NFL Head Coach Tiers

Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

NFL Head Coach Tiers

Football

NFL Head Coach Tiers

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Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images 

It’s not a coincidence that great football teams are led by great coaches. In fact, one could argue that football coaches, specifically, have a significantly greater impact on their team’s success than coaches of other popular sports. With that great responsibility has come a plethora of failures and successes. As multiple NFL coaches are fired every season, there’s a consistent, intense pressure for coaches to have successes that outweigh their failures. However, that’s not reality for every coach in the league. Let’s break down all 32 NFL head coaches into tiers and see how they stack up against each other. 

 

Tier 1: Irreplaceable 

Bill Belichick 

Andy Reid 

Here lies two of the greatest football minds the world has ever seen. It’s hard to over-praise these future Hall of Famers and the résumé’s they hold. A list, ranking, or tier of this kind without these two names at the top would be invalid. 

 

Tier 2:  Offensive Genius

Sean McVay 

Kyle Shanahan 

Something about this NFC West pair is just special. McVay has already picked up a ring during his time in Los Angeles, while Shanahan has been as close as one could get to winning a Super Bowl without doing so. Their schemes consistently give their teams an edge entering every game, constantly keeping defenses on their toes. Not to mention, their youth should give them plenty of more opportunities to grow into their seemingly limitless potential. 

 

Tier 3: Steady and Successful  

Mike Tomlin 

Sean McDermott 

John Harbaugh 

These coaches find a way to win. All three personify tough personalities, and it translates into gritty victories for their teams. It may not always be flashy, but you can’t complain if one of these coaches is at the helm of your franchise. 

 

Tier 4: Underrated 

Doug Pederson 

Mike Vrabel

This group of coaches deserves more respect. Whether it’s winning a Super Bowl with Nick Foles or possibly turning around what was a toxic mess in Jacksonville, Pederson has proven that he’s a winner. For Vrabel, he’s found a way to elevate a unique roster that’s more limited than its AFC foes. In other words, both seem to be able to elevate their players in impressive, creative ways. 

 

Tier 5: Is it You Or The Quarterback? 

Matt LaFleur

Pete Carroll

Both of these coaches have seen various levels of success, but it’s fair to question whether or not they deserve the majority of the credit for that success. Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl with Mike McCarthy, who many claim isn’t an above-average head coach. So, how impressive can LaFleur’s regular season success in Green Bay really be? For Carroll, he has not won at a high level without Russell Wilson despite having years of opportunities. The two surely aren’t bad coaches, but there’s not a strong enough argument to include them in the first four tiers.

 

Tier 6: Plenty of Potential 

Kevin Stefanski 

Nick Sirianni 

Todd Bowles

While they currently sit towards the middle of the pack, members of this trio could rise into a higher tier. Stefanski will likely have his best quarterback since taking the Cleveland job when Deshaun Watson returns, making a leap in success seem likely. However, he’s already garnered an immense amount of credit for winning a playoff game with Baker Mayfield. Sirianni is off to a phenomenal start with Jalen Hurts and company. The Eagles seem to be destined for the NFC’s one-seed, it would be wrong to not acknowledge Sirianni’s impact. Bowles struggled in his first stop as a head coach with the New York Jets, but things already look better with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Of course, it’s easier with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ talented defenders, but Bowles’ clever defensive play-calling still holds plenty of potential to be untapped as a head coach.

Tier 7: Impressive First Impression

Mike McDaniel

Brian Daboll 

Kevin O’Connell

Each member of this tier is 3-1 through their first four career games as a head coach. Being a first time head coach is anything but easy, yet these coaches have found a way to make lasting first impressions. In addition, each has displayed the valuable trait of elevating the offensive side of the ball. Young, innovative offensive coaches have fared well over the past few seasons. It wouldn’t be surprising if any member of this group spent many years in their current role. 

 

Tier 8: Biting Knee Caps 

Dan Campbell 

Dan Campbell deserves his own category. Beginning last season, the Detroit Lions head coaching job was truly an uphill battle, but Campbell has made the most of it. If Campbell has proven anything, it’s that he’s a leader. His team plays hard, and it’s paying off so far this season. By the way, is there an easier coach to root for in the NFL?

 

Tier 9: Not Meeting Expectations 

Brandon Staley

Zac Taylor 

Frank Reich 

Rough starts hurt. If you don’t think so, just ask any of the coaches within this tier. For Staley, he simply can’t afford to miss the playoffs once again with Justin Herbert as his quarterback. In Taylor’s case, it’s fair to wonder if he’s limiting Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals offense more than he’s elevating it. Lastly, Reich’s Indianapolis Colts have looked discombobulated through multiple stretches of the season thus far. Aside from a big win against the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s hard to say anything positive about Indianapolis. Overall, none of these coaches are meeting the expectations their talented rosters demand. Jobs could be in jeopardy for any of these members if things don’t improve, lowering them to this tier. 

 

Tier 10: Past Their Time

Mike McCarthy 

Ron Rivera 

Lovie Smith 

There was a time when McCarthy, Rivera, and Smith were all considered above average or even good NFL head coaches. It seems that window has passed. Whether it’s with clock management, scheme, or another facet of the game, this trio doesn’t seem to excel past their peers. Each could have moments of success, but it’s hard to imagine any of the three holding their current position for the foreseeable future. 

 

Tier 11: Coordinator Or Head Coach? 

Robert Saleh 

Dennis Allen 

Arthur Smith

Matt Eberflus

This tier is simple. Each of these coaches has proven to be a top-level coordinator, but it hasn’t necessarily translated into being an equally effective head coach. Whether it’s quarterback issues, weak rosters, or another factor, things simply haven’t clicked yet for this group. It’s fair to note that Eberflus is only in his first season, but the lack of visible development with his young quarterback, Justin Fields, leaves me questioning if he is fit for a head coaching spot in today’s NFL. 

 

Tier 12: The Hot Seat 

Josh McDaniels 

Kliff Kingsbury

The Las Vegas Raiders and Arizona Cardinals both picked up a win in Week Four, but there haven’t been too many positives outside of that. The lack of success has come despite both rosters featuring playoff-level starting quarterbacks as well. In scenarios like that, it’s easy to lay the blame on a coach. More importantly, it seems that there’s consistent chemistry issues with each of these rosters. If those problems persist, it’s hard to imagine that both McDaniels and Kingsbury won’t be held accountable. 

 

Tier 13: Ticking Time Bomb 

Nathaniel Hackett 

Matt Rhule 

It’s been an ugly, awful, frustrating, and dreadful experience thus far for Rhule and Hackett. There’s a seemingly infinite amount of negative adjectives to describe both of their tenures. I’m sure fans have thought of plenty. You can never say never, but a serious, miraculous change would need to occur to elevate these two up the tiers. For now, it feels as if we are only waiting for it all to blow up. The clock is ticking, and fans are waiting. Situations like these are never pleasant, but it would be disingenuous to act like Denver Bronco and Carolina Panther fans aren’t craving a change at head coach.

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