NFL Head Coach Rankings (2019)
There’s been a theme throughout the offseason when it comes to fantasy football, and you’ve heard me say it a lot, but coaching matters just as much as talent matters in the game of football. Some coaches will bring out the best in their players, while others will simply let talent flow through their fingers and never tap into it. Those coaches will eventually be fired.
There was a lot of disagreement with my rankings on head coaches last year (find that here), but the bottom five coaches on my list were let go this past season, which didn’t even include Mike McCarthy, who I was told he was way too low at No. 24 on my list. Some players will prop-up head coaches and make them look far better than they are, so this list will not be based on win/loss record, but rather on which coaches I believe bring out the best in their players – not the other way around.
Now, let’s get one thing clear from the get-go. You are going to disagree with me, I get it, you love your team with all your heart, and you might even have a tattoo of their logo on your arm. I’m not trying to fight with you, but rather state who I’d like my team to bring on as a head coach if they were all available. So, without further ado, let’s talk about some head coaches.
1. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots)
It was my statement last year and it remains true – If he’s not atop your list, you’re doing it wrong. There’s always plenty of turnover on the Patriots roster, yet they’re always competitive and have now won six Super Bowls since 2002. Just one other team in NFL history has six Super Bowl wins as a franchise, the Steelers, who have been around since 1933. Remember when the Patriots were in trouble after losing starting left tackle Nate Solder, starting running back Dion Lewis, and starting cornerback Malcolm Butler in free agency, then losing first-round pick Isaiah Wynn for the year? Yeah, no problem. Belichick is likely the best to ever do it.
2. Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints)
It sure helps to have Drew Brees as your starting quarterback, but when you combine the offensive genius of Payton with Brees’ talent, that’s when you start talking about one of the best of all-time. A lot of offensive-minded coaches struggle when tasked with being a head coach, as it can likely get a bit overwhelming. With the defense starting to turn things around, we’re going to see the Saints contend for a Super Bowl once again in 2019. There’s nobody I’d rather have calling my offense.
3. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)
This was an area that was tough, as Belichick and Payton are the clear-cut 1-2 options for me, but McVay tops the remaining options due to his ability to get the most out of his players. Are his players talented? Sure they are, but it took him to bring out the best in them. Think about Jared Goff and Todd Gurley after their horrid 2016 season. Think about Robert Woods coming essentially free in free agency. They’re all looked at as stars now, thanks to what McVay brought to the table. He’s comparable to Payton, only with a shorter resume.
4. Doug Pederson (Philadelphia Eagles)
He’s passed his teacher this year, as Pederson has now proved his worth over the last two years, highlighted by a 22-10 record, while dealing with an injury to his starting quarterback in back-to-back seasons. He and his assistants were also able to overcome injuries to all three of their starting cornerbacks last year, while keeping the defense competent. He out-coached Matt Nagy during their victory in the playoffs this past season, giving him the nod there, and he has a Super Bowl victory to his name, so he’s atop the Reid coaching tree right now.
5. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs)
Do you really think any coach could get 50 passing touchdowns out of a first-year starting quarterback? While Patrick Mahomes is extremely good, coaching pushes him over the hump. How about every single running back who walks into a starting job under Reid? They all dominate when called upon. Do you think he’s just been blessed with non-stop talent? No, Reid is great at what he does, though he gets docked for struggling when it matters most, as he’s never won a Super Bowl in his 20 years as a head coach.
6. Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears)
He won Coach of the Year in his first season as head coach, which says a lot. While it should pretty much always go to Bill Belichick, Nagy turned the Bears into a contender overnight. He’s the ideal coach for someone like Mitch Trubisky, who’s still going through growing pains, but Nagy has shown the ability to remain confident in him and build the playbook around his strengths. With some former offensive coordinators, it’s a mess once they become a head coach, but that’s definitely not the case with Nagy.
7. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks)
I’ve never understood the hate for Carroll, who will always put the best man on the field, no matter how high they were drafted or how much they were paid in free agency. They’ve suffered more injuries than any team should have to endure, yet they’ve been competitive throughout his entire regime, highlighted by 10-plus wins in six of the last seven seasons. The Seahawks drafts haven’t been exactly perfect, and they always trade back, which is likely due to Carroll’s ability to get the most out of his players.
8. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts)
Similar to Matt Nagy, Reich came out of the gates hot. While getting Andrew Luck back as your quarterback definitely helps, it was the defense that saw the biggest turnaround in his first year, meaning Reich may have the perfect coordinator (Matt Eberflus) to complement his offensive scheme. They completely rebuild the offensive line and played somewhat of a game-manager style offense, taking them from a 4-12 record in 2017, to a 10-6 record in 2018, which was enough for their first playoff appearance since 2014.
9. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens)
Remember when Harbaugh was rumored to be fired around mid-season? Yeah, that would have been a disaster for the Ravens. Despite Joe Flacco leading the franchise, Harbaugh has led the Ravens to a 176-104 record in his 11 years while there. The talent that was on the defense has evaporated, but Harbaugh has continually gotten the most out of the players he’s given. When you have just one losing season to your name over 11 seasons, you’ve done something right, especially when you’re working with a below-average starting quarterback.
10. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers)
You really can’t measure the behind-the-scenes stuff, but the locker room stuff that’s taken place in Pittsburgh has clearly affected the play on the field with the Steelers, who didn’t make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Still, that doesn’t erase what’s been a great tenure with the team, as he’s delivered one Super Bowl, one AFC Championship, and eight playoff appearances in 12 seasons. This year might be the biggest test to him and his staff now that they’re without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
11. Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings)
Will he take the next step this year? Has he finally found the offensive coordinator to complement his elite defense? Zimmer has proved that being a head coach is something he can do very successfully, though he’s been stuck on a hump that most thought Kirk Cousins would fix. Instead, the team actually took a step back, failing to make the playoffs. As a defense-first coach, he’s done a fine job and won’t hold back a franchise, but he’s going to need the right offensive mind to get there.
12. Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers)
There’s not much sexy about Lynn, but he gets the job done. Since taking over as the head coach of the Chargers, he’s led them to a 21-11 record, one of the better marks in the NFL. He has an abundance of talent on the roster, but as we’ve seen with other coaches, that doesn’t always equal success. He may not be someone who takes his players to the next level like Sean McVay, but he gets more than enough out of them. They should be considered a top-three contender in the AFC.
13. Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers)
Is Shanahan one of those who serves better as a coordinator? Some offensive minds get lost when moving to a bigger role, and Shanahan’s 10-22 record over the first two years isn’t very promising. He’s dealt with his fair share of injuries, including to multiple quarterbacks, so I’m not going to completely count him out, but he’s dropped considerably from where he was on this list last year. Coaching matters almost as much as talent, so when you think the roster lacks talent, just remember what everyone said about the Rams before Sean McVay went there.
14. Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers)
You have to love Rivera’s demeanor, as he’s one of the more level-headed coaches out there, and he’s the coach players love to play for. Unfortunately, it hasn’t led to a playoff appearance in two of the last three years, and his once feared defense has become one to target. With Cam Newton struggling to change the game the way he did back in 2015, Rivera and the coaching staff have struggled to figure out other ways to win.
15. Bill O’Brien (Houston Texans)
If you’re looking for a coach who is solid all-around, I’d say O’Brien is your guy. He’s not going to take a team to the next level, but he’ll make-do with what he has on the roster. Outside of one bad season (2017), O’Brien has led the Texans to a 38-26 record, though their division has been relatively weak in that period. Can the offensive skill-position players stay fully healthy all year with Deshaun Watson at the helm? It wouldn’t surprise me to see O’Brien move up this list next year, but it’s hard taking him over the coaches above him on this list if all were on an even playing field.
16. Bruce Arians (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
There were some promising times for Arians with the Cardinals, as some had them as a Super Bowl contender prior to everything falling apart in 2016. Even then, when having to fall back on Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton, the Cardinals went 15-16-1 over the next two years, so it wasn’t as bad as some made it out to be. We all know how Steve Wilks worked out. Arians gets a fresh start in Tampa Bay with some insane weapons on offense, though the defense is in complete rebuild mode. I could make a case for Arians to be top-12 on this list, but we don’t have too long of a track record. I think the Bucs made the best offseason acquisition.
17. Freddie Kitchens (Cleveland Browns)
We didn’t see too much of Kitchens as a head coach in 2018, but we saw enough to know he’s competent, leading the Browns to a 5-3 record after the team let go of Hue Jackson, who had gone a combined 3-36-1 over the last three seasons combined. He brought in Todd Monken as the offensive coordinator, but it sounds like Kitchens plans on keeping ahold of the playbook. I’ll take the short resume with a glimpse of upside over stagnant coaches that will hold teams hostage.
18. Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos)
Let me first say that if Fangio had been a head coach 10 years ago, I’d probably rank him higher on this list, but the NFL has moved to an offense-first league. Because of that, Fangio needs to find the right guy to call the offense, which is where I believe he made his first mistake. He hired Rich Scangarello as a first-time offensive coordinator. It’s not to say he may not be good at the job, but why take an unknown when there’s so much unknown already on your plate as a first-time head coach?
19. Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills)
Now two years into his tenure, McDermott’s record sits at 15-17. While it’s not the greatest, he may have had one of the most incomplete offenses in the league. While I believe coaching can overcome a lot of talent-deficiency, their entire offense lacked competent starter-worthy players at nearly all positions. Because of that, I won’t give up on him as a head coach, though I still don’t believe he’s a game-changer overall, though his defense looked fantastic last year.
20. Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals)
Sometimes you want to take a chance on an unknown rather than a proven mediocre coach. That’s why Taylor is here rather than at the bottom of the list. Many were excited about Matt LaFleur taking over the Titans offense last year, though that didn’t exactly pan out. Still, don’t let one bad season discredit another coaching prospect. Taylor has said the right things so far, but implementing them will be another. I’m interested to see what he can do with their offense, though the defense needs to be completely rebuilt.
21. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals)
He has no NFL experience, so I’m unwilling to put him very high on the list. Everyone must start somewhere, but Kingsbury wasn’t even a winning coach in college. He then went to the Cardinals and essentially said, I need this type of quarterback (Kyler Murray) for my scheme, even if it means setting the franchise back considering the picks it took to acquire Josh Rosen. I won’t argue that Murray is better for the air-raid offense, but if a head coach needs players to “fit” his scheme, it’s a problem. Good head coaches play to their players’ strengths. I’m not saying he’s going to be horrible, but I’m willing to take the other guys above him on this list.
22. Dan Quinn (Atlanta Falcons)
He’s slowly moving down my list, as his firing of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was uncalled for after his offense finished sixth in yards and 10th in points scored. They suffered an extraordinary amount of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, but that’s where Quinn is supposed to shine. His defense ranked 28th in yards allowed and 25th in points allowed. To make matters worse, he hired Dirk Koetter to come back as the offensive coordinator. There’s so much talent that they’ll make him look competent, but overall, this reflects as a negative on Quinn.
23. Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers)
There are a lot of people who are standing up for LaFleur saying that nobody could have done well with the personnel he had in Tennessee. Umm… if I’m not mistaken, they have a rock-solid offensive line, two solid running backs, a first-round receiver, a third-round receiver, and a stud tight end (who got hurt but was replaced by a third-round tight end). If you’re saying that Marcus Mariota is the problem, I won’t say he’s the solution, but someone coached him to 35 touchdowns and 19 interceptions his first two years in the league. LaFleur may not be horrible, but don’t say he’s a game-changer. I don’t know what everyone is sticking to with him, as he wasn’t the actual offensive coordinator in Los Angeles, Sean McVay was, though because LaFleur had the title of offensive coordinator, so everyone believes it was his success. I’m still uncertain as to why the Packers felt he was worthy of a head coaching job. Again, I won’t completely cross him off, but Aaron Rodgers will likely do what he did for Mike McCarthy, which is make him look a lot better than he is.
24. Jon Gruden (Oakland Raiders)
His return to coaching didn’t go as he’d hoped in year one, but they appeared to be somewhat tanking when they started to trade away proven stars for future draft picks. In his last four years as a head coach, Gruden has had two 4-12 seasons, and two 9-7 seasons. It pretty much sums up how I feel about him as a coach. He’s not an innovative coach who adapts to the game around him, but rather one who believes the old principles still work, and Greg Olson is not someone who’ll help his cause.
25. Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans)
It appeared that Vrabel did the right thing when he landed the Titans job in going out and getting an up-and-coming mind to call plays for the offense, though Matt LaFleur may have been more hype than anything. Still, I give Vrabel credit as a defensive-minded head coach to go out and snag someone like that. The defense wasn’t as good as expected under him, though they did manage to go 9-7, which isn’t bad for the first season. There wasn’t anything awe-inspiring, so he wouldn’t be atop the coaching list, but he also wouldn’t be at the bottom.
26. Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys)
Have you ever argued with a Cowboys fan? That’s a fun time, let me tell you. But one thing even they will agree with is that Garrett has held this team back over the last nine years. They have just three playoff appearances, and he was probably one loss away from getting fired in the middle of the 2018 season. They had a strong run over the final eight games of the regular season, winning 7-of-8, keeping his job safe, though they finally let go of Scott Linehan. He’s another coach who I don’t think is absolutely brutal, but he’s also not someone who’s going to make the difference to help you win a Super Bowl.
27. Pat Shurmur (New York Giants)
It was a concern watching Shurmur leave his cushy offensive coordinator gig in Minnesota, wondering if the pressure of being a head coach again would be difficult. Here we are, five wins and 11 losses later, bringing his career total as a head coach to just 15-34. The front office isn’t doing a very good job with the talent in front of him, but it’s his job to work with what he has. It’s starting to look like he may be one of those guys who is just better as a coordinator.
28. Jay Gruden (Washington Redskins)
There comes a point in a coach’s career where he has to start producing better than average results. Unfortunately, it’s now been five years for Gruden, and he’s stuck in mediocrity. While that will give you a long shelf-life in the NFL (just ask Jeff Fisher), it won’t land you atop any rankings. The Redskins have now finished in-between seven and nine wins in each of the last four seasons. His offense was as bad as it’s ever been last year, though you can blame injuries to his top two quarterbacks for that. You can find excuses for any coach, but after five seasons, something should’ve been clicking. He’s not bad, but he’s not good, either.
29. Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins)
If you’ll notice something, there’s a few former Bill Belichick assistants near the bottom of this list. They’ve continually left the comfort of his side and went on to struggle in a head coaching role. This is not to say Flores is going to be a bad coach, but rather he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt is all. On top of that, he’s a defensive-minded coach in an offense-first league. This can work – just ask John Harbaugh and Mike Zimmer – but it’s a lot tougher given the newer rules that favor offenses. If he can win eight games with the talent on his roster, I’d consider that a win.
30. Matt Patricia (Detroit Lions)
It wasn’t the direction the Lions front office hoped they’d go when hiring Patricia, but they dropped three games from their 2017 win total. Now, instead of questioning Patricia, the attention has turned to Matthew Stafford for some reason. Believe me when I say he’s not the problem. He may not be a top-10 quarterback but he’s more than good enough to win. In a year the Packers and Vikings didn’t quite have it all together, you should’ve expected more out of Patricia. The competition in the division won’t get any easier.
31. Adam Gase (New York Jets)
It took everything inside of me to not rank Gase at the bottom of this list, but despite his shortcomings, he did win seven games with the Dolphins last year, a team with bottom-five talent on the roster. Gase is still living off the reputation of his offensive coordinator days when Peyton Manning made his offense look a lot better, but the Jets bought into it. The issue is that Gase is too emotional and holds grudges against his players, which in-turn hurts the team. He’s not completely incompetent, but he’s not someone I’d want my team to hire.
32. Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars)
I’m not sure anyone has blown as much talent as Marrone has on the defensive side of the ball. For him being a head coach with an offensive background, his offenses have been pretty terrible. Of the five years he’s been a head coach, his offense has ranked outside the top-18 in points four times. The Jaguars finished 5-11 last year despite having the defense who allowed the fifth-fewest yards and the fourth-fewest points. This should not happen. All he needed to do was be competent and they would’ve won nine-plus games. He’s my front-runner for first coach let go in-season.