Ranking the Best Remaining Head Coaches in NFL Playoffs
If you don't think coaching matters in the playoffs, it is probably time you enroll in an NFL 101 class at your local university.
While even the best head coaches in the league cannot get water from a rock, they do often get the most out of the talent that they have. One of the most pertinent examples of that would be what Bruce Arians and company did with a talent-stricken Indianapolis Colts team during the regular year.
But here we are. The postseason is in full tilt as eight teams vie for an opportunity to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans next month.
Will one coaching decision be the difference in a game this weekend? I can't answer that question. What I will say is that schemes and game plans do play a major role in the outcome of games this time of the year.
On that note, this article is going to rank the remaining head coaches in the NFL playoffs from worst to best.
8. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
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Gary Kubiak's seat has been hot multiple times in his seven seasons as the Houston Texans head coach.
He finished with only one winning season in his first five years (Pro-Football-Reference.com) as Houston's head man, failing to make the postseason each time. As you already know, that type of mediocrity will not get it done in the NFL.
Owner Bob McNair showed a ton of confidence in Kubiak during the lean years and has been rewarded by two consecutive divisional round appearances. Overall, Houston has won 24 games since the start of the 2011 season (postseason included). That ranks it among the best overall teams in the AFC during that span.
With that in mind, it is important to note that Houston isn't in full contention mode at this point. It has to go into Gillette Stadium and defeat a New England Patriots team that has lost a total of five December and January games at home since 2001.
It has to do so after losing three of its last four regular-season games and barely getting past the Cincinnati Bengals last week at Reliant.
I don't like the Texans' odds there.
Until Kubiak proves he can lead the Texans to elite status in the AFC, he will be among the lowest-ranked playoff coaches in articles like this one.
7. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
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Prior to 2012, Pete Carroll finished above .500 just twice in six seasons (Pro-Football-Reference.com) as a head coach in the National Football League.
Despite taking the Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs as a 7-9 division winner in 2010, Carroll just wasn't a real successful head coach at this level up until this season.
No matter your opinion on the Robert Griffin III injury and how it impacted the outcome of Seattle's win over the Washington Redskins last week, you have to say it was impressive for this young team to overcome a 14-0 deficit on the road in the playoffs.
I still cannot put Carroll any higher on the list for a multitude of reasons.
First, he has never advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs in six NFL seasons. Second, he just hasn't had the same amount of success as the coaches ranked above him.
After all, prior to 2012 there were questions about his ability to actually be a competent head coach at this level.
I fully understand that this slide will be controversial to fans in the Pacific Northwest, but for Carroll to be ranked among the elite in the NFL, he needs to take his team to the final four and beyond. If that happens, any skepticism that still exists will be quieted.
One thing is important to note. Carroll is building something special in Seattle. He has a strong coaching staff, a great player personnel department and one of the most talented young rosters in the entire league.
Give it a couple seasons and he might get the respect that fans in Seattle believe he deserves right now.
6. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
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Mike Smith has won 56 regular-season games (Pro-Football-Reference.com) in his first five years with the Atlanta Falcons, which ranks him second among active NFL coaches during that span.
Atlanta has won double-digit games in four of his first five seasons after struggling a great deal in the previous couple years following the whole Michael Vick saga.
For all intents and purposes, he has been one of the best head coaches in the NFL since Arthur Blank hired him back in 2008.
Why is he so low on this list?
As you already know, Atlanta is 0-3 in the postseason under Smith and has performed much worst in the second season than when the pressure isn't on. Every coach ranked above Smith has won a minimum of one playoff game.
Some may call it lazy analysis, but it is simply impossible to look past the lack of success Smith has had in the playoffs since taking over in Atlanta.
Maybe he will get that proverbial monkey off his back against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. After all, Atlanta was the most successful team in the league during the regular season and has both the coaching and talent to win in January.
If not, those who proclaim Smith cannot win the big game will have more fire to launch at him once the postseason concludes.
5. John Fox, Denver Broncos
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I will go on record saying that firing John Fox was probably one of the worst decisions in the relatively short history of the Carolina Panthers. I opined as much when they let him go prior to the start of the 2011 season, and this idea seems to have taken hold around the NFL since.
The way Fox and the Denver Broncos adjusted to Tim Tebow's game and made the postseason in 2011 is beyond me. I understand that they were playing in a weak division, but it was an extremely impressive run nonetheless.
While the 2011 version of the Broncos was never a real contender because of the quarterback, the simple fact that they made it to the divisional round of the playoffs is absolutely stunning.
Now that they have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning, the Broncos are an odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl, at least in Vegas.
A lot of "experts" will proclaim Manning is the primary reason for this. While I won't disagree with that on the surface, Fox deserves a lot of credit himself.
As a defensive-minded head coach, Fox has that unit playing ridiculously good football, while allowing assistant Mike McCoy to take control of the offense.
The results have been resounding.
Denver ranks second in overall defense, third against the pass and third against the run. It also ranks fourth in points allowed (18.1 per).
Needless to say, Fox is leading a well-oiled machine into Invesco to take on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
4. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
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The San Francisco 49ers have won 24 of their first 32 regular-season games under Jim Harbaugh since he took over in 2011.
His success is even more surprising, considering that he took over a team that had won a total of 39 games in the seven seasons prior to last year (Pro-Football-Reference.com).
In reality, Harbaugh took a cellar dweller and turned it into a Super Bowl contender within the matter of less than a calendar year.
Obviously, Harbaugh needs to lead the 49ers to a championship and actually be successful for more than two seasons before he is mentioned in the same breath as some of the elite coaches in the NFL, some of whom are ranked ahead of him here.
That's not the point I am attempting to make.
Rather, it is an indication of just how much success he has had in completely turning around a franchise that had existed in mediocrity for a good decade prior to his arrival.
On another note, 2012 hasn't been without struggles and controversy in San Francisco. The 49ers were way too inconsistent throughout the regular season, went through a questionable quarterback change and were blown out in Seattle less than a month ago.
It will be telling if Harbaugh can help the 49ers overcome their struggles and make a second straight NFC championship game appearance.
3. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
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Many had concluded that Ozzie Newsome "reached" for the Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator back in 2008, but that has been far from the case.
John Harbaugh has taken the Baltimore Ravens to the divisional round of the playoffs in each of his first five seasons (Pro-Football-Reference.com) as their head coach.
His success during the regular season cannot be stated enough, either. Harbaugh possesses a .675 winning percentage (Pro-Football-Reference.com) and has averaged 10.8 wins in his first five seasons.
With that in mind, the talented head coach has yet to take Baltimore to the Super Bowl, despite ample opportunities to do so.
Whether it was Lee Evans having the ball knocked away in what would have been the game-winning touchdown against the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game last season or Billy Cundiff missing a chip-shot field goal that would have sent the game to overtime, Harbaugh just hasn't had any luck in getting Baltimore to the Super Bowl.
2012 represented a down season for everyone involved in Baltimore. The Ravens were without Terrell Suggs to start the season, lost No. 1 corner Lardarius Webb six games in and were without the services of the greatest linebacker (Ray Lewis) to ever play the game for a full 10 games.
Needless to say, the bread and butter of Baltimore's success, its defense, didn't perform up to par during the regular season. The unit ranked 17th in yards and 12th in points against. This is the first time (Pro-Football-Reference.com) in Harbaugh's tenure that Baltimore's defense ranked outside the top 10 in each category.
That being said, he has the Ravens one win away from their third trip to the AFC championship game in five seasons.
Will it happen?
2. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
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It's crazy to think about it now, but McCarthy was actually on the hot seat following a 2008 season in which Green Bay went 6-10.
Since starting out relatively slow as the Green Bay Packers head coach in his first three seasons (27-21), Mike McCarthy is among the winningest head coaches in the NFL since the start of the 2009 season.
Despite what were questions about his ability to be a quality head coach in the NFL, he helped lead the transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers following 2007, which was about as seamless as it comes as it relates to going from one quarterback to another.
McCarthy has now won double-digit games in four consecutive seasons, and he led Green Bay to the Lombardi Trophy over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
He is only one of four current head coaches to have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. This speaks volumes about McCarthy's ability to take his team to the next level.
The veteran coach now goes up against his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, for a chance to go to the NFC championship game. Another trip to the Super Bowl would cement his legacy among the best coaches in modern Green Bay history.
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
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Did you really need to continue to this slide? The suspense had to be unimaginable, like one of those horror movies with the main character taking a trip down to the basement. You already knew what was going to be there, but had to check it out.
Not only is Bill Belichick the best coach in the NFL today, he is one of the top five coaches in the history of the league.
After all, the New England Patriots head man has coached in more Super Bowls (five) than four of those on this list have coached playoff games.
If you leave out his 36-44 record in Cleveland and only include his time in New England, Belichick would have one of the greatest winning percentages in the history of the National Football League.
He has built a dynasty in an era of the NFL where it is nearly impossible to do so. No team since the advent of the salary cap and wholesale player movement has been able to come close to the success that we have seen from the Patriots over the last 13 seasons.
It doesn't matter who the supporting cast is. As long as Bill and Tom are together with the Patriots, they're going to be Super Bowl contenders each and every season.