Earlier this year I began working on a coaching rubric to establish some factors I could quantify when it came to evaluating coaches. I never completed it, but I still have my original work as an offseason project. In the meantime, I’ve decided to rank the coaches on a more subjective basis, which I then plan to follow with a comparison to my rubric to see how the two compare. I’ll also include thoughts on specific coaches, and
The firing season has already started, but I’m still ranking the coaches from 2013. In a separate post, I’ll discuss coaching vacancies (and hires, if they’ve been filled) and some selected thoughts on those.
I’ve broken up the coaches into tiers. If you don’t like the way coaches are ranked inside a tier, keep in mind that I did so because I don’t think distinguishing between tiers is realistic. (Even the difference between some of the tiers is murky.) The list follows:
TIER 1: THE BEST OF THE BEST
This tier is for the coaches who have a clear and noticeable impact on preparing their teams, both generally and for big games, as well as a track record of making sound in-game decisions, especially in important moments.
1. Sean Payton
I think arguments could be made for any of these guys. I won’t deny that my selection here is in part hometown bias. It’s partly age-based, though– Payton is only 49, whereas Belichick is 61. Anyway, Payton’s value is pretty clearly illustrated in the difference in performance between the 2012 Saints and the 2013 (as well as 2009-11) Saints.
2. Bill Belichick
Can’t argue with his track record, and the way he kept the team winning through its wave of injuries shows he’s still got it.
3. Chip Kelly
We don’t have the track record yet to evaluate Chip Kelly fully. However, he’s one of football’s true present-day innovators, and it’s showing in the results he’s gotten with Philadelphia’s offense. He’s just too forward-thinking to not rank highly after the season he had.
TIER 2: VERY GOOD
4. Pete Carroll
5. Marc Trestman
6. Bruce Arians
The major reason I listed Trestman over Arians is that I can more easily see and evaluate that Trestman’s decision-making is positive. I don’t know exactly what Arians does well, and I didn’t watch much of Arizona this year. His results are undeniable, though: Two years in a row, he’s taken over a team coming off a bad season with low expectations, and taken them to double-digit wins.
7. Ron Rivera
Going from Scared Ron to Riverboat Ron lifted him at least 15 places on the list. Once you’ve got a team playing well consistently and being in position to win games, those in-game decisions become extremely important.
8. John Harbaugh
TIER 3: STRONG POSITIVES
9. Rex Ryan
Pretty consistently gets more with less, although at some point you begin to wonder if he’s not a reason the team has “less” in the way of offensive talent on the roster. I’d have to see him coach a team that was good on both sides of the ball to elevate him in these rankings.
10. Jim Harbaugh
He’s more conservative in-game than I’d like, and he might have a streak of crazy in him. Hell of a good coach otherwise, though.
11. Andy Reid
12. Marvin Lewis
Both of these two guys have been consistently good week-to-week: Reid always has his teams playing at a high level, and Lewis has become a consistent winner with a gift for developing talent. Their weak in-game decisions on important matters (Lewis most famously with challenges, Reid with his fourth-down passivity and proclivity to go off the reservation by passing unnecessarily) keep them from being higher on the list.
TIER 4: ENCOURAGING FIRST YEARS
13. Mike McCoy
14. Gus Bradley
15. Doug Marrone
16. Rob Chudzinski
McCoy rejuvenated Philip Rivers and got the Chargers back into the playoffs. Bradley won four games with a one-win team. Marrone got the defense playing well enough that the team can be a contender if he successfully develops EJ Manuel. And Chudzinski was smartly aggressive in-game.
I don’t understand why the Browns fired Chudzinski. The players seem to like him, despite the front office leaks implying otherwise. Josh McDaniels might be a great offensive mind, but, like Bill Belichick himself, he’ll have to have learned a hell of a lot from his last stint as a head coach to succeed here.
TIER 5: NEUTRAL
17. Mike Smith
The complete collapse of the Falcons this year raises some real questions about Smith’s adaptability. In addition, he seems to have given up on fourth-down aggression after being ahead of the game on it early in his career. His results are too good to downgrade him much, but now there are real questions as to how much his success is a result of leaning on his top players, as opposed to anything special he does as a coach.
18. Tom Coughlin
19. John Fox
“Old-school conservative” is a bad approach to coaching when Peyton Manning is your quarterback.
20. Chuck Pagano
Seems like an inspirational guy and a good defensive coach- just look at the results he’s coaxed out of the Indianapolis talent. I’m still not sold that he does everything he can to maximize the team’s success; the offense goes way too conservative too soon with a lead (and the offense they run might not be the most effective use of Andrew Luck, another guy who’s so good that it’s hard to tell how much of Pagano’s success is just being lucky enough to have him).
21. Joe Philbin
TIER 6: OPINIONS VARY, AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY
Some people think they’re pretty good. Some don’t. I lean toward “don’t”.
22. Jeff Fisher
Probably my most controversial ranking, but I’m downgrading Fisher as a dirty coach.
23. Dennis Allen
Honestly, I have no idea how to evaluate him.
24. Mike Tomlin
Makes too many obvious mistakes to be highly regarded, and doesn’t do anything visibly special or noteworthy.
TIER 7: CANDIDATES FOR FIRING
Results or the occasional decision or player development can’t offset all the mistakes they make.
25. Mike Shanahan
He should have been fired after leaving Robert Griffin III in to limp around in the divisional playoff game. Irresponsible and inexcusable.
26. Mike Munchak
27. Jim Schwartz
Another one of those guys who mistakes after-the-whistle violence for playing hard– a Jeff Fisher disciple, naturally. Ran a totally undisciplined team that seemed like it couldn’t maintain focus for an entire game.
28. Mike McCarthy
Holy crap, is this guy ever coasting on Aaron Rodgers. I moved him even further down when he scored a TD down 8 in the 4th quarter and kicked an extra point. In the last game of the season, against Chicago, for the division championship. If I were the owner I’d fire him on the spot if that’s what it took to prevent him from doing that.
29. Leslie Frazier
TIER 8: EARNED A FIRING
Consistently gets performance lower than the team’s perceived talent level and consistently makes large in-game mistakes.
30. Jason Garrett
31. Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips
I covered the Houston situation multiple times already. Garrett has the same problems with in-game impotence and inexplicable play-calling.
32. Greg Schiano
The news stories that made him look like a petty, bullying dictator faded in the second half of the season, but he still only won four games. Displayed little to no actual leadership, with his turtling to blow the Seattle game the most blatant in-game example.