It’s no coincidence that the four teams left in the NFL playoffs are also led by four of the best coaches in the game today. Each coach meshes well with his team. The Patriots are a stoic group that goes onto the field as if it’s business as usual each and every week. The 49ers are a fiery group in which each player wears his emotions on his sleeve. The remaining coaches have four distinct styles that they’ve injected into their teams, but they’ve all been greatly successful.
But who’s the best of the best? Which coach has a little bit of room to grow?
4) Jim Harbaugh
Harbaugh has been greatly successful in his head coaching career, and not just in the NFL. Harbaugh led the University of San Diego to unprecedented success, then he turned Stanford’s program back into a winning one, and most recently he’s been able to get San Francisco back on top in the NFC.
In three years of coaching at the NFL level, Harbaugh has never missed the NFC title game, and a season ago he got his team into the Super Bowl. That would seem to indicate that he could be the best in the business, but he’s getting dinged here because it appears he loses focus from time to time. Just last week he lost his mind on a touchdown pass that was initially ruled incomplete. The play happened in the final two minutes of the first half, meaning the booth was in charge of calling for a review. The play was overturned, but Harbaugh’s reaction cost his team 15 yards. Late in the game, a cheap 15-yard penalty could be the difference between winning and losing.
3) Pete Carroll
It’s easy to forget that Carroll wasn’t a complete flop in the NFL during his time with the New England Patriots back in the late 90’s. In three seasons with New England, Carroll led the Patriots to a 27-21 mark and two postseason appearances. Still, those aren’t the type of numbers that get you on any “best coaches” lists.
Carroll’s work with the Seahawks has been a completely different story. After leading Seattle to back-to-back 7-9 seasons, Carroll was gifted a young superstar quarterback in the form of Russell Wilson via the draft, and since then, the Seahawks have been one of the best teams in the league.
If there’s any way to measure a team year over year, it’s whether the players on that team continually improve, and that’s exactly what’s been happening for the past four seasons in Seattle. The Seahawks were a solid team before Russell Wilson leapt onto the scene, but with him, they became an elite team through and through. Pete Carroll and his staff has been no small part of that success.
2) John Fox
Fox has been a top NFL head coach since the early 2000’s. He spent 9 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, leading the team to three postseason berths and a Super Bowl run that ended in defeat at the hands of the Patriots. Still, he was able to stabilize a young franchise that had, until that point, experienced plenty of turnover at the top of the organization.
Since joining the Broncos, Denver has won the AFC West in each of Fox’s three seasons with the team, including his first year in which the Broncos were rolling with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Last year, Peyton Manning made the move to Denver, and there’s no doubt his presence has given the Broncos a much-needed boost, but even the best quarterbacks can’t win with no help, and that’s true of Manning.
If there’s anything that Fox has done well, it has been his ability to delegate responsibility well. With such a strong team, some coaches would be tempted to micromanage their team. That’s not the case with Fox. Of all the coaches on the list, Fox may be the least showy of the bunch, but he’s a cool-handed leader that knows exactly what his team needs at any given moment.
1) Bill Belichick
Was there every another option? If we ranked every head coach in the league, Belichick would still be on top of the list. No one else has been able to sustain the level of stability experienced in New England over the past 14 seasons.
A lot has been made of the fact that the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2004, but there’s more to consider with Belchick’s reign with the Patriots. Under Belichick, New England has made it into the postseason 11 times, all of which came via winning the AFC East, not through wildcard berths. In that time, the Patriots have been to five Super Bowls, winning three. In addition, the team has made it to the AFC title game eight times. Those are sustained numbers you can’t argue with, and for that reason, there’s really no way I couldn’t put Belichick at the top slot on this list.