NFL Head Coach Rankings (2021)
Head coach rankings. What does that even mean? Does it mean who has the most Super Bowl rings? Nope. Does it mean who has the best win/loss record? Nope. Does it mean who has the best reputation? No.
To me, this list represents a hypothetical situation where I own an NFL team, and all 32 head coaches in the league are available for me to choose from. There are many factors to take into consideration, like have they had success with multiple quarterbacks, how long have they been a head coach, and have they gotten the most out of the talent on their roster? Your list will be different than mine, but let me tell you the reasons I have each coach ranked where I do.
1. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots)
Yes, I’m fully aware that Tom Brady just went and won a Super Bowl ring with another head coach. No, that doesn’t mean Belichick isn’t the best coach in the NFL. You don’t win six Super Bowl rings just because you have one of the greatest all-time at quarterback. No one takes away strengths and exploits opponent’s weaknesses like Belichick.
2. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs)
Yes, he has Patrick Mahomes now, but Reid has won 10-plus games in each of the last six years and has 15 10-win seasons under his belt as a whole. While Reid was a solid head coach back in the early 2000’s, the game has shifted towards an offense-friendly league which has allowed him to take full advantage, as he’s one of the best play callers we’ve ever seen.
3. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)
I don’t think we’ve seen the best of McVay yet. In fact, I put him higher for what he was able to accomplish with Jared Goff under center, and how quickly he turned the Rams team into a competitor. The team hasn’t even drafted well, but he’s getting the most out of everyone, and we should expect that to continue now that Matthew Stafford is his quarterback. McVay makes the team markedly better.
4. Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints)
Let me be clear: I love Payton. However, I can’t put him higher than this considering Payton’s had Drew Brees for his entire coaching career. We have seen glimpses of his play-calling with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill, who are both completely different quarterbacks from Brees (and each other), yet the offense didn’t slow down all that much. This first full year without Brees will determine a lot with how many value Payton as a head coach.
5. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens)
I give Harbaugh a ton of credit for what he’s done in the NFL. His career record of 129 wins and 79 losses while having Joe Flacco as his starting quarterback for 10-plus years is impressive. Now that he has a much more competent and versatile quarterback under center in Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have gone 25-7 the last two years in a tough division. Back a few years ago, there were whispers about the Ravens letting him go. That would’ve been comical.
6. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Here’s a fun fact: Tomlin has never had a losing season. His record has never been worse than 8-8. Now, with that being said, he hasn’t been to the Super Bowl or won an AFC Championship since 2010, which is quite a long draught. The naysayers will tell you he’s had Ben Roethlisberger for his entire career, but I’d like to remind everyone about how much time Roethlisberger has missed, yet Tomlin has still yet to post a losing record, even with Mason Rudolph.
7. Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills)
I’m not going to lie; I had my doubts about McDermott and the Bills team he took over, especially when you consider the GM was fired after the 2017 draft (when McDermott was hired). With the shape the roster was left it, it’s a miracle that we’re here four years later with a 38-26 record. McDermott has shot up my head coaching rankings over the last two years.
8. Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns)
I’m always a bit hesitant to trust offensive coordinators turned head coaches right away, as the responsibility has proven to be too much for some of them. Stefanski walked into a situation with plenty of talent, though no head coach had been able to pull it out of the players. He accomplished that in year one, and it seemed they only got better as the year went on. If the progress continues, he’ll only move up this list.
9. Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers)
I love Shanahan as a play-caller, but we can’t ignore the fact that three of his first four seasons as a head coach have produced losing records. He’s 29-35 as a head coach. Now, to be fair, this ranking doesn’t reflect that record, as he’s been dealt a pretty bad hand from an injury standpoint. Losing his quarterback, star tight end, elite pass rusher, starting receiver, top cornerback… you name it, he’s dealt with it. However, that’s part of the gig and he needs to overcome that. The loss of Robert Saleh might prove to be another obstacle.
10. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts)
I kind of want to put Reich higher on this list, as he’s seemingly the genius behind those 2016 and 2017 Eagles teams. He’s only been a head coach for three seasons but has gotten the most out of the talent on the team. Having Andrew Luck up and retire out of nowhere left him in a bad spot, leaving him with Jacoby Brissett as his starter. From there, bringing in Philip Rivers, who most left for dead after the 2019 season. Despite these issues, he’s posted a 28-20 record and should be considered one of the better coaches in the league.
11. Bruce Arians (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
As it turns out, bringing in Tom Brady pays dividends. Arians got his first Super Bowl victory as a head coach because of it, though you must give credit where credit is due. While I don’t believe Arians is someone who’s going to turn a franchise around due to his scheme, he’s also not someone who’s going to hold them back, either. He has four 10-win seasons through his seven years as a head coach and zero seasons with fewer than seven wins.
12. Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins)
I kind of love what Flores is doing in Miami, completely turning the franchise around. My favorite part is that he’s holding players accountable. Minkah Fitzpatrick doesn’t want to cooperate? Trade him. Our first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa is playing poorly? Bench him. He doesn’t seem to care about anything other than what they’re doing to help the team, and that’s a good thing. When he took this team over in 2019, it was a reclamation project, but one he quickly turned into a 10-6 contender. Another step in the right direction and he’ll be inside the top-10 coaches next year.
13. Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers)
I’m going to catch a lot of flack for this one, as many will tell me he should be higher, but I urge you to look away from his win-loss record for a moment. What do you think this team will look like if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t show up? What would you project their record to be? Look, I’m not saying LaFleur is a bad coach; I have him at No. 13 on my list. What I’m saying is that he’s made some bad calls that likely cost his team Super Bowl appearances and that he might not look so great if Rodgers chooses to retire or gets traded.
14. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks)
Part of me likes Carroll for who he is, as draft capital and contract value don’t carry any weight with him. He’ll put the best man on the field. The issue is that he may not understand the biggest strength on his team and how to best utilize him. Prior to him getting Russell Wilson, Carroll’s record as a head coach was 47-49. Do you know what it is with Wilson? 98-45. Coincidence? I think not. Carroll needs to hire an offensive coordinator that’ll allow Wilson to flourish, and they just might return to the Super Bowl.
15. Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings)
He’s a defensive-minded head coach in an offensive league, but he’s done a solid job through his seven years as the Vikings head coach, rallying them to a 64-47-1 record during that time. Last year was a step in the wrong direction, though injuries played a major role. Losing Gary Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski in back-to-back years is not a good thing, and though Kubiak’s son is taking over as coordinator, things might not be the same. Zimmer needs a good offensive coordinator to take this team to the next level.
16. Arthur Smith (Atlanta Falcons)
I’m intrigued to see what Smith can do on his own, as he turned the Titans offense into one that defied the rule on regression. They were one of the most efficient offenses we’ve seen in recent years, and he now gets to go work with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Kyle Pitts? Some coaches falter when moved from coordinator to head coach, but Smith’s future looks promising. He needs to ensure his defensive coordinator (Dean Pees) can turn the defense around so he can focus on the offensive side of the ball, where he shines.
17. Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans)
Another coach the players adore. But also another coach who’s defense-first in an offense-heavy league. It’s getting tougher and tougher to make a name for yourself as a defensive-minded head coach with all the video game numbers that are going up. Still, Vrabel has managed to compile a 29-19 record through his first three seasons as a head coach, including a couple playoff wins. There is a big test for Vrabel this season, as he lost both Dean Pees and Arthur Smith from the coaching staff.
18. Robert Saleh (New York Jets)
There were a lot of 49ers players hoping Saleh wouldn’t leave, as he’s reportedly loved by all of them. The 49ers defense took a major step back last year, but they did have injuries galore. He’ll take over a Jets team that has plenty of holes, so he must’ve been promised some time to turn things around. But based on how he turned things around with the 49ers defense, Jets fans shouldn’t be upset with the hire.
19. Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos)
As I’ve stated a few times throughout this article, it’s really tough for defensive-minded head coaches in today’s NFL, so Fangio was already facing an uphill battle when he became a head coach. Since that time, he’s dealt with a slew of injuries, leading to a 12-20 record. While this is obviously not good, I want to see him have a full season while not losing a major starter on either side of the ball to judge him. The quarterback situation is still a major issue, but if the defense stays healthy, I believe his team will be much more competitive.
20. Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers)
We have a short history on a lot of new head coaches, but Staley’s rise was meteoric. He was a linebackers coach one year, defensive coordinator the next, and head coach the next. He’s taking over a very talented squad in Los Angeles with a franchise quarterback intact, so his path to success should be much better than some of the other first-time head coaches, though the short coaching history worries me just a tad.
21. Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers)
Similar to someone like Brian Flores, Rhule took over a desolate roster, so it was always going to take time to rebuild. Going 5-11 might seem horrible, but in reality, it should’ve been expected. The defense is going to take some time to turn around, but fortunately, he didn’t lose Joe Brady this offseason, so he can let him handle that side of the ball. I’m in wait-and-see mode with Rhule.
22. Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears)
After his debut as head coach with the Bears in 2018 netted him coach of the year honors, things have trended in the wrong direction for Nagy. They’ve finished 8-8 in each of the last two years, and while many are quick to jump on Mitch Trubisky for the offensive struggles, I can tell you personally that Nagy did nothing to help design an offense that Trubisky could show his strengths. It was almost like Nagy created a playbook for Nick Foles and Trubisky, which would never work because they’re not the same type of quarterback. As someone who was brought in to be a spark to the offensive side of the ball, he’s trended in the wrong direction while wasting prime years of the Bears defense. I may be too far on the disappointment side here, but Nagy is on the hot seat right now.
23. Ron Rivera (Washington Football Team)
No. 1 fact about Rivera: He’s a great human being and players love to play for him. Unfortunately, his record as a head coach isn’t anything to brag about. Through 10 seasons as a head coach, he’s 11 games above .500, which isn’t bad, but he’s also never had that prototypical franchise quarterback that some above him on this list do. Cam Newton was obviously a game-changer, but he was also highly inconsistent, and that’s reflected in Rivera’s record. He’s another coach who falls into the “defensive-minded coach who’s trying to navigate an offensive-minded league” conversation.
24. Joe Judge (New York Giants)
The first year for a coach is always a tough one because they’re often brought into a tumultuous situation that’ll take some time to rebuild, though there are some exceptions to that rule (like Sean McVay) who turn things around immediately. That didn’t happen with the Giants, and while the defense was in a bad spot talent-wise, I will say Judge got more out of them than expected. Still, in a terrible division last year, he could’ve done more.
25. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals)
He’s seemingly gotten all the parts he’s wanted, particularly on offense, and hasn’t had any major injury issues, yet his record is 13-18-1 through two seasons as the Cardinals head coach. Do we think adding A.J. Green and Rondale Moore to the offense with J.J. Watt and Zaven Collins to the defense is going to change the outlook of this team? It could, but one thing is for certain: another losing season and Kingsbury will be on the hot seat.
26. Nick Sirianni (Philadelphia Eagles)
We don’t have a whole lot to go off with Sirianni, who’s been mentored by Frank Reich the last three years. But I will say it’s likely to be tougher than he expects, as he hasn’t even called plays to this point, and is making the jump to head coach with a franchise that’s been trending in the wrong direction. I’ll take the unknown of him over the known mediocrity of some head coaches, though.
27. Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals)
I’ll admit that I was excited to see what Taylor could/would do as a head coach, but I’m starting to fall further and further away. As a play-caller in the league today, they make it as pass-friendly as possible, yet Taylor’s quarterbacks have never had tremendous success, nor have his running backs. With just six wins through two years, Taylor is closer to the exit door than he is the top-12 coaches.
28. Jon Gruden (Las Vegas Raiders)
Look, I love Gruden the person. I’d love to sit down and have a few adult beverages with him, but that doesn’t mean he’s a great coach in the NFL anymore. You know those grandpas that are set in their ways, do things their way, and no one can tell them any different? That’s Gruden in today’s NFL. Unfortunately, this is a changing game and requires you to adapt, which is not one of Gruden’s strong points.
29. Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys)
I said it before and I’ll say it again: McCarthy is not a good head coach, but rather one who rode the coattails of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. There’s a reason the Packers fired a coach with a 125-77-2 record. When he signed with the Cowboys, Dak Prescott was supposed to be that savior. Well, when Prescott went down with a season-ending injury, the Cowboys were essentially the Packers when Aaron Rodgers got hurt… not good. But hey, Prescott is back, and the Cowboys will have a better record this year, but it’s not because of McCarthy.
30. Urban Meyer (Jacksonville Jaguars)
I didn’t really love the hire of Meyer to begin with, and watching his moves since arriving, I’ve become even more concerned. After oddly hiring a strength coach who has serious issues off-the-field, he drafted a running back in the first round, only to then say they’re going to play him at wide receiver. Then, he did the unthinkable and signed 33-year-old Tim Tebow to play tight end, a position he’s never played. Forcing players into your system and having them play positions they never have seems to be a recipe for disaster. Trevor Lawrence will cover up some of his issues, but not all of them.
31. Dan Campbell (Detroit Lions)
“We’re going to bite a kneecap off.”
32. David Culley (Houston Texans)
He took a job no one wanted. I guess we should give him credit for that. For those who don’t know, Culley has been an assistant head coach, quarterbacks coach, and wide receivers coach since 1978. If I were starting a franchise, Culley wouldn’t have even been on my radar as a potential candidate, so he falls to the end of the list.