This is a list that needed to be addressed. The proficiency of a head coach cannot merely be judged on wins and losses, though this is a strong indicator of their overall effectiveness. But, we cannot forget a coach is merely one man. A man whose job can be made easier by his ownership, coordinators, assistant coaches, general managers and players. A simple form of analysis would be to look at “How well would ‘Coach A’ do in ‘Coach B’s spot?” Let’s examine.
1. Bill Belichik – Patriots
If you were expecting a hot take at the top-spot, I’m sorry. The Patriots continue to produce without any star-power outside of Tom Brady (Gronk was mostly injured last year). Aside from the long history of supremacy in the NFL, Belichick again proved he is miles ahead of anyone else with the display of team-wide composure in their historic 2016 Superbowl comeback.
2. Andy Reid – Chiefs
In four years with the Cheifs, Reid has a regular season record of 43-21 and has gone to the playoffs three time. Ok, he’s only won a single playoff game in all these trips; but, Alex Smith. There is no other coach in the league who could have this kind of consistency with such an average talent at quarterback. Reid has squeezed every last drop of potential out of Smith, and does so with all of his players.
3. Pete Carroll – Seahawks
Record aside; do you know how many coaches would actually have the stones to start a third-round rookie over a quarterback they just gave a pile of money to? It might only be one. The Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a 3 year $26 million contract when the salary cap was only $120 million, but Caroll went with his gut and it’s paid off. In recent years Caroll has produced despite shoddy draft classes, weak skill positions (aside from his years with Lynch) and no offensive line. He has turned late round picks into superstars and gets the most out of all of his players, largely based on tailoring schemes to fit their strengths.
4. Dan Quinn – Falcons
If this were odds for a head coach ‘Hell in a Cell’ match, Quinn would be the front-runner. As far as actual head-coaching ability goes he deserves this spot in his short time with Falcons, after all this is not a list for career recognition. Going into the 2016 season, this looked like a team that was two-or-three years away from competing. Quinn (former defensive coordinator for the Seahawks) was able accelerate the production of his young talent on defense. The former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, was largely responsible for the offensive production, but Quinn was able to orchestrate the quick turnaround for the Falcons, getting them to the Superbowl ahead of schedule.
5. Adam Gase – Dolphins
The incumbent quarterback whisperer, Gase is 80lbs and one wicked mustache away from being the next Andy Reid. He has a long track record, as an offensive coordinator, of very productive seasons and his first year with the Dolphins showed that he can translate that production as a head coach. Strangely, his 10-6 record with the Phins was largely thanks to the much improved run-game. I expect Gase to have a long and successful tenure with the Dolphins, similar to Reid’s with the Eagles. Another offseason to work with Ryan Tannehill and to craft this offense in his own image could be all he needs to get this young roster to the playoffs.
6. Bruce Arians – Cardinals
The 2016 was a down year for Arians, though I’m not ready to write him off as a coaching talent yet. Coming into the Cardinals’ head coaching job in the 2013 season was not an easy gig. They had to go against the best version of the Seahawks and 49ers in recent history. In each of Arians’ first three years he was able to get 10+ wins, he even made playoffs in 2014 when Drew Stanton saw more snaps than Carson Palmer, after Palmer’s injury. The Cardinals have been hemorrhaging talent and have dealt with many injuries, Arians might be one of the only guys who can keep this ship afloat.
7. Ben McAdoo – Giants
When a coach spends so much time invested in winning that he only has time to plop a bowl on his head and have one of his coordinators do a quick snip, you know he means business. Taking over as the head coach in 2016, McAdoo busted the Giants 6-10 slump with a 11-5 record, good enough to get them to playoffs. He was able to maintain offensive production even though the team is devoid of a running back or offensive line, while getting big money free-agency defensive players to play as if they were on a one-year “prove-it” deal. He was able to do all this while competing with Odell Beckham Jr.’s ego.
8. Mike Zimmer – Vikings
Losing your starting quarterback right before the season and your star running-back early in the season might be enough to sink any coach not named Belichik. Zimmer was able to keep things under control and win the first five games of the season, based mainly on the Vikings’ defensive play (his calling card). The loss of five offensive tackles through-out the season proved to be the final straw and the Vikings ended up 8-8. With all these injuries and the mid-season retirement (firing) of offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, Zimmer was still able to keep games close. They lost two heart-breakers to the Lions and were robbed of an overtime chance against the Cowboys on a blown referee call. The Vikings could have easily been 10-6 or 11-5. Zimmer will continue to punish opposing quarterbacks in 2017 and the Vikings have made moves to create an accompanying ground attack.
9. Mike McCarthy – Packers
I’m very neutral on McCarthy. Rodgers operates better when he deviates from whatever plan the Packers lay out for him and the defense is usually average, this year it was atrocious due to some injuries. So, I’m not sure where the coaching actually comes in. That being said, he’s been the head coach for a pile of playoff appearances, multiple winning seasons and a Superbowl win. We can assume he does something productive for the team, even if it is unclear what that is.
10. Mike Tomlin – Steelers
I believe all nine coaches above Tomlin would have had the same or better record in the same situation as Tomlin. There are likely a few not on this list that would as well. When you have Big Ben and an elite defense or, in recent years, Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell you are given an automatic spot in the playoffs. You are gifted two wins against the Browns every year and only need to beat out Joe Flacco, with no offensive weapons, and Andy Dalton, a bottom-tier QB with one of the worst coaches in the NFL. In the last five seasons Tomlin’s failed to make it to playoffs twice and has bounced early twice. As we’ve seen from the Falcons, Ravens, and 49ers; once you get to the dance you have a shot to at least get to the Superbowl. Tomlin has not taken advantage of his gift-wrapped playoff appearances and is a major reason Ben Roethlisberger will end his career as one of the most under-rated quarterbacks of all time. Not to mention, he seems to struggle with keeping his players from getting suspended.