Power Ranking the NFL Coaches: From Worst to First
There has been a lot of change at the top for a number of teams heading into next season. Five coaches begin their rookie coaching campaigns in 2011 and another two have been promoted from their interim head coaching roles.
Even the longest-tenured head coach in the league, Jeff Fisher, was removed from his post with the Titans. With so much ambiguity heading into next season, the views on coaches with little experience can be polarizing. Nevertheless, I did my best to incorporate the new head coaches into the list.
The list itself does not simply list the 32 NFL coaches by win/loss percentage or how decorated they are. There are coaches who have outstanding records who are in the bottom half of the list, as there are coaches with losing records who are in the top half.
Let's begin with the worst football coach the NFL has to offer.
32. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
The fact that the Bengals decided to give Marvin Lewis an extension is shocking. He has played a critical part in driving his quarterback to the brink of retirement and his personnel decisions are downright embarrassing at times.
Lewis has commanded the Bengals to the playoffs twice, which by Cincinnati's standards has to be viewed as somewhat of a success. He was also given NFL Coach of the Year honors, but it appears he has lost complete control of his locker room.
Lewis has had a hand in bringing in a number of players with blatant character issues. With Carson Palmer out of town and the team's two biggest weapons unlikely to return, Lewis is in for a world of hurt. The days of being competitive in the AFC North are behind the Bengals as long as Lewis is in charge. I'm willing to bet the Bengals have more arrests than wins in 2011, even if the lockout doesn't eat into the regular season.
31. John Fox, Denver Broncos
John Fox, the defensive mastermind that he is, had no problem securing a job, despite producing the league's worst record last season as head coach of the Panthers. Fox's infectious enthusiasm seems to be cited frequently as justification of John Elway's hiring.
At one point, Fox commanded the Panthers all the way to the Super Bowl. The phrase "What have you done for me lately?" certainly applies here. The Panthers are a shadow of the team that they once were. Fox did very little to ensure the team would see success in the future.
Fox leaves the Panthers with no hope and the worst record in the league. It appears Elway will have the final say as far as personnel is concerned, but it is highly unlikely that Fox will be able to come in and turn the Broncos into an elite NFL franchise.
30. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
Gary Kubiak is another surprise non-firing. Every year, it seems like the Texans are picked as the sleeper pick in the AFC South. Every year, Kubiak fails to wake them out of their slumber. Houston has arguably the best receiver in the game, an elite pass rusher, a talent-laden linebacker corp, a great quarterback and, to top it all off, Arian Foster won the rushing title this year.
There is no reason the Texans should be kept out of the playoffs at this point. The talent is there and resides in the correct positions. All indications were that Kubiak would be fired if he failed to put it together in 2010. No seat is hotter than Kubiak's headed into next season.
29. Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts
It may be unfair to place Jim Caldwell this low. After all, it's not as though he has done anything wrong in Indy. It is just unclear as to what role he actually plays for the Colts. It is clearly Peyton Manning's team. Without Manning, the Colts could potentially have the worst record in football.
Caldwell has done little to gear up for Manning's retirement. An aging line and lackluster defense aren't going to put the Colts' quarterback of the future in a position to succeed. All of the Colts' superstars that carried them to a Super Bowl victory will probably be retired in a few short years.
It's at that point we will be able to gauge just how successful of a coach Caldwell is. Having one of the best quarterbacks ever on your roster makes coaching a bit easier. The Colts have a lot of needs to fill before No. 18 leaves. Caldwell needs to get on his horse if he wants to remain relevant.
28. Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins
Tony Sparano isn't even the Dolphins' first choice as head coach, as they proved by actively pursuing Jim Harbaugh this offseason. For some time, he did well with what he was given and pioneered the use of the Wildcat offense in the NFL.
Now that the Dolphins are trying to become a more traditional team, it has become more challenging for Sparano. His running back tandem of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown appears as though it is going to cease to exist and the defense is nowhere near what it used to be.
The Dolphins have one of the best receivers in football and a franchise left tackle who has no one to protect. The Dolphins have scattered pieces of talent on defense, including sack-machine Cameron Wake and promising young corner Vontae Davis, but they have a low ceiling with Sparano at the helm. Too bad, too. His mustache is amongst the NFL's elite.
27. Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals
If I had to bet on one coach getting the boot next season, it would be Ken Whisenhunt. Many Cardinals fans are going to be outraged by this notion, considering he led one of the least decorated franchises in the history of the league to the Super Bowl.
What is becoming evident is that the Cardinals' success had more to do with Kurt Warner than Whisenhunt. From a personnel standpoint, Whisenhunt dropped the ball last season. He cut Matt Leinart prematurely and put the fate of his team in Derek Anderson's hands.
While Anderson took his job seriously—"Real serious!"—he wasn't the answer in Arizona, nor were Max Hall or any of the other emergency QBs on roster. His disinterest in retaining Karlos Dansby and Anquan Boldin have left the team as the worst team in the worst division in NFL history. If he fails to lock Larry Fitzgerald down long-term, expect him to be packing his bags.
26. Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns
Pat Shurmur is a solid coach. He was instrumental in the success the Rams saw offensively last season. The only reason he is this low is because of his lack of head-coaching experience. When I say lack of, I mean zero.
The Rams won six more games last year than the year before. They did so with terrible receivers and a rookie quarterback. Had that rookie quarterback been anyone else, it seems as though Shurmur would have been able to take a larger portion of the credit. The fact that it was Sam Bradford that led the Rams to seven victories leaves more to question.
Shurmur inherits a team with a lot of pieces in place. He understands football and should be able to take the Browns to the next level. Like the Rams, they have a young quarterback, solid running back and limited options at receiver. The offense should improve in a hurry under Shurmur's capable command.
25. Mike Munchak, Tenessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans had to choose between Vince Young and Jeff Fisher. Young was supposed to bring the Titans back to the Super Bowl and Fisher was the longest tenured coach in the NFL.
It became clear that one could not exist while the other remained (avoiding a Harry Potter reference here). Rather than pick one or the other, both were driven out of town. With no head coach and no quarterback of the future in sight, Mike Munchak stepped in.
Muncak knows what it's like to be a player and he's well respected within the locker room. He went out and brought in Jake Locker to be the quarterback of the future and has the Titans on the move. Like many coaches on this list, he still has a lot to prove.
24. Hue Jackson, Oakland Raiders
Hue Jackson is nothing short of an offensive guru. He transformed the Raiders from miserable to the second best rushing offense in the league.
Jackson has a great mind and his locker room behind him. Hopefully he makes it a couple of seasons before Al Davis gets bored with him and throws him to the wolves.
23. Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
It's absurd to me that Mike Shanahan is this low, and I made the list. After all, isn't he a legendary coach? What more does he have to prove?
He has a terrific system. It makes Ryan Torain look like he is a decent NFL running back. Shanahan has proven time and time again that you can plug anyone in the system and make it work.
That is all well and good, but his disdain for Donovan McNabb brings him to this spot. The Redskins lost out big time by pursuing McNabb. Shanahan thought he was the answer, he didn't perform well, got benched and the Skins looked awful.
The quarterback situation is still in shambles and some are questioning whether or not he is a savior. This could be another failed comeback for a Redskins coach.
22. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Jason Garrett is exactly what the Cowboys needed. Wade Phillips was a players coach, and the Cowboys were failing miserably.
Garrett took on the interim role and transformed the mindset of the Cowboys. You have to earn your star to be a Dallas Cowboy. The sense of entitlement left the building and players started competing.
Garrett is a tough-minded coach, and he's strong-willed. It's going to be interesting to see if he goes down a Mike Singletary-esque road. Dallas has the talent. Hopefully for the organization he can harness it.
21. Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills
Chan Gailey is getting no recognition for a job well done. The Bills have holes all over the roster and a lot of late-round, even undrafted guys filling up a large portion of their roster.
Gailey and the Bills may have gone 4-12 last season, but nobody wanted to play the Bills in the middle of the year. They came within three points against the Steelers, Ravens, Chiefs and Bears. The Bills may not have come away with victories in those games, but playoff teams barely escaped.
The Bills brought in Marcel Dareus through the draft. He could very well be the best player in the entire class and is going to do wonders for their last ranked run defense. Gailey is turning the corner in Buffalo.
20. Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions
Much like Chan Gailey, a lot of people overlook Jim Schwartz because of his losing record. Give him a break, though, he's recovering from the Matt Millen era that drove the Lions into the ground.
Both the offense and defense are on the move. They have scored in the draft and brought in Pro Bowlers in the making on both sides of the ball. Most recently, they brought in Nick Fairley to play alongside Ndamukong Suh. Both Aaron Rodgers and Mike Martz shed a small tear with that selection.
With a promising young quarterback and receiver connection to build their offense around, along with the most ferocious young DT tandem in the game to build around defensively, Schwartz is going to help take the Lions from the worst team ever to relevant in a hurry.
19. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh was the most sought after coach in recent memory. The Dolphins even actively pursued him and flew all the way to California to try to sway him to Miami, even though they already had a head coach in place.
Harbaugh is an emotional coach with a strong football lineage. He knows what it's like to be a player and he is a quarterback-grooming mastermind. His offensive expertise should allow the San Francisco offense to get things going.
A somewhat off-the-wall draft began his tenure. It also appears he is going with Alex Smith. It's clear he isn't trying to make friends. If the unorthodox and semi-unpopular moves work out, he's going to be considered a mastermind.
18. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
It's hard to believe it took so long for Ron Rivera to get a head coaching job. It's even harder to believe he selected Cam Newton with the first overall pick and avoided the defensive talent that was available to him.
Rivera has one of the best defensive minds in the game. He has put San Diego continually on top. The defense doesn't rely on any one player and is extremely confusing for the opposition.
Some coaches were meant to be coordinators. It will be interesting to see if Rivera fits that description or if he is able to excel in the lead role.
17. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
16. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jack Del Rio hasn't done a great job assembling talent in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars consistently come out of nowhere and hold their own in a brutal AFC South.
Once Peyton Manning ends his reign of terror over the division, the Colts will almost certainly be shoved shoved to the bottom of the division for a while.
Maurice Jones-Drew and Del Rio have a real chance to overtake the division. Del Rio has won the division before with David Garrard under center. If Blaine Gabbert is half the prospect he was advertised to be, he's going to be just fine in Jacksonville.
15. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll is as advertised, it appears. All the ruckus about him not being able to coach at a pro level. Nobody had the Seahawks winning the division last season, but they did. Nobody had them beating the defending world champions in the playoffs, but they did that too.
Carroll is a rah-rah coach, and some hold that against him. All the critics said it wouldn't work at the pro level. It turns out Carroll silenced his critics.
The Seahawks were the worst team in history to make the playoffs, failing to even break .500 in the regular season. Even so, Carroll made a huge splash and has justified his hiring already.
14. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams
Steve Spagnuolo is going to watch his stock go through the roof, with Sam Bradford under center. The Rams are a few offensive weapons away from being legitimate, and the defense is coming along as well.
The Rams are certainly on the upswing. Last year was miles ahead of where they were in the 2009 season. A lot of that had to do with Bradford, but Spags is the catalyst behind everything.
He's done well with his personnel and is looking at a very manageable NFC West.
13. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
Norv Turner is an offensive genius. The Chargers had the No. 1 offense in the league for the majority of the 2010 season, along with the top-ranked defense.
Even so, they failed to make the playoffs after a Week 17 collapse. It's easy to look at the coach in that situation, but it's always sort of been the Chargers' M.O. to fall way behind and hit January with a full head of steam.
He's got a wealth of experience and players are receptive to him. It's the reason he never struggles to find work in some capacity year after year.
12. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Mike Smith has one of the best jobs in sports. He landed a head coaching job of a rebuilding team with a great owner who will do whatever it takes to win.
He struck gold by bringing in Matt Ryan and Michael Turner. The Falcons already have the most complete offense in football. Rather than be complacent in the draft, they traded an arm and a leg to actively pursue Julio Jones.
Mike Smith makes the Falcons a better football team every single season. He's got Atlanta on the move, and it seems that a Super Bowl berth is on their horizon.
11. Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs
Todd Haley has a rare quality amongst NFL head coaches. He's not a control freak, which is almost unheard of in the business. He put his ego aside and brought in Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis as his coordinators.
The results were outstanding. Haley knows he has shortcomings as a coach, but he is willing to bring in subject matter experts to make his football team the best it can possibly be.
The Chiefs weren't expected to have a chance at an AFC West title last season. It goes to show what a few great hires can do for a coaching staff.
10. Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I thought Raheem Morris was going to last two seasons tops in Tampa Bay. He came in and started a youth movement. Among the casualties were Derrick Brooks and Joey Galloway.
Getting rid of aging legends can be beneficial, but the Bucs had nobody to replace them. Fast-forward two years and the Bucs made a serious playoff push. They have the most promising, young defensive line in football, and the best under-25 wide receiver quarterback combination in the game.
Morris is a young coach who can identify with his players, some of whom are older than he is. The Bucs missed the playoffs this season, but the team has bought into Morris and it's hard to see them being snubbed again next season.
9. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
All this jabber about Tom Coughlin being on the hot seat is nonsense. We're talking about a coach who is responsible for slaying a Tom Brady/Bill Belichick undefeated team in the Super Bowl.
He is a hard-nosed football coach who rubs some people the wrong way, but the guy breathes football. He's coached good teams and bad teams, and he knows what works.
The Giants missed the playoffs. If they would have managed to punt the ball out of bounds—rather than into the capable arms of DeSean Jackson—that wouldn't be the case.
8. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears
Lovie Smith was on the hot seat prior to last season. A botched season in 2010 probably would have led to a firing. Many couldn't understand why he wasn't canned after 2009.
The Bears brought in Julius Peppers and started playing Bears defense again. Mike Martz' offense was up and down throughout the season, but the Bears were making the most out of having one of the worst offensive lines ever.
Smith commanded the Bears to the Super Bowl. He constantly puts Chicago in a position to compete. Let's not forget, the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers didn't win the NFC North, the Bears did. The Bears are a top five team in the NFC going into next season.
7. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
Many people thought Andy Reid was crazy for trading Donovan McNabb to the division rival Redskins. McNabb was thought to be a phenomenal leader who could be the guy to make the Redskins relevant once more.
Reid was the coach who inevitably brought in Michael Vick. He also selected Kevin Kolb in the draft, so there were certainly options at quarterback. Future franchise QB Kolb went down, Vick stepped in and the rest is history.
Reid is criticized for not being able to get over the hump. The Eagles were a regular contender in the NFC Championships of the 2000s and even went to a Super Bowl. Reid has been able to maintain a level of competitiveness over a long period of time, which is very hard to do.
6. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Rex !@#$%^& Ryan is arguably the biggest NFL personality in the league today. He's outspoken, often vulgar and unapologetic. His team would run through a wall for him, and he has redefined what New York Jets football is.
Ryan came into his role as head coach swinging. He took shots at everyone and anyone and called out the rest of the league. His tactics are unorthodox, but they work.
He's a defensive genius and a terrific motivator. You probably love or hate Rex Ryan, as does the rest of the league.
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
John Harbaugh has made the playoffs every year he has been a head coach. Granted, he has a defense laden with future Hall of Famers. Even so, he has to compete against the Steelers year in and year out and he took over a flawed offense.
The additions of Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin did wonders for the offense. Giving Ray Rice an opportunity to be a feature back helped to make the Ravens a threat offensively.
The defensive side of the ball remains dominant. It's unclear how much longer Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are going to be reigning terror on their opponents, but the Ravens and Harbaugh have done a nice job of reloading.
4. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
The verdict was out on Mike Tomlin even after he won a Super Bowl. Was he just taking over a team Bill Cowher assembled? Couldn't anyone coach that team to victory?
After all, Tomlin had a defense commanded by Hall of Famer Dick Lebeau and the best front seven in football. Not to mention, he was taking on the Arizona Cardinals.
Tomlin has kept the Steelers performing at a high rate since he entered a head coaching role. He helped the Steelers to weather the Ben Roethlisberger debacle and has scored in recent drafts, despite drafting late every season.
The Steelers were on the cusp of becoming a dynasty last season. They fell just short, but Tomlin has earned his stripes and can't be accused of riding Cowher's coattails any longer.
3. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
Mike McCarthy owes a lot of his success to Ted Thompson. The two form a phenomenal head coach-GM relationship that has perfected the art of building through the draft.
Some wondered if Green Bay would survive the post-Brett Favre era. Aaron Rodgers was drafted and groomed as Favre aged out. Rodgers stepped in capably and is now an elite NFL quarterback, with a Super Bowl ring of his own.
McCarthy is an offensive coach who has the toughness of a defensive coach. He's got a great football mind and maximizes the potential of the guys the Packers bring in. Through all the adversity the Packers faced, with their brash of injuries that lingered throughout the season, they never lost their focus. It's a testament to McCarthy's leadership.
2. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton gave the city of New Orleans a Super Bowl. Let's back up for a moment. The Saints were widely regarded as a snake-bitten franchise. After Hurricane Katrina decimated the city of New Orleans, there was talk of relocating the franchise.
Payton and the Saints not only stayed, they turned the franchise around. The once miserable franchise provided hope for a city that needed it so very badly. They came away with a Super Bowl victory and gave New Orleans something to cheer for.
Payton is one of the best offensive coaches in the league. He is one of the only coaches who calls his own plays from the sidelines. The Saints are in a stout NFC South, but they always hold their own.
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick is a genius. He robs other teams blind in trades on an annual basis. The Patriots don't have stars on their team, aside from Tom Brady and Jerod Mayo. Last season, the Patriots parted ways with Randy Moss, who was traded again shortly thereafter.
Belichick has a system and his players all play to the best of their abilities. He has combined a team mentality with a football mind that is comparable to the late Bill Walsh.
Belichick has loaded up on draft picks and has yet to cash them in. His stockpiling of picks suggests he may be saving for the post-Tom Brady era. Belichick produced a dynasty and a team that went undefeated in the regular season.
It is unclear what the Patriots are going to do after Brady retires, but I'm sure Belichick has it all figured out. He's five steps ahead of everyone and is truly the engineer of the New England Patriots. It's hard to see any other coach taking over the Patriots and having remotely as much success as Belichick has had.