspirational man on this list. That counts for a lot.
The way the Colts rallied around Pagano despite his short tenure is telling. He clearly reached his team in their short time together. With Pagano back on the sideline, the Colts have an emotional edge over most teams. He has done tremendous work despite taking over a team that lacks talent at a lot of key positions.
8. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
Kubiak turned the Texans into winners and that means a lot. He led the franchise to its first playoff win last year, as well as the team's first ever winning record. Most impressively, Kubiak has helped turn a moribund offense into one of the league's most lethal.
That having been said, the Texans might be the most inconsistent team in the NFL, blowing out the Ravens one week then getting blown out by the Patriots a few weeks later. Sometimes this team looks rudderless, but that's a lot better than they once were.
7. John Fox, Denver Broncos
Now, we're getting into the Super Bowl-caliber coaches. John Fox already has one Super Bowl appearance to his credit, and now he has the most talented team in the NFL at his disposal.
What costs Fox some is that he coached some truly terrible Panthers teams. On the other hand, Fox has featured three starting quarterbacks over the past two years, but has gone 21-11 over that time. His ability to be flexible makes Fox a special coach.
6. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Mike Smith is one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL, always getting maximum effort out of his players. No team had a more rapid turnaround than the Falcons did in Smith's first year, and they've been competitive ever sense.
The only thing keeping Smith from being higher on this list is his lack of a playoff win, but Smith always seems to get more out of his players than an average coach would. A playoff win would be career-defining for Smith.
5. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
Harbaugh is one of many coaches on this list who orchestrated big-time turnarounds for their franchises. What makes Harbaugh special, though, is how he turned a draft bust into a playoff winning quarterback in Alex Smith. No other coach on this list could have done that.
Unfortunately, Harbaugh's temper sometimes gets the better of him, and the 49ers are hardly consistent. Still, Harbaugh has them playing winning, motivated football. No team wants to play them and few coaches want to stand across the field from Jim Harbaugh.
4. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Like his younger brother, John Harbaugh orchestrated a turnaround of epic proportions in Baltimore. The difference between the two is that the elder Harbaugh has turned that into five straight playoff seasons.
Harbaugh is a player's coach, allowing much of the leading to veterans like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. When the time comes, though, Harbaugh is always willing to get the most out of his players, and he usually does. He's a Super Bowl away from being legendary.
3. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
Now we're dealing with Super Bowl Winners. Mike McCarthy has one Super Bowl to his name, with more sure to come over the years. McCarthy has the Packers playing efficient offense and underrated defense.
The NFL's fourth-longest tenured coach has gracefully transitioned from an aging veteran to a budding superstar at quarterback, a transition that is usually incredibly difficult. Few coaches could have pulled it off so well, but McCarthy did. He's a top-tier coach.
2. Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
This might be controversial, but don't forget that Mike Shanahan is a two-time Super Bowl winner who has produced several top-tier offenses in his career. Shanahan always elevates the play of his guys. John Elway was never better than he was under Shanahan, nor was Jay Cutler. Don't forget about Shanahan's brilliant work with running backs as well.
Shanahan is more than an offensive mastermind, though. He is also a shrewd accumulator of talent and hard-nosed motivator. He might be tougher than most coaches, but that only breeds tougher teams.
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
The only sure-fire Hall-of-Fame coach on this list, Bill Belichick has nothing to prove, yet he keeps coming back to see his Patriots in the playoffs again and again.
No coach is better at allowing his team to grow over time. The Patriots were once a hard-nosed, defensive squad that ran the ball effectively and played conservative offense. As Tom Brady developed and the NFL changed, Belichick put all his bets on offense, and it's worked out. The Patriots' spread offense is the NFL's best.
No coach continually gets more out of his team, nor manages talent better than Belichick. Meanwhile, his coaching tree continues to grow, showing just how influential he really is. Belichick is a great coach. He's the NFL's best, and one of the best of all time.
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