What makes a good head coach? Is it just the coach that gets the best results? Is it about offensive or defensive scheme design? Is it being able to get the most out of every player on the roster? Is it game management? Realistically, it’s some combination of all of those things, plus more.
Those of us outside locker rooms are not privy to a lot of the things head coaches actually do as part of their job, so we have less information than is ideal when judging their performance. But there are a lot of observable results out there, and plenty of whispers about who does and doesn’t do certain things well, and why. With that in mind, we decided to include coaches on our Top 10 lists this offseason, and you’ll find the results of our ballots below.
Before we move on and get to the actual list, please note that the coaches were ranked collectively by a group involving more than 10 writers and editors. All of us ranked our top 10 coaches and our individual ballots were then fused into one list using a point system, so this is not my own personal list. Rather, it reflects the collective wisdom of the crowd here at CBSSports.com.
Here we go …
10. Mike Tomlin, Steelers
Tomlin’s career regular season record of 125–66–1 is one of the best in NFL history. That .654 winning percentage is 16th-best all–time among qualified coaches, and among active coaches, only Bill Belichick’s percentage is better. The Steelers have been a regular playoff presence during Tomlin’s career, advancing to the postseason in eight of his 12 seasons and finishing with at least a .500 record every single year. Pittsburgh has been to two Super Bowls during his tenure, winning one, though they have not been the AFC’s Super Bowl representative since 2010.
Listen to Ryan Wilson, John Breech, Sean Wagner-McGough and host Will Brinson break down our top 10 coaches list on the Pick Six Podcast.
9. Sean McDermott, Bills
The Bills are just 15-17 in two seasons under McDermott, but he earned a lot of respect around the league for coaxing a 10-6 campaign out of a subpar roster in 2017. The Bills’ offense took a step backward last year amid a massive personnel overhaul and quarterbacking done by rookie Josh Allen and injury replacements, but the defense showed significant strides, and that’s the side of the ball McDermott calls home.
8. John Harbaugh, Ravens
If McDermott is as good a coach as our panel believes, his career will likely end up looking a whole lot like Harbaugh’s. In 11 seasons with the Ravens, Harbaugh has a 104-72 record, seven playoff appearances, and a Super Bowl. The Ravens have finished .500 or better in 10 of Harbaugh’s 11 seasons, and have won at least one game in six of his seven trips to the playoffs. Baltimore’s defense is among the best in the NFL every single year, and it’ll be fascinating to see what the team’s offense looks like now that they have fully transitioned from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson under center.
7. Frank Reich, Colts
Reich may have been the second choice for the Colts, but he looks like a good one. The team took a sizable step forward in its first year under his leadership, and the schematic shifts he made offensively appear a perfect fit for Andrew Luck‘s skill set. Considering Reich’s previous track record as a coach, where he had strong offenses with the Chargers and Eagles, it’s reasonable to expect him and Luck to keep that train moving on-time for the foreseeable future. The Colts, in turn, look like they’re set up to be quite good for quite a while, with a young roster, loads of cap space, and a stockpile of picks.
6. Doug Pederson, Eagles
Reich’s former boss has quickly cemented himself as one of the game’s top coaches. Coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree, his offensive mind is among the best in the league, and we have seen the Eagles utilize creative concepts to get players open. He works extremely well to put his most important players in position to succeed, and, oh yeah, he won a Super Bowl with his backup quarterback. Philadelphia is 29-19 across Pederson’s three seasons, and provided good health for Carson Wentz, should continue as an annual playoff contender for years to come.
5. Pete Carroll, Seahawks
There are few coaches in the league who have seen as much sustained success as Carroll has during this run with the Seahawks. After a pair of 7-9 seasons to start his tenure, Seattle has posted a record of 75-36-1 since 2012, a mark topped by only the Patriots. Seattle has won four division titles, nine playoff games, two NFC championships, and a Super Bowl under Carroll, and his defensive schemes and eye for talent changed the NFL in the mid-2010s. Even during a season where so many expected the Seahawks to be rebuilding, they ended up making the playoffs with a 10-6 record. They have now turned over almost the entire roster from the start of the Russell Wilson era, and after making a bazillion trades during last year’s draft, have the ammo to build the same kind of deep, versatile roster that led to their first run through the league.
4. Sean McVay, Rams
McVay has been a head coach for just two seasons, but the Rams are 24-8 in those two seasons. They have won two NFC West titles and been to the Super Bowl. They went from having the single worst offense in the league the year before he was hired to the best, with largely the same personnel. For much of 2018, the offense appeared unstoppable. They stumbled down the stretch and looked terrible in the Super Bowl, but the talent and vision on hand lead nearly everyone to think they will come back from those setbacks just fine. There’s a reason every team in the league is looking for the Next Sean McVay when they have a head coach opening. It’s because he’s really good, and knows exactly what he’s doing.
3. Sean Payton, Saints
In the same way a best-world McDermott likely turns out like Harbaugh, the best case scenario for McVay probably looks something like Payton. One of the game’s best and most creative offensive minds takes over a team in the doldrums and in partnership with a likeminded quarterback turns it into a long-term contender. If the Rams can win a Super Bowl along the way, as the Saints did, that’s all the better. New Orleans is 118-74 in Payton’s 12 years as head coach, with seven playoff appearances and the aforementioned Lombardi Trophy. They look to be one of the league’s top contenders next season as well, and Payton is only 56, so he is not nearly done.
2. Andy Reid, Chiefs
Reid has been doing this for even longer than Payton, with even more success and even more creativity. The only thing he doesn’t have is a Super Bowl. But he’s got an incredible shot to top that mountain sometime in the next few years with reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes on his side.
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots
The GOAT. Undisputed.