32. Mike Mularkey
Talk about an uninspired coaching hire. Mularkey was the Buffalo Bills head coach for two seasons, compiling a 14-18 record before he resigned from the team. Then he coached the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 2-14 record and got himself fired immediately. He served as the Tennessee Titans’ interim head coach after they fired Ken Whisenhunt last season and won just two of his nine games. I’m not sure why he was retained by new general manager Jon Robinson, but it doesn’t matter because he’s got the last spot on this list regardless.
31. Dirk Koetter
Dirk Koetter had three successful seasons coordinating an offense featuring Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White, and then helped Jameis Winston make the transition to the NFL. Now, he’s the Buccaneers’ head coach after they fired Lovie Smith in a head-scratching move. Koetter has no head coaching experience at the NFL level but had two stints in college: a successful three-year run with Boise State and a mediocre six-year tenure with Arizona State. Can he be a head coach in the NFL? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t set my expectations too high.
30. Ben McAdoo
After spending eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Ben McAdoo was brought in to revive Eli Manning and the New York Giants offense. He didn’t necessarily do that, but he had good enough results to make the Giants front office like him. Now, he gets to take over an aging team that just spent over $200 million on their defense in free agency. This can’t possibly go wrong.
29. Doug Pederson
Doug Pederson is an Andy Reid disciple; he spent the last eight seasons working under Reid in either Philadelphia or Kansas City. That has to bode well for Philly, and he saw success in Kansas City, but remember he was also the offensive coordinator for the team that went a season and a half without throwing a touchdown to a receiver. Philadelphia’s receivers aren’t too impressive already, and the defense is still the same mess it’s been since Jim Johnson passed away (may he rest in peace).
28. Adam Gase
This is the last of the first-time NFL head coaches, and he might be the best one. Adam Gase was a trendy head coaching candidate for a few years after calling plays for Peyton Manning’s career resurgence in Denver. Of course, there’s questions as to how hard it actually is to coach an offense when Peyton Manning is your quarterback. But in 2015, Gase laid those questions to rest by going to Chicago and “fixing” Jay Cutler while also helping rookie RB Jeremy Langford emerge. Can he fix the Miami Dolphins though? Gosh, that’s like a whole team full of Jay Cutlers, and they’re all being stomped on by Ndamukong Suh.
27. Jim Caldwell
Speaking of Suh, his former team isn’t doing so hot either. Jim Caldwell’s first year in Detroit was good, going 11-5 and making the playoffs. But the 2015 Lions started 1-7, fired half of their coaching staff and front office, and managed to recover to a 7-9 record. The Lions’ talent was much more capable than that, though, and the retirement of Calvin Johnson will only further expose Caldwell’s deficiencies as a coach. Didn’t the 2011 Indianapolis Colts teach us anything?
26. Mike McCoy
Mike McCoy’s time in San Diego has gone down each season. In Year One, the Chargers went 9-7 and won a playoff game. Year Two saw another 9-7 record but a failure to reach the playoffs. The big dropoff happened in Year Three, though, going 4-12. It’s not encouraging that this team gets worse the more it becomes McCoy’s team.
25. Jay Gruden
Jay Gruden put together a division-winning playoff team in the 2015 Washington Redskins, but keep in mind that none of their nine regular season wins came against a team with an above .500 record. Admittedly, Gruden’s true talent as a coach is also obscured by the constant circus that is the Redskins franchise.
24. Jeff Fisher
Jeff Fisher’s team hasn’t won more than eight games since 2008, when Vince Young was still a thing. He’s never had a winning record, or even a .500 record, during his four seasons with the Rams. His trademark is a vaunted defense that is willing to literally kill you and an offense that moves slower than a Peyton Manning scramble. Maybe the move to Los Angeles will help Fisher realize he’s no longer coaching in the 80’s.
23. Hue Jackson
I like Hue Jackson, and I think he’s the best coach the Browns have had since, well, before the original franchise moved away. However, there’s not much to go on with Jackson. He coached the Raiders in 2011 and led them to an 8-8 record despite going through Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer, and Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. Then Reggie McKenzie came in and dumped Jackson in favor of Dennis Allen, which is as painfully funny now as it was back then. Jackson has been coaching since 1987, but most of his experience was in college. Like Gruden, he’s also hamstrung by the fact that he’s coaching the only team more dysfunctional than the Redskins.
22. Todd Bowles
Todd Bowles got a 10-win season out of the New York Jets, which is amazing. He got good production out of Ryan Fitzpatrick while the defense (featuring Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, Damon Harrison, Demario Davis, and David Harris) was naturally dominant. He’s a young coach who’s learned under Bill Parcells, Andy Reid, and Bruce Arians. He’s certainly an up-and-comer, but let’s see how well he does when he has to play Geno Smith at quarterback.
21. Jack del Rio
As with Jackson, I like Jack del Rio. His head coaching tenure in Jacksonville started off with plenty of positives, including two playoff runs ultimately killed by the Patriots each time. Del Rio’s only mistake was ditching Pro Bowl quarterback David Garrard for Blaine Gabbert. In Oakland, though, he’s got something special with the trio of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Latavius Murray, and he’s always been a good defensive coach.
20. Dan Quinn
Dan Quinn’s Legion of Boom defense helped win the Seattle Seahawks their first Super Bowl win in franchise history by thoroughly dismantling the great Peyton Manning. Throughout his career, he’s served under both Pete Carroll and Nick Saban, as well as a brief stint in San Francisco when Bill Walsh was a special consultant. His first season with the Falcons saw an expectations-busting 8-8 record, so he might be on to something with this coaching thing.
19. Bill O’Brien
Bill O’Brien got good production out of Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg in college, but the quarterback whisperer couldn’t do the same with a rotating cast of Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer. Brock Osweiler is there now and the JJ Watt-led defense makes things easier for O’Brien. In a few years, he could very well be much higher on this list.
18. Rex Ryan
Let’s not forget that Rex Ryan actually is a good coach. He got the Jets to the AFC Championship game two straight seasons with Mark Sanchez throwing to Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. He helped Darrelle Revis become Darrelle Revis. He gave us journalists something to write about all the time. Offense has always been his biggest enemy, but Bills offensive coordinator/genius Greg Roman gives him no such excuse. An 8-8 first year in Buffalo has him on the hot seat in 2016. He’ll have to prove that he’s still a good coach in order to keep his job.
17. Chip Kelly
I want to be very clear: I’m separating Chip Kelly the coach from Chip Kelly the general manager. As a coach, Kelly is pretty good. His offense was translating well to the NFL before Chip Kelly the GM went crazy and traded for a bunch of statues and turnstiles. Most importantly, he won 10 games each of his first two seasons, before he became the GM in Philly. He’s a good coach, in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the toxic environment of the 49ers will likely yield similar results to Kelly’s most recent season in Philly.
16. Gus Bradley
I see you rolling your eyes. Look, Gus Bradley created the Legion of Boom in Seattle and he’s shown actual improvement in Jacksonville. Blake Bortles and the offense is dangerously underrated right now and with the recent defensive stockpile of Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Michael Bennett, and Malik Jackson, they’re a dark horse playoff contender in 2016. I don’t think that’ll actually happen, but you can’t deny that Bradley is doing a great job at gradually building through the draft.
15. Chuck Pagano
When Chuck Pagano took over the reigning NFL-worst Colts in 2012, it was supposed to be the start of a gradual rebuild around new franchise QB Andrew Luck. Of course, the Colts went on to win 11 games each of Pagano’s first three seasons, going further in the playoffs each progressing season. Last year, injuries and poor team building by general manager Ryan Grigson led to an 8-8 record, but it is clear that Pagano has command of this team and knows how to crank out wins. If Luck can stay healthy for a whole season, the Colts will be a dangerous matchup with Pagano leading this group.
14. Marvin Lewis
The second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL, Marvin Lewis has turned the Bengals into a perennial playoff contender, having made the postseason in six of the last seven seasons. The problem? He’s never won a playoff game in any of the seven appearances he’s made. What’s the point in making the playoffs if you don’t at least win a game?
13. Mike Zimmer
Mike Zimmer has done something previously thought impossible: take a talented group of Vikings players and make something out of it. Adrian Peterson is no longer carrying the team, as QB Teddy Bridgewater continues to blossom under Norv Turner’s watchful eye and the defense only gets better each day. Zimmer managed to get his Vikings to beat out the Packers for the division crown last season, a task not for the faint of heart.
12. Jason Garrett
This ranking will get plenty of criticism but could you really do better with Jerry Jones calling all the shots? Jason Garrett has taken an unenviable situation and somehow gained a bit of autonomy. He’s had a hand in crafting the best offensive line in the NFL and was able to get Darren McFadden, of all people, to 1,000 yards rushing again. The 2014 season showed just how dominant Garrett’s team can be when they’ve got their starting quarterback and receiver both at 100%. After decades of mediocrity, Garrett has built a quiet monster in Dallas.
11. Mike McCarthy
Some might balk at the low ranking of Mike McCarthy, but I fully believe this coach to be overrated. His general lack of strong leadership, reluctance to delegate to his assistant coaches, and often questionable game management leads me to this belief. But, he’s got a 104-55-1 career record, so at least he gets results.
10. Andy Reid
And speaking of questionable game management decisions, it’s Andy Reid! The longtime Mike Holmgren understudy created a bit of a dynasty with the Philadelphia Eagles during his 13 years there, and looks to be creating another one in Kansas City. Of course, his inability to win a Super Bowl hurts his stock a bit.
9. John Fox
He oversaw the glorious Jake Delhomme days in Carolina, Peyton Manning’s aforementioned career revival in Denver, and is now trying to do something special in Chicago. John Fox is known for stingy defenses and finding ways to win football games. His rough exterior might also remind Bears fans of legend Mike Ditka. He certainly has the ability to find just as much success.
8. John Harbaugh
I don’t know whose idea it was to hire a special teams coach to replace the great Brian Billick, but that is one smart person. Since coming to Baltimore, John Harbaugh has made the playoffs six of his eight seasons, winning the Super Bowl in 2012. He’s handled the transition from veterans Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Haloti Ngata to promising youngsters like Timmy Jernigan, CJ Mosley, and Jimmy Smith. Save for a lost-to-injury 2015, Harbaugh’s Ravens have been a model of consistency.
7. Gary Kubiak
Remember what Gary Kubiak did for the Houston Texans? After a few years of team building, Kubiak’s Texans suddenly lept to the top of the AFC with the stellar play of people like Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, and Arian Foster. Eventually the magic wore off, but Kubiak has always been superb at getting the most out of his players, even if the end result looks pretty vanilla. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when he did what John Fox couldn’t and delivered a Super Bowl to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in just his first season there.
6. Mike Tomlin
It’s not easy to replace a guy like Bill Cowher, but Mike Tomlin has done just about as well as you could have hoped for. In Tomlin’s nine seasons in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have never once had a losing record, and have made the playoffs six of those times, winning the Super Bowl in 2008. A recent youth movement on defense hasn’t even stalled them, as Tomlin has gotten double-digit win totals and playoff berths the last two years.
5. Ron Rivera
Ron Rivera had some growing pains early on, but he did what truly great coaches do: he emerged from it stronger than ever before. His aggressive defense, led by Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short, pairs well with a relentless Cam Newton offense that could care less who plays receiver because they’ll score on you either way. Rivera’s team has won the division the past three consecutive seasons and went to the Super Bowl last season before ultimately losing to the Broncos. Rivera is going to have plenty of other chances at that Lombardi Trophy though.
4. Pete Carroll
As much as I hate to admit it, Pete Carroll is a good coach. A nine-year dynasty at USC (overall record of 83-19!!!) earned him a chance at NFL redemption. He took his chance and ran with it, creating a Seattle dynasty of his own. His run with the Seahawks has seen him make the playoffs five of the six seasons he’s been there and includes winning the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl. Not many coaches can boast better than that.
3. Sean Payton
Sean Payton took the New Orleans Saints, perennial doormats, and turned them into perennial contenders, even winning the Super Bowl in 2009 against Peyton Manning’s Colts. That alone has cemented Payton’s legacy. The past two seasons have seen consecutive 7-9 records as they embrace roster turnover, but Payton is still hands-down one of the best coaching minds right now.
2. Bill Belichick
What?! Bill Belichick isn’t first?! Look, Belichick is great and I won’t deny that. The guy is single-handedly responsible for the Patriots’ dynasty. He’s won four Super Bowls and hasn’t had a losing season since 2000. He’ll undoubtedly go down in history as one of the best head coaches ever. His number two spot on this list is less about him and more about who’s number one. Without further ado…
1. Bruce Arians
Bruce Arians is already the best head coach in Cardinals’ franchise history. He’s quite possibly the smartest coach in the NFL too. With 41 years of coaching experience, Arians has been there for the development of three great quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck. He’s been an assistant coach for two different Super Bowl-winning teams throughout his career. And who could forget the way he stepped in for Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis during Pagano’s battle with leukemia and led the Colts to the playoffs, going 9-3 as interim head coach. His tenure in Arizona has seen similar success, never winning less than 10 games so far. He’s revived the careers of players like John Abraham, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Dwight Freeney, and Red Bryant, and has 12-year pro Larry Fitzgerald playing at an all-time high. A Super Bowl win as a head coach is the only box left unchecked on Arians’ resume, and the 2016 season could very well be the year that box gets checked. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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