One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of NFL success is coaching. A great coach can elevate his players, an overmatched one can drag them down. Here are my top five NFL head coaches right now. This is based on their body of work along with their current situation.
5: Bruce Arians- Mike Zimmer of the Vikings gets “honorable mention” status in favor of this 64-year-old football lifer. Arians put Temple football on the map in the 80s. His NFL work went largely unnoticed until 2012. As interim coach while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia, he took the Colts and then rookie Andrew Luck from the cellar to the playoffs. However, as an assistant coach, he had a hand in the early careers of both Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. In his first full-time NFL head coaching gig, he has turned the vagabond franchise that was the Arizona Cardinals into perennial contenders. They are 36-17 in just a bit more than three seasons under Arians.
4: Pete Carroll- Yes, he was fired by the Jets and Patriots before catching on in Seattle, but every coach gets fired or moves on at some point. Also, while out of the NFL, his USC Trojans dominated college football. In history, there are four people to win a NCAA football title and an NFL championship/Super Bowl. Pete Carroll is one of them. That says it all. On a lighter note, I hope I look half as good and have half the energy Carroll does when I am 65.
3: Andy Reid- The common knock on Reid is he has not won a Super Bowl. While true, it is not entirely his fault. The guy can coach. He only missed the playoffs four times in 13 seasons in Philadelphia. Under Reid, they reached four NFC title games and the Super Bowl. The franchise still has not recovered from letting him go. Reid continues to work wonders in Kansas City. In three full seasons, he has not posted a losing record. Apart from the one year Terrell Owens ended up in Philadelphia, he has never had top-flight players to work with. He has gotten the most out of guys like Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith, Freddie Mitchell, and Jeremy Maclin. Also, his 11-11 postseason record is far from embarrassing.
2: Gary Kubiak- Yes, I am a Broncos fan, but if anyone thinks Kubiak is overrated at number two, someone please tell me one wrong button he has pushed since taking over in Denver. Last year, he knew exactly when to go to Brock Osweiler and when to go back to Peyton Manning. Under a lot of coaches, that quarterback situation would have disintegrated into a circus. Kubiak calmly named his starter each Monday and got down to business. Long before leading the Broncos to Super Bowl glory, he turned Matt Schaub into a Pro Bowler and led the Texans to the playoffs for the first time ever. He also has three additional Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach. Another sign of a great leader is knowing when to delegate. Kubiak knows his forte is offense. Thus, he hired Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator in Denver. We all know how that has worked out. This year, he has molded Trevor Siemian into a competent NFL quarterback. Maybe the greatest indicator of Kubiak’s brilliance is how awful Brock Osweiler has looked in Houston this year as well as what a disorganized mess the Broncos were without him last week in San Diego. Rant over. Gary Kubiak is brilliant.
1: Bill Belichick- As good as these other guys are, calling Bill Belichick brilliant simply does not do him justice. Prior to being a model of consistency in New England, he led the Browns to the playoffs in the early 90s. They have only been back once since he left. He was also the defensive coordinator for two Super Bowl wins with the Giants in the 80s. He has tallied double-digit wins every year since 2003. Other than Tom Brady, the players have come and gone. Yet the Patriots are never unprepared for a game or lack direction. Whether it is running the ball 45 times or throwing it 50, the Pats are able to do it successfully to win a football game. It is amazing what Belichick has done over the years with players no one else wanted. Wes Welker, Mike Vrabel, and Rob Ninkovich are just a few examples of castoffs from other organizations that Belichick turned into pro bowlers, and in many cases Super Bowl champions.
Do you agree with my rankings? It is important to realize that no coach can be successful without good players, but the reverse is also true. No coach is perfect and every single one has been fired at some point. If you are a Bengals fan calling for the head of Marvin Lewis or a Bears fan itching to get John Fox out of town, remember how hard it is to win in the NFL. There is nothing wrong with taking a few years to build something. Also, making the playoffs every year is a hell of a lot better than going 4-12 every year like the Browns. There is only one happy coach at the end of the season.