The 40 Greatest Head Coaches in NFL History Ranked by Formula

The Best Coaches To Ever Roam NFL Sidelines

Bill Belichick by Keith Allison (originally posted to Flickr as Bill Belichick) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ranking the greatest head coaches in NFL history… I’m sure we’ll all be in perfect agreement with these results.

NFL fans are known for getting pretty emotional when it comes to discussing which coaches are the very best in league history. And we can’t blame them, often times coaches can be with a franchise for decades. The bond built can be massive; it’s not uncommon for the most legendary coaches to long outlast a fan’s favorite players.

They scowl, they yell, they teach, they bear the brunt of failure, they take responsibility and they bring to life their vision of how a team should be run. Head coaches directly impact both the present and future of our favorite teams during their reign.

The image of them standing on the sidelines, animated or stoic, has a way of defining entire eras of NFL franchises. And in the NFL, head coaches need to study history and find ways to innovate for long, memorable tenures; not doing so will get them thrown out on their ass.

How can there not be bias and rampant homerism when people are discussing the greats that represented their franchise for anywhere from 10 to 40 special years? That’s where we, and our objective formula, come in.

We won’t spoil our conclusions below but we do have certain coaches, a select few, that we hold above the rest in NFL history. But we didn’t just use our opinion to get to get to that conclusion. We let the numbers, the success every NFL coach has had out on that field, come up with the ranking itself. It’s a simple formula, really.

After 100 years of NFL football, these are the greatest head coaches the game has seen. In fact, this will always be the snapshot of the all-time great coaches when the league turned 100.

On this page you’ll find the hard data about the greatest coaches in NFL history. On Page 2 you’ll find the Top 40 coaches of all-time ranked into seven exclusive tiers. You’ll also find the “Honorable Mentions” which will include some names you probably expected to be on the lists below.

There’s a certain reverence that is invoked by just scanning the top of these lists. Thinking of the championships won, the dynasties, the legendary players coached and the moments that will live on forever. Football history can be told, nearly in its entirety, by just listing the accolades of the men on these lists.

Over 80 of the most notable coaches in NFL history have had their career accomplishments run through our proprietary formula. The results are exactly what we’ve listed for you in this article. Like we’ve said before, you can argue with our methodology and formula, but you simply cannot argue with the results. The results are just hard numbers and facts, and they represent the truth of a coach’s career — not the legend or myth that often surrounds them.

As we always say, we understand your skepticism about us at PackersHistory.com writing about the NFL as a whole. But we promise objectivity and honesty; we think you’ll find that in our work.

The placement of a few names on these lists will certainly surprise you. I mean, they surprised us. But when you take a moment to gaze at these lists and then go and look at each coach’s resume, absent of emotion, it all starts to make a lot of sense.

So how did we arrive at these conclusions?

Legend for the Formula Used To Determine All-Time Rankings:

Run every Head Coach’s entire professional coaching career through the following parameters

Winning Season: 2 Points
Losing Season: -2 Points
Win 80% of Games in a Season: 3 Points
Conference Championship: 5 Points
World Championship 1920-1932: 8 Points
World Championship 1933-1965: 10 Points
Super Bowl Championship 1966-Present: 12 Points
Bonus Points:
5 Straight Winning Seasons: 2 Point
20 Seasons Between First and Last Winning Seasons: 2 Points
10 Straight Winning Seasons: 4 Points
30 Seasons Between First and Last Winning Seasons: 4 Points

This gives a raw point total for a coach’s Total Career Success.

For Success Per Season: Take the raw point total and divide by years as a Head Coach. That number gives you the coach’s Success Per Season number.

The two lists for these two different numbers are found below.

Note: Minimum of eight seasons coached in the NFL, AFL and AAFC to be eligible for Success Per Seasons Ranking. For AFL and AAFC accomplishments the points are prorated at an 80% rate. Thus, the accomplishments are still accounted for, but at a slightly lower rate than pure NFL success. For five game winning streaks, we included just the coach’s first such streak when it comes to the bonus points. Because of division realignment and division championships not going back to the NFL’s earliest days, we left them out of the equation. Going by winning seasons is cleaner and truer to NFL history as a whole. Rare “co-coaching” seasons were counted as zero point .500 seasons, regardless of record.

All of the coaches on this list coached primarily in the NFL, but we do note when coaches spent time in the AAFC and AFL.

What this formula gives us is two distinct lists. So take the following two lists for exactly what they are. They both represent coaching greatness in two definable ways: total success and success per-year. Longevity matters, yes, but so does greatness year-in and year-out. A coach’s peak is important to their legacy, but so is sustaining that success. We think we’ve found a happy medium in that regard when analyzing these all-time greats.

Like we said, we’ve made sense of the following two lists in our “Tier System” on Page 2, which definitively rank NFL coaches all-time. You can find those tiers after these two all-time coach rankings.

The 40 Greatest Head Coaches in NFL History in Total Success:

Included is each coach’s most dominant decade; active coaches italicized

39. Sid Gillman: 36 Points (1960s, AFL)
39. Blanton Collier: 36 Points (1960s)
39. Dan Reeves: 36 Points (1980s)
37. Sean Payton: 37 Points (active, 2010s)
37. Mike McCarthy: 37 Points (active, 2010s)
35. John Harbaugh: 38 Points (active, 2010s)

35. Geroge Allen: 38 Points (1970s)
34. Buck Shaw: 39 Points (1950s, AAFC)
33. Tom Flores: 39 Points (1980s)
32. Jimmy Conzelman: 40 Points (1940s)
29. Tom Coughlin: 41 Points (2000s)

29. Pete Carroll: 41 Points (active, 2010s)
29. Marty Schottenheimer: 41 Points (1990s)
27. Weeb Ewbank: 43 Points (1950s)
27. Buddy Parker: 43 Points (1950s)
26. Jimmy Johnson: 45 Points (1990s)

25. Bill Cowher: 46 Points (2000s)
24. Mike Tomlin: 47 Points (active, 2010s)
23. Tony Dungy: 49 Points (2000s)
22. Mike Shanahan: 51 Points (1990s)
21. Bud Grant: 53 Points (1970s)

19. Guy Chamberlin: 54 Points (1920s)
19. Greasy Neale: 54 Points (1950s)
18. Andy Reid: 55 Points (active, 2010s)
16. Hank Stram: 56 Points (1960s, AFL)
16. John Madden: 56 Points (1970s)

14. George Seifert: 60 Points (1990s)
14. Mike Holmgren: 60 Points (1990s)
13. Bill Parcels: 61 Points (1990s)
12. Ray Flaherty: 64 Points (1940s)
11. Bill Walsh: 72 Points (1980s)

10. Joe Gibbs: 85 Points (1980s)
9. Tom Landry: 90 Points (1970s)
8. Chuck Noll: 92 Points (1970s)
7. Steve Owen: 106 Points (1930s)
6. Vince Lombardi: 114 Points (1960s)

5. Don Shula: 141 Points (1970s)
4. Curly Lambeau: 149 Points (1930s)
3. Paul Brown: 172 Points (1950s)
2. Bill Belichick: 176 Points (active, 2010s)
1. George Halas: 207 Points (1940s)

No coaches have ever amassed more total success from an NFL sideline than these men.

And yes, there’s technically 41 coaches listed here.

George “Papa Bear” Halas’ point total will likely never be surpassed, but Bill Belichick is coming. Just seven coaches have topped the 100 point mark, it’s the elite cut-off for total success. That said, 70+ is truly where they elite coaches reside. Any coach with a legitimate “GOAT” claim has at least 70 points.

As previously stated, Belichick is obviously looking to climb even higher on this list in the coming years. He has a chance to finish ranked No. 1 all-time in total success, or points. If he gets there, he’ll sure as hell have earned it. He’s one of three active NFL coaches in the Top 25 all-time in terms of total success and one of seven in the Top 50.

The Green Bay Packers are the only franchise with two head coaches in the Top 10 all-time (top six at that) in Total Success.

The distribution of decades dominated by different coaches is one of the most fascinating parts of this list. This all-time list truly does represent ever era of NFL football (while accounting for AAFC and AFL coaching success).

Now lets look at the coaches that packed the most success into every single season.

Note: Minimum of 10 years coaching in the NFL, AFL or AAFC (with at least eight in the NFL) and minimum of 28 Career Points to be listed below

The 40 Greatest Head Coaches in NFL History in Success Per Season:

Included is each coach’s most dominant decade; active coaches italicized

40. Dan Reeves: 1.56 (1980s)
39. Tom Coughlin: 1.85 Points (2000s)
38. Dick Vermeil: 1.86 Points (1990s)
37. Marv Levy: 1.88 Points (1990s)
36. Marty Schottenheimer: 1.95 Points (1990s)

35. Sid Gillman: 2.0 Points (1960s, AFL)
34. Weeb Ewbank: 2.15 Points (1950s)
33. Mike Shanahan: 2.55 Points (1990s)
32. Andy Reid: 2.61 Points (active, 2010s)
31. Jimmy Conzelman: 2.66 Points (1940s)

29. Sean Payton: 2.84 Points (active, 2010s)
29. Mike McCarthy: 2.84 Points (active, 2010s)
28. Pete Carroll: 2.92 Points (active, 2010s)
27. Bud Grant: 2.94 Points (1970s)
26. Bill Cowher: 3.06 Points (2000s)

25. Buddy Parker: 3.07 Points (1950s)
23. John Harbaugh: 3.16 Points (active, 2010s)
23. George Allen: 3.16 Points (1970s)
21. Buck Shaw: 3.25 Points (1950s, AAFC)
21. Tom Flores: 3.25 Points (1980s)

20. Mike Tomlin: 3.61 Points (active, 2010s)
19. Tom Landry: 3.10 Points (1970s)
18. Bill Parcels: 3.2 Points (1990s)
17. Hank Stram: 3.28 Points (1960s, AFL)
16. Mike Holmgren: 3.52 Points (1990s)

14. Tony Dungy: 3.76 Points (2000s)
14. Chuck Noll: 4.0 Points (1970s)
13. Don Shula: 4.27 Points (1970s)
12. Steve Owen: 4.41 Points (1930s)
11. Curly Lambeau: 4.51 Points (1930s)

10. Jimmy Johnson: 5.0 Points (1990s)
9. George Halas: 5.17 Points (1940s)
8. Joe Gibbs: 5.31 Points (1980s)
7. Greasy Neale: 5.4 Points (1950s)
6. George Seifert: 5.45 Points (1990s)

5. John Madden: 5.6 Points (1970s)
4. Paul Brown: 6.88 Points (1950s)
3. Bill Belichick: 7.04 Points (active, 2010s)
2. Bill Walsh: 7.2 Points (1980s)
1. Vince Lombardi: 11.4 Points (1960s)

These are the most successful coaches in a game-in, game-out basis in NFL history.

Vince Lombardi’s points per year mark will likely never be topped. A credit to Lombardi is you won’t find one other NFL coach with a 1960s designation on this list; Hank Stram coached in the AFL in the 1960s. Lombardi didn’t allow any other coach to dominate his decade.

Bill Belichick is going to try and surpass Walsh, but he’ll also have to be careful to not fall beneath Paul Brown by the time his career is over. It’s possible he drops a spot; what he does without Tom Brady will dictate his final standing. Either way, he’s still standing with the best of the best.

The San Fransisco 49ers join the Packers as the only two franchises with two coaches in the top 10 all-time in Success Per Season.

As you can see, sustaining a 4.0 points per year average is the elite cut-off all-time. Only 13 coaches have ever done this. A 5.0 career average is, obviously, even more elite.

For the sake of being more specific to what these numbers represent, here’s all head coaches with 70+ Career Points (the elite cut-off we mentioned) ranked in order of Success Per Season:

11. Tom Landry: 3.10 Points (1970s)
10. Chuck Noll: 4.0 Points (1970s)
9. Don Shula: 4.27 Points (1970s)
8. Steve Owen: 4.41 Points (1930s)
7. Curly Lambeau: 4.51 Points (1930s)
6. George Halas: 5.17 Points (1940s)
5. Joe Gibbs: 5.31 Points (1980s)
4. Paul Brown: 6.88 Points (1950s)
3. Bill Belichick: 7.04 Points (active, 2010s)
2. Bill Walsh: 7.2 Points (1980s)
1. Vince Lombardi: 11.4 Points (1960s)

Some of these icons were obviously better than others on a per-year basis.

Bill Walsh is the name that jumps out of this list. He was transcendent. But still, look at the gap between Lombardi and everyone else. It says everything that needs to be said about Lombardi’s bombastic tenure.

“But Lombardi coached less years…”

Well, had Lombardi continued his pace (which, yes, is arguably unrealistic) for 25 years, or as long as Bill Belichick has coached for example, he would have ended his career with 285 Points. Again, Belichick is currently at 176 Points. It just goes to show how much success he packed into his years as a head coach. Even if his per-year success was literally cut in half starting in his 11th season as a head coach through his 25th season (something that also seems incredibly unrealistic due to his mastery as a coach) he still would have amassed 201 Points in his first 25 years.

Let those hypothetic numbers resonate. However we don’t need hypotheticals here as we have the numbers to rely on.

So what do these two iconic lists mean?

Well, lets break down the Top 40 greatest coaches in NFL history into seven exclusive tiers shall we?

That way we can see the way these legendary names mesh in context with one another factoring in both sides of coaching greatness (total success and success per year). Coaches will be added to these tiers in the coming years, too, as NFL is ever-unfolding.

What’s found next is one of the most exciting formulaic-based lists we’ve ever compiled. There’s a hell of a lot of other interesting information, too.

Alright, onto the most legendary names in NFL coaching history divided into seven tiers on the Next Page!

About PackersHistory.com 26 Articles
We seek to bring more context to, and share interesting stores about, the history of the Green Bay Packers and the NFL as a whole. Clickbait be damned. "We" are Daniel and David Zillmer; hit the about or contact to learn more.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply