Ranking the 12 Best Head Coaches in NFL History

Ranking the 12 Best Head Coaches in NFL History

Source: cheatsheet.com

Thanks to parity and hard salary cap rules, there may not be a tougher, more pressure-packed profession in the United States than coaching in the National Football League. Gone are the days (for the most part) of coaches staying with one franchise for a decade or longer; in are the days of the modern NFL landscape where coaches are regularly fired after just one or two seasons on the job. As a direct result, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for head coaches to last long enough to be considered one of the all-time greats.

In putting together this list, we only accounted for coaches and coaching statistics that occurred after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, which we felt leveled the playing field. Unfortunately, this means we had to leave off guys like Vince Lombardi, George Halas, Curly Lambeau, and Paul Brown.

There are a handful of current head coaches who do have a chance to enter the discussion on the best coaches in NFL history (only one current coach made this list). Guys like Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints, Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks all have a chance to earn NFL legend status. But none of them are there quite yet. With that being said, here is how we ranked (in descending order) the 12 best coaches in NFL history since the AFL-NFL merger.

  1. Bill Cowher

Regular Season Wins: 149

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .623

Postseason Wins: 12

Conference Titles: 2

Super Bowl Titles: 1

In 1992, Bill Cowher took over as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach as a 35-year-old Marty Schottenheimer disciple. When it was all said and done, Cowher spent 15 years on the job (the only head-coaching gig of his career) and put together a Hall of Fame caliber-resume. His name still comes up for job openings from time to time, but the now-59-year-old seems content with his job as an NFL analyst on CBS.

  1. Mike Holmgren

Regular Season Wins: 161

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .592

Postseason Wins: 13

Conference Titles: 3

Super Bowl Titles: 1

Mike Holmgren landed the Green Bay Packers’ head-coaching job after proving to be one of the top offensive minds in the game during his time as an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers. During his time with the Packers, Holmgren guided quarterback Brett Favre to three NFL MVP awards in addition to hiring and mentoring six assistant coaches who went on to land head-coaching jobs down the road. More importantly, he led the Packers to a Super Bowl title in 1996, ending the franchise’s almost 30-year title drought.

Following his stint in Green Bay, Holmgren was the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks from 1999–2008. He quickly turned the Seahawks into a competitive team, guiding them to the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history in 2005.

  1. Tom Coughlin

Regular Season Wins: 170

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .531

Postseason Wins: 12

Conference Titles: 2

Super Bowl Titles: 2

Tom Coughlin is one of the rare coaches who found a great deal of success with two different NFL franchises. He was the first coach in franchise history for the Jacksonville Jaguars, a job he held for eight seasons. During that time, he led the Jags to four postseason appearances and one trip to the AFC Championship Game.

After Jacksonville fired him, Coughlin was hired by the New York Giants. For those who don’t know, the Giants’ job is one of the more heavily scrutinized and pressure-packed head-coaching jobs in all of American professional sports. In his 12 years with the G-Men, Coughlin guided the franchise to two Super Bowl titles, five postseason appearances, and 102 regular-season wins. Expect to see Coughlin inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the near future.

  1. Mike Shanahan


Regular Season Wins: 170

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .552

Postseason Wins: 8

Conference Titles: 2

Super Bowl Titles: 2

Mike Shanahan’s legacy is somewhat tainted due to his less-than-stellar time as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. But when it comes down to it, the future Hall of Famer made this list based almost entirely on his immensely successful run with the Denver Broncos.

In 14 years as the head coach of the Broncos, Shanahan won 138 regular-season games and two Super Bowl titles, and he made seven postseason appearances. On top of that, he earned the nickname “Mastermind” after proving to be one of the most innovative offensive minds in the game; he is the chief architect of the dominant zone-blocking scheme that eventually produced seven different 1,000-yard running backs during his time in Denver.

  1. John Madden

Regular Season Wins: 91

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .746

Postseason Wins: 8

Conference Titles: 1

Super Bowl Titles: 1

Had John Madden not abruptly retired from coaching at the young age of 42, he may have gone down as one of the top two or three coaches in NFL history. In his 10 seasons (nine of which came post-merger) as the Raiders’ head coach, Madden never had a losing season; his teams made the postseason seven times; he led the Raiders to a win in Super Bowl XI; and he posted the second-highest career winning percentage in NFL history (minimum of 50 games). Madden went on to become a legendary broadcaster and cult hero for his role in developing the Madden Football video game franchise. He is already a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

  1. Bill Parcells

Regular Season Wins: 172

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .569

Postseason Wins: 11

Conference Titles: 3

Super Bowl Titles: 2

Bill Parcells’ polarizing personality combined with his success as a head coach made him an undisputed NFL legend. The 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee is one of just six NFL coaches to lead two different franchises to Super Bowl appearances, and he is the only coach in NFL history to lead four different franchises to the postseason and three different franchises to conference championship games.

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