The NFL’s Greatest Head Coaches Could Turn Dust Into Diamonds

Football | 5/4/20

For over 100 years, the NFL has provided fans with high octane action, hard hits, and dramatic finishes that have kept hearts pumping. While the television cameras focus on the players, it’s the head coaches on the sidelines who make the tough decisions – Legends like Bill Belichick, who has been in charge of the New England Patriots since 2000 and has appeared in nine Super Bowls (and counting). These are the greatest NFL head coaches to ever wear a headset!

Vince Lombardi Set The Standard

There’s a reason the team that wins the Super Bowl is awarded the Lombardi Trophy. The trophy was named in honor of Green Bay Packers’ legendary head coach Vince Lombardi in 1970 after he passed away from a battle with cancer.

vince lombardi head coach
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Vince Lombardi was the head coach of the Packers for nine seasons. During that time, he won five NFL Championships, including the first two Super Bowls. In 1971 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bill Walsh Brought Glory To San Francisco

The San Francisco 49ers franchise was in the dumps when it hired Stanford head coach Bill Walsh to run the show. Walsh’s first season was a disaster that saw the team go 2-14. That offseason, he drafted Joe Montana, setting in motion the start of one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.

bill walsh 49ers
Sporting News via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images

By the time Bill Walsh waved goodbye to San Francisco, he had won three Super Bowls and was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year twice.

Bill Belichick Has Won More Than Anyone Else

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the resume of long-time New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. In his 20 years in charge, he has led the team to nine Super Bowl appearances, winning six times.

bill belichick patriots
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Elsa/Getty Images

Picked by the franchise to take over for Pete Carroll in 2000, Belichick was quick to make his mark on the franchise. In the draft, he selected Tom Brady in the sixth round. In his second season, Bill turned Brady into the starting QB after Drew Bledsoe got hurt. The rest, as they say, is history.

Mike Tomlin Has Never Had A Losing Record

Following in the footsteps of Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh was an enviable task for Mike Tomlin. Especially considering he was only 34-years-old. In his first season with Pittsburgh, Tomlin went 10-6 thanks to his rookie QB – Ben Roethlisberger.

mike tomlin super bowl
Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The next season, with Tomlin in charge, the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Two years later the team returned to the Super Bowl but lost to the Packers. Under Tomlin’s watchful eye Pittsburgh has never had a losing season.

Don Shula Never Stopped Winning

Don Shula was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins for 33 seasons. Early on in his tenure with the team, he guided them to the only true undefeated season in NFL history, going 14-0 and winning the Super Bowl, something the 16-0 Patriots failed to do.

don shula nfl
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

By the time he retired, Shula was the winningest head coach in NFL history, going 328-156-6. Shula’s teams won 16 division titles and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. In May 2020, Shula passed away at 90 years old.

Tom Landry Coached “America’s Team”

For 29 seasons Tom Landry was in charge of the Dallas Cowboys. Known as “America’s Team,” Dallas appeared in five Super Bowls with Landry, winning two of them. In 1990, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

tom landry cowboys
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Today, he is the only head coach to have 20 consecutive winning seasons under his belt. Surprisingly enough, Landry was forced out of the Cowboy’s job by Jerry Jones after he bought the franchise and wanted to put his own people in place.

Chuck Knoll Won Four Super Bowls

The head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 until 1991, Chuck Knoll is one of the NFL’s most iconic figures. During his run in the Steel City, Knoll won nine division titles and four Super Bowls.

chuck knoll steelers
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Before arriving in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were title starved, last having won it all in 1933. In 1993, Knoll was given his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and in 2019 he was named the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

John Madden Did It All… Then Made A Video Game

Best known today for the video game that bears his name, the true greatness of John Madden in the NFL seems long forgotten. For ten years for 1969 until 1978, Madden was the head coach of the Raiders.

john madden raiders
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

By the time he retired, His career record was 103-32-7, and he won seven division titles and one Super Bowl. His .763 winning percent is the best all-time, earning him a spot on this list, even if he didn’t coach as long as some of the other legends.

Andy Reid Spent His Career Chasing A Championship

As far as head coaches in the history of the NFL go, few have been as consistently great as Andy Reid. As the head coach of the Eagles, he led the team to five straight NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl – a loss to the Patriots.

andy reid nfl
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

When he left the Eagles and signed on with Kansas City, he was looking to rewrite his narrative. After several years of playoff failures with the Chiefs, he finally made it back to the Super Bowl in 2020 – this time beating the San Francisco 49ers and cementing his place in NFL history.

Tony Dungy Should Have Won More Games

For 13 seasons, Tony Dungy gave his all as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts. With TB, he was on the brink of taking the team to the Super Bowl when he was inexplicably fired.

tony dungy colts
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Colts didn’t hesitate to pick up Dungy, and this time he was allowed to finish what he started. In 2007, with Peyton Manning as his QB, Dungy steamrolled through the AFC and took down the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. A few seasons later he retired and settled into a new life as a TV sports analyst.

Paul Brown Won Everywhere He Went

Paul Brown coached professionally for 25 seasons in the AAFC and the NFL (before the AFL-NFL merger). He went 213-104-9 as a coach and won seven championships across the two leagues. He also won 14 division titles and appeared in 10 consecutive title games.

paul brown browns
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Did we mention Brown also helped jumpstart two different franchises? In 1946 he was named the head coach of the first-year Cleveland Browns. In 1968, he moved to Cincinnati, where he becomes the franchise’s first coach.

Bill Parcells Was A Fixer

Throughout his illustrious coaching career, Bill Parcells was known as a ‘fixer’. When teams needed to turn their fortunes around, they turned the “Big Tuna” and handed him the keys. His first fix came with the New York Giants in the ’80s. Under his tutelage, the team went from a laughing stock to two-time Super Bowl champions.

bill parcells patriots
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Next came the New England Patriots. The team was coming off of three wins in two seasons when it coaxed Parcells out of retirement. He brought in Drew Bledsoe and led the team to one Super Bowl (a loss) before turning things over to Bill Belichick. Later in his career, Parcells pulled the same magic trick with the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys.

Joe Gibbs Always Adapted

During the ‘8Os, Joe Gibbs found himself as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. He took charge of the team through two work shortages and a league adapting to a more explosive style of offense.

joe gibbs washington
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Gibbs didn’t struggle though, he prevailed. He said goodbye to the fullback and opted to have formations with multiple half-backs instead. Later he evolved that formation to include three wide receivers. And along the way to revolutionizing the game, he won three Super Bowls.

Mike Shanahan Secured John Elway’s Legacy

Without Mike Shanahan becoming the head coach of the Broncos in 1995, who knows if John Elway would have made the Hall of Fame. Elway’s talent was undeniable, but before winning two Super Bowls with Mike, John was known as a big game choker.

mike shanahan broncos
Sporting News via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images

After Elway retired, Shanahan continues his winning ways, even reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2005 with Jake Plummer under center. In 2010, Shanahan took over the Washington Redskins, appeared in one playoff series, and clashed constantly with ownership.

George Halas Was The Original Winner

In the 1920s, George Halas did it all. He formed the American Professional Football Association and was the head coach of the Decatur Staleys. The APFA eventually became the NFL and the Staleys became the Chicago Bears.

george halas bears
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

With the league still in its beginnings, Halas helped dictate certain ideas that are still true today – including the QB being the most important player on the field. And throughout all the years of innovation and league evolution, Halas’ teams won. A lot.

Mike Holmgren Made Green Bay A Powerhouse

Mike Holmgren became the head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1992 and never had a losing season. For seven years he led the charge with Brett Favre under center. In 1996 and 1997, the team went to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning once.

mike holmgren packers
Sporting News via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images

In 1999, Holmgren found a new home as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. While it took him a few seasons to take flight in the Pacific Northwest, once he got the wind under his wings, and Matt Hasselbeck under center, he soared.

Bud Grant’s Heart Was As Cold As The Winter In Minnesota

If Bud Grant were a head coach in the NFL today, he would be fined constantly by the league. The man was relentless on the field and prepared his teams to play in Minnesota in the winter without remorse.

bud grant vikings
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Of course, when you lead a team to four Super Bowls, the reward is worth the pain. Grant reportedly refused to let his players wear thermal under clothing or gloves to keep warm, and outlawed heated benches on the sideline. He also held outdoor practices on the coldest days.

Marv Levy Lives In Buffalo Infamy

The greatness of Marv Levy as a head coach in the NFL cannot be denied. He took over the Buffalo Bills in 1986 and created a New York powerhouse with Jim Kelley under center. He eschewed logic and created a pass-heavy attack during a run based era.

marv levy bills
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George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Under his guidance, the Bills appeared in four Super Bowls, all in a row, and lost every single one. For this reason, and this reason alone, Levy gets left off of lists like this far too often.

Dick Vermeil Gave Us “The Greatest Show On Turf”

Dick Vermeil was known throughout his head coaching career as a workaholic. He would run around his practices making sure every aspect of his game plan was ready to be executed on Sunday.

dick vermeil
Stephen Dunn /Allsport
Stephen Dunn /Allsport

He may have seemed crazy, but he was also brilliant at his job. He re-invented the Eagles in the ’70s before retiring with “burnout.” Once he recovered, he became the head coach of the St. Louis Rams and introduced the world to “The Greatest Show on Turf,” led by Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt, just to name a few.

Pete Carroll Brought Calm To Seattle

Pete Carroll was hired by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, but if you ask us it feels like he’s been there a lot longer. More than just create a winning culture in the Pacific Northwest, Carroll brought a brand new culture to the NFL never seen before.

pete carroll seahawks
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

He also drafted Russell Wilson, won a Super Bowl, and has only missed the playoffs twice in 10 seasons. Before joining the Seahawks, Carroll was the head coach in New England and at the college level with USC.

Hank Stram Used Two Tight Ends

An innovator as the head man for the Chiefs, Dallas Texans, and Saints, Hank Stram helped changed the game of football. He was the first coach to use two tight end sets while having the pocket move to better protect the QB.

Kansas City Chiefs
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

When he called it quits, Stram was a Super Bowl winner with a 131-97-10 record.

George Allen Was A Regular Season Winner

George Allen loved winning football games. His 116-47-5 record in the regular season is proof enough of that. The postseason proved much harder to crack, though, as he only won two games and never made it to the Super Bowl.

Los Angeles Rams v Washington Redskins
Nate Fine/Getty Images
Nate Fine/Getty Images

Still, he more than deserves his spot on this list. How many other coaches can say they never had a losing season?

Jimmy Johnson Saved The Cowboys

Jimmy Johnson’s head coaching career wasn’t long, but it was undeniably impactful. Hired to take over the Cowboys in the late ’80s, Johnson dismantled the team and built it back up on the shoulders of Troy Aikman and Emmit Smith.

Super Bowl XXVIII - Dallas Cowboys v Buffalo Bills
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Winning back-to-back Super Bowls in ’92 and ’93 wasn’t enough for team owner Jerry Jones, though, who fired Johnson for questionable reasons at best.

Tom Coughlin Brought Glory To New York

Tom Coughlin doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. As the head coach of the New York Giants he won two Super Bowls, beating Tom Brady Twice. He left the team with an overall record of 142-114.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

Still, it seems like his name is always missing from the “best of all time” conversation. Well, not anymore!

George Seifert Was Bill Walsh’s Successor

George Seifert was given the unenviable task of following the legendary Bill Walsh in San Francisco. Of course, it’s a much easier job to take when you inherit Joe Montana with Steve Young as his backup.

San Francisco 49ers
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Seifert won two Super Bowls in charge of the 49ers and only missed the postseason once. After leaving SF, he took over in Carolina but did not see the same success.

Bill Cowher Went Out On Top

Bill Cowher led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the playoffs in his first six seasons in charge. He is one of two head coaches in history to ever do that. He didn’t stop at six seasons, and spent the rest of his Steelers career chasing a ring.

Pittsburgh Steelers
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Cowher finally won a ring in his last year thanks to legendary RB Jerome Bettis and franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger. With that done, he handed the reins to Mike Tomlin.

Chuck Knox Nearly Won 200 Games

Chuck Knox loved to run the ball and wear down opposing defenses. His relentless attack was known as “Ground Chuck,” and it helped land him jobs in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Buffalo.

Chuck Knox Coaching
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Bettmann/Getty Images

Knox won 186 games before calling it a career. His 7-11 postseason record might not be the best, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve respect for everything he did in the regular season.

Mike Ditka Was Bad Man

Mike Ditka made his career in the NFL as a tight end. The physical position matched his personality. When he moved to coaching, he didn’t change a thing. When you played for the Chicago Bears, you didn’t question Ditka.

Chicago Bears v Washington Redskins
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Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

After moving on from Chicago, Ditka signed with the Saints, where he bet the farm on Reggie Bush. He retired with a 121-95 overall record.

Don Coryell Brought Hid own Offense To The NFL

Don Coryell never won a Super Bowl, but his impact on the NFL is still enough to land him on our list. He brought vertical passing to the league before it was trending, and his offense was named “Air Coryell.”

St. Louis Cardinals
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Coryell coached with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers. He retired with 111 wins.

Tom Flores Broke Barriers

Following in the footsteps of John Madden with the Raiders, Tom Flores is one of the most underrated head coaches of his generation. He was the first Hispanic head coach in league history and won two Super Bowls.

Super Bowl XVIII - Washington Redskins v Los Angeles Raiders
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Sadly, success never translated to value, and Flores nearly missed his chance to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but being voted in in 2021.

Dan Reeves Deserved To Win It All But Never Did

Dan Reeves won 190 regular season games as the head coach of the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately, his regular season success never followed him to the postseason.

Denver Broncos
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Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Reeves pushed his teams to the Super Bowl four times, losing ever time. Of every coach on this list who never won it all, few were more deserving than Reeves.

Marty Schottenheimer Won 200 Games

Marty Schottenheimer won 200 games, but never found success in postseason. Over the course of his career, he led the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington, and the San Diego Chargers.

Marty Schottenheimer
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

If Schottenheimer had won a Super Bowl – just one – he would be in contention for the greatest coach of all time.