NFL Head Coach Rankings (2020)
This is probably one of the touchiest articles I write each offseason, but it’s a good exercise to do, as it’s helped identify players who may have new coaches the following season. In 2018, the bottom five coaches on my list lost their jobs. In 2019, three of the bottom seven coaches on my list were let go.
Coaching matters just as much as talent does in the game of football. Some coaches will get the most out of their players, while others will coast by on the talent, making them look far better than they actually are. Record does not always indicate a good/bad head coach.
Let’s just get it out of the way now… You’re 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)
Arguably the greatest coach of all-time, so why wouldn’t he be atop the list for 2020? Belichick continually gets the most out of his players, designs his schemes around what they do well, and most importantly, he understands the importance of attacking an opponent’s weakness. He’s won six championships since 2002, while there is just one franchise (Steelers) who’ve done that throughout the entire history of the NFL. The Patriots roster has been stripped of loads of talent, but you should never count Belichick out.
2. Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints)
He’s now coached for 13 years and has never had a season worse than 7-9, while racking up eight 10-plus win seasons. Payton is what I’d consider to be one of the greatest offensive minds who made the transition to head coach much easier than others have tried. It surely helps when you have Drew Brees, but he’s consistently designed his offense around Brees’ strengths.
3. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs)
You can no longer say that Reid hasn’t won a Super Bowl, which was the knock on him for years. Let’s be honest, he was great before that. You’d have to go back to 2012 to find the last time he didn’t win at least nine games, and no, it’s not just Patrick Mahomes. Reid’s team has won 10 or more games in six of the last seven years. He’s consistently made the most of the talent in front of him, so when you added Mahomes, that’s what brought a Super Bowl to his resume.
4. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens)
He’s been around a long time now (12 years) and has just one season where his team finished worse than 8-8. Keep in mind that Joe Flacco was his quarterback for much of that time. When you combine Harbaugh’s defense with Lamar Jackson‘s upside, you get Super Bowl aspirations. While they didn’t make it quite far enough in 2019, the Ravens should be primed to make a run at the Chiefs for best team in the AFC in 2020.
5. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)
There were some bumps in the road for McVay in 2019, but I’d still take him as a top-five coach if every single coach were a free agent. Coming into the league at just 32 years old, McVay has gone 33-15 over his first three years, turning around a franchise that was left for dead. While it’s a small sample size, his .688 win/loss percentage would rank eighth all-time. He’s willing to change and evolve his offense as needed, something not many give enough credit for.
6. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers)
He’s someone who’s not only got the record to back-up this ranking, but he could arguably be higher considering the personalities he’s had to deal with over the years. He’s now coached for 13 years and doesn’t have a single season where he’s finished below .500 and that includes the 2019 season that included 14 starts by Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. It doesn’t hurt that he’s had Ben Roethlisberger throughout his tenure, but Tomlin has proven to be a contender, no matter what the roster looks like.
7. Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers)
I’m not going to lie; it was ugly right out of the gate for Shanahan. He won just 10 games in his first two seasons with the 49ers, though it certainly didn’t help he had to start Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard for much of them. I was worried that he was one of the top-tier offensive coordinators that simply didn’t transition like we’d hoped. Everything seemed to click in 2019, as Shanahan led the 49ers to the Super Bowl for just the second time since 1993. He’ll continue to move up this list with another solid showing.
8. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks)
He’s someone who gets far too much hate in the football community. Carroll is a top-10 coach in the NFL, period. The Seahawks haven’t drafted very well and continually lose players in free agency, but year-in and year-out, his team is extremely competitive. You can argue about Russell Wilson helping him, and that’s true, though who knows if Wilson would’ve started right away if Carroll wasn’t there. If you recall, the Seahawks spent big free agent money on Matt Flynn, only to have him ride the pine behind their third-round pick. I respect Carroll for always putting the best player on the field, regardless of money/draft position.
9. Bruce Arians (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Is it safe to say Arians hasn’t had the best luck with quarterbacks to this point? After coaching Andrew Luck to a 9-3 record as the interim coach, Arians has had an oft-injured Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley, Blaine Gabbert, and Jameis Winston. Still, Arians has managed to coach his teams to 65 wins to just 42 losses in seven seasons. Now having Tom Brady and company join the stable, it’s time to see if Arians can make the boost into the top-five conversation.
10. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts)
After an impressive rookie campaign, Reich took a step back in 2019, though injuries and one major retirement were certainly a factor. Whenever you have your franchise 29-year-old quarterback retire out of the blue, you’re going to have some growing pains. The Colts finished 7-9 in 2019 despite all the things they endured, keeping them on the map. Reich is a young coach who’s still in the beginning stages, but based on what we’ve seen, he’s a keeper.
11. Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings)
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster with Zimmer, though he’s certainly an above average coach with a 57-38-1 record over six years with the Vikings. The issue is that they’ve won just two playoff games during that time, so they’ve never been able to get over that hump, even after signing Kirk Cousins. With the defense losing a lot of their veterans and starting a rebuild, you have to wonder how Zimmer will bounce back in 2020. I still believe the team will remain competitive, hence the reason for his top-12 ranking.
12. Doug Pederson (Philadelphia Eagles)
He has a Super Bowl under his belt through just four years of coaching, though he hasn’t won 10 games in any other season. The injuries that Carson Wentz has gone through certainly didn’t help, though Nick Foles was asked to take over multiple times, and the team remained in the playoff race. If there was one team who suffered more injuries than any other in 2019, it had to be the Eagles, who continually lost players in the secondary, and throughout their receiving corps. Pederson may have lost some of his luster, but I still believe he’s a top-12 coach in the league.
13. Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans)
There are typically growing pains in the first few years of becoming an NFL head coach, though Vrabel is working through them rather quickly. When you leave the Bill Belichick umbrella, it hasn’t been a good thing for many coaches, but Vrabel has managed to go 9-7 in each of his first two seasons, including a win over Belichick in the playoffs, and an AFC Championship appearance. He also did what not many have the guts to do; bench a No. 2 overall pick mid-season for poor play. He gets the most out of his guys, and they seem to enjoy playing for him.
14. Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills)
It’s still early in McDermott’s coaching career, but you must give him credit for turning the Bills into a contender with the roster in the condition it was when he took over. After a 10-6 season in 2019, which included an ugly playoff loss to the Texans, McDermott convinced the front office to take a shot at winning now. Adding Stefon Diggs to the wide receiver corps, Daryl Williams to the offensive line, and snagging multiple defenders in free agency to an already potent defense, and we could see the Bills in the playoffs once again.
15. Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears)
After his rookie season where he completely turned the Bears franchise around, Nagy was one of the worst coaches in the game last year. The play-calling was very predictable, he didn’t build around his players’ strengths, and he was unwilling to change. After 2018, I had him as a top-10 head coach. If this list were based solely on 2019, he’d be in the bottom-five. I believe there’s a middle ground where Nagy went too far in the wrong direction last year. Let’s call it growing pains as a new head coach, but another season like last, and he’ll be in the bottom-10.
16. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals)
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have much faith in Kingsbury as a head coach in the NFL, as he seemed to be stuck in his ways immediately. After a 5-10-1 season, you’d think I’m still skeptical, but I’m a bit more optimistic, as he did evolve his offense as the year went on, not trying to simply run 70 plays per game like it was a track meet. I’ll always give coaches credit for understanding what works and what doesn’t work, then implementing change. Kingsbury did that in year one, but now it’s time to see the record reflect that, as they’ve added plenty of talent this offseason.
17. Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals)
He was a tough one to rank, as he had a brutal situation to deal with. Not only did he take over one of the worst rosters in the NFL, but injuries mounted up throughout his rookie season. They lost their best player A.J. Green and their first-round pick Jonah Williams before the season even started. With Joe Burrow under center and the Green/Williams duo healthy, the offense should get a great boost this year. Let’s call his year one grade as incomplete.
18. Bill O’Brien (Houston Texans)
Luckily, O’Brien isn’t being ranked as a GM, because he’d be last. As a coach, he’s been good enough in what’s been a weak division. Still, you have to give credit where credit is due. He’s had just one losing season during his six years as the head coach, but once the playoffs have come, he’s won just two games while losing four. It kind of feels like he’s Jeff Fisher/John Fox-esque, as he’s good enough to go .500 but not good enough to make it anywhere in the playoffs. Four division titles are nice, but the Texans have nothing to show for them, and they just lost a few of their best players (DeAndre Hopkins, D.J. Reader) this offseason.
19. Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns)
We don’t have a big track record to go off with Stefanski, outside of the fact that he led the Vikings to the No. 8 overall scoring offense in 2019. Now, we also have to consider the impact Gary Kubiak (assistant head coach) had on the team, as he’s always invigorated his team’s run-game. We’re going to find out soon enough, as I believe the Browns have a top-10 overall roster in terms of talent. The question is: Can he make them run like a well-oiled machine? I’ll take the unknown with him over some of the older coaches around the league.
20. Ron Rivera (Washington Redskins)
It’s tough to say that Rivera should’ve been fired considering who his starting quarterbacks were in 2019, but it’s something that many coaches have had to deal with throughout their careers. Not just that, but Rivera has just three plus .500 records through nine seasons in the NFL. He has a winning record overall (76-63-1) but at some point, you need to separate yourself and Rivera just hasn’t done that. I’d consider him an average NFL coach who can get the best of his defense, but also someone who’ll need the right offensive mind to win 10-plus games.
21. Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins)
I’m not going to lie, I wanted to put Flores higher than this. Turning the Dolphins roster into a team that won five games was impressive, as most would’ve considered them lucky to win three games. He got his team to buy into his mentality, and it showed as the year went on. The Dolphins front office went out and spent a lot of money this offseason and it should amount to even more wins. Even better, karma kicked in for winning those games, as they were still able to land their franchise quarterback at No. 5 without trading up. Flores could move up this board significantly during the 2020 season.
22. Joe Judge (New York Giants)
Judge went from someone who was a special teams coordinator for five years, to a head coach seemingly overnight. There are many in the Patriots organization who feel Judge is going to make waves in the NFL, even though many of Bill Belichick’s ex-assistants have struggled on their own. There is a lot of talent available to him on the offensive side of the ball, but the Giants defense isn’t going to do him any favors. If he can go 8-8 with the current roster, I’d consider that a big win for him in his rookie season. The expectations should be around 6-10.
23. Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys)
The rumor is that McCarthy took some time away from the game to re-evaluate some things and gather a coaching staff that he wanted. This is a very good thing, as he’d become too set in his ways as a coach in Green Bay. Everyone loves a good comeback story, and McCarthy has the team to win right now, as the NFC East is not as daunting as it once was. If McCarthy has changed, we’ll see it right out of the gate with the talent they have in Dallas. McCarthy may have a 125-77-2 record over his 13 years coaching, but you cannot overlook the fact that he had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers the entire time.
24. Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers)
This is the territory for prove-it coaches, as they’re getting their first run in the NFL as a head coach. Rhule comes over from Baylor where he won just one game in 2017, seven games in 2018, and then 11 games in 2019. Over his entire coaching career in college, Rhule finished 47-43, which is not great at that level. The Panthers defense is going through a major rebuild and they’re in what might be the toughest division in football. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Panthers finished 5-12 or worse, and they’re one of the teams who could be in the running for No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
25. Jon Gruden (Las Vegas Raiders)
Let me just say that I love Gruden the person; he just seems like a guy I’d love to have a beverage with. However, I don’t believe he’s a difference-maker as a head coach. He’s one of those old-school coaches who may be set in their ways and like “his guys” a little too much. I believe the team would be better off if they moved on from offensive coordinator Greg Olson, but that’s part of being a good head coach; recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of both the offense and defense. I think his career record of 106-102 matches this ranking.
26. Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers)
This ranking list is not titled “Which head coach had the best record in 2019?” If every one of the head coaches were without a team and could be hired, LaFleur would not be a top-25 coach on my list. You build your team around your strengths and it’s almost as if he’s forgotten that he has a Hall of Fame quarterback at his disposal. Apparently, there’s a power struggle with him and Aaron Rodgers, which cannot happen in the NFL. It’s also apparently the reason the Packers traded up to take Jordan Love and draft components for the run-game that was already fantastic. If you think LaFleur is a 13-3 head coach without Aaron Rodgers, you’re wrong.
27. Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers)
I had ranked Lynn higher in years past, but it’s gotten to the point where his team has underperformed when you consider the talent available. The team had Super Bowl aspirations in 2019 but wound up going just 5-11 and finishing last in their division. Now losing the leadership of Philip Rivers, I’m expecting the team to continue trending in the wrong direction after a disappointing 2019. The defense has enough talent to win some games, but unless he wins the division, there may be someone else coaching this team in 2021 even though he signed an extension to be with the team through 2021.
28. Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos)
For a coach that was supposed to come in and step up the defensive play, Fangio didn’t deliver as expected, though there were a few key injuries that may have impacted that. The team went offense-heavy in the draft, so Fangio likely feels he has what he needs. I still have faith in him as a defensive coordinator, but he needs to improve in year two to have any staying power as a head coach.
29. Dan Quinn (Atlanta Falcons)
It’s a miracle that Quinn still has a job right now, as it seemed like a near lock that he was getting fired in the middle of the 2019 season. The Falcons roster is very talented and though Quinn was brought on to improve the defense, it’s been the offense that’s been the strength of the team. After finishing with a sub .500 record in both 2018 and 2019, Quinn is firmly on the hot seat in 2020. It seems like everyone else has taken the fall to this point, but Quinn remains.
30. Matt Patricia (Detroit Lions)
I wasn’t a fan of the hire for the Lions a few years back and I’m not a fan of it now. Some will use Matthew Stafford‘s injury to point at the reason they struggled, but Patricia is supposed to raise the defense’s level of play. Instead, they allowed the second-most yardage in the NFL and the sixth-most points. It’s tough to see the Lions sticking with him going into 2021.
31. Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Part of being a head coach is keeping all of the player egos in check, as well as getting the respect of them. Marrone has lost the locker room, and though the front office fired Tom Coughlin, players are still wanting out, leading the Jaguars to take minimal value in trades. He went from a team that was 10-6, to one that’s gone 11-21 over the last two seasons. It’s likely we’re talking about them as the worst in the NFL and the team with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
32. Adam Gase (New York Jets)
He’s been known as an “offensive mind” right? Well, in the five seasons without Peyton Manning quarterbacking his offense, Gase’s offenses have ranked 21st, 24th, 25th, 31st, and 32nd in total yards. It’s as if he’s getting worse as time goes on, and has now accumulated three straight losing seasons. Look at the players that have succeeded once Gase moved on: Ryan Tannehill, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake, and DeVante Parker. Then you look at Le’Veon Bell, the superstar he slowed down. Gase is not going to be the coach who turns the Jets around, and their fans should be rooting for the front office to figure that out sooner rather than later.