Another top-10 list: Ranking NFL coaches

After watching a fourth-quarter lead slip away in the Super Bowl in February, Kyle Shanahan was rewarded like a winner in mid-June when the San Francisco 49ers made him one of the five highest-paid head coaches in the NFL.

Shanahan, 40, signed a six-year contract that puts him in lofty company.

The league’s top coaches in terms of average salary before last season were New England’s Bill Belichick ($12 million), Seattle’s Pete Carroll ($11 million), Las Vegas’ Jon Gruden ($10 million), New Orleans’ Sean Payton ($9.8 million) and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh ($9 million), according to CBS Sports. Each has won at least one Super Bowl.

Shanahan was tantalizingly close to winning it all, but he’s 0-for-2. San Francisco squandered a 20-10 lead in a 31-20 loss to Kansas City this year. As Atlanta’s offensive coordinator in 2017, Shanahan’s questionable play-calling contributed to a blown 28-3 lead in a 34-28 overtime loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

Are the 49ers paying Shanahan based on what he is now or what the franchise expects him to become in the near future? Does he rank as a top-five coach today?

“I can go five deep pretty quick without naming Kyle Shanahan,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said. “There’s no doubt he’s good.”

Andrews ranks Shanahan No. 8 in the NFL. “Point Spread Weekly” editor Steve Makinen ranks Shanahan 10th. VSiN hosts Paul Howard and Mitch Moss each rank Shanahan No. 3.

“A brilliant offensive mind,” Moss said. “Shanahan will be a winner for a long time.”

Everyone who bets on or books the NFL has opinions on coaches and quarterbacks. There is more to evaluating a coach than just records and Super Bowls.

Let the debate begin. It’s time to rank the NFL’s top 10, and here’s my list (with career records):

1. Bill Belichick, Patriots

(304-139 SU, 69%; 249-182-12 ATS, 58%)

The six-time Super Bowl winner is the unanimous No. 1 in VSiN’s five-man panel of voters, and only a buffoon would argue. The one thing he has not done is win a championship without Tom Brady as his quarterback, but he’ll get the chance in the next few years.

2. John Harbaugh, Ravens

(128-81 SU, 61%; 107-93-9 ATS, 54%)

A sharp game manager who’s a strong defensive and special-teams coach, Harbaugh knows something about offense too. He was smart enough to draft Lamar Jackson and help turn the dual-threat quarterback into last year’s MVP. Harbaugh’s teams are always physical and tough, in many ways resembling the Patriots’ style. But he has not returned to the Super Bowl since beating the 49ers and his brother, Jim, in 2012. Bet on him getting back soon.

“I have been promoting Harbaugh as the second-best coach for a long time,” Andrews said. “He does terrific things, and not always with the best talent.”

3. Andy Reid, Chiefs

(222-142-1 SU, 61%; 200-158-7 ATS, 56%)

The hole in his resume was filled in February with a Super Bowl win. Reid is an excellent coach of quarterbacks, and now that he has the best on the planet in Patrick Mahomes, how many more can they win together? Reid has covered 60% of his games as an underdog.

4. Sean Payton, Saints

(139-84 SU, 62%; 121-99-3 ATS, 55%)

A decade has passed since Payton and Drew Brees’ only Super Bowl win, but the Saints have been a tough-luck team in the playoffs and they still are knocking on the door. Payton, from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, has a creative offensive mind.

5. Pete Carroll, Seahawks

(144-99-1 SU, 59%; 122-108-14 ATS, 53%)

If not for a play-calling blunder at the 1-yard line in 2015, the Seahawks would have won back-to-back Super Bowls. Carroll, who’s 68 yet still coaches with the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader, always has good defenses and will continue to win with quarterback Russell Wilson.

“It’s tough to separate Carroll and Payton,” Andrews said. “Carroll is a much better defensive coach. I’m not sure Payton even looks at the defense, but Payton is innovative.”

6. Sean McVay, Rams

(35-17 SU, 67%; 29-22-1 ATS, 57%)

Before a 13-3 loss to the Patriots in the 2019 Super Bowl, McVay was the hottest young offensive coach in the league. Belichick’s defense cooled off his stock, and the Rams seem to be in decline with salary-cap problems. McVay, 34, is sharp and has a bright future.

“If you look at McVay, two years ago he probably would have been No. 2 or 3,” Andrews said.

7. Kyle Shanahan, 49ers

(25-26 SU, 49%; 26-25 ATS 51%)

After Jim Harbaugh’s departure, San Francisco made two disastrous hires and had to fire Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, who finished 2-14 in 2016. Shanahan’s record is deceiving because he went 10-22 in his first two years while rebuilding. His play-calling skills are obvious, as the 49ers ranked No. 4 in total offense and No. 2 in rushing offense last year. Shanahan is headed for the league’s top five, but based on Super Bowl failures, I will not rank him that high yet.

8. Mike Tomlin, Steelers

(141-81-1 SU, 64%; 110-105-8 ATS, 51%)

An authoritative leader and solid defensive coach, Tomlin held the locker room together when Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were causing problems. He has coached the Steelers since 2007, going 1-1 in Super Bowls and never posting a losing record.

“Tomlin’s people skills put him up there,” Andrews said.

9. Bruce Arians, Buccaneers

(66-44-1 SU, 60%; 57-51-3 ATS, 53%)

Arians’ loose style makes him popular with players. His positive track record with quarterbacks makes his future with Tom Brady that much more intriguing.

10. Mike Zimmer, Vikings

(59-41-1 SU, 59%; 61-38-2 ATS, 62%)

A no-nonsense coach who always fields one of the league’s top defenses.

Best of the rest: Frank Reich, Colts; Doug Pederson, Eagles; Mike McCarthy, Cowboys; Sean McDermott, Bills; Mike Vrabel, Titans; Jon Gruden, Raiders.

Chris Andrews

1. Bill Belichick

2. John Harbaugh

3. Andy Reid

4. Sean Payton

5. Pete Carroll

6. Mike Tomlin

7. Doug Pederson

8. Kyle Shanahan

9. Sean McVay

10. Bruce Arians

Paul Howard

1. Bill Belichick

No. 1 all time.

2. Sean Payton

Three straight NFC South titles with a 37-11 regular-season record since 2017.

3. Kyle Shanahan

Innovative and creative. Impressive postseason run with a big emphasis on the running game.

4. Andy Reid

Players love him, and he has hired some good offensive coordinators.

5. John Harbaugh

A players’ coach, and he always gives the Patriots fits.

6. Pete Carroll

Super Bowl loss to Patriots in 2015 still haunts him, but he’s always a tough out in the playoffs.

7. Doug Pederson

Won a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback.

8. Sean McVay

Stock is low now, but he’s a great mind.

9. Mike Zimmer

His teams are usually in playoff contention, and they don’t give away games.

10. (tie) Bruce Arians, Frank Reich

Arians won at Indianapolis and Arizona and won seven games for Tampa Bay with a quarterback who threw 30 interceptions. Reich did a good job with the Eagles and has done a great job with the Colts since losing Andrew Luck.

Steve Makinen

1. Bill Belichick

Has been as good a personnel manager as a coach. Hard to argue the No. 1 spot.

2. Andy Reid

Last year’s Super Bowl title finally delivered the ultimate credit he has deserved. His record on the road and as an underdog speaks to his ability to motivate teams in the toughest situations.

3. Pete Carroll

I’ve been so impressed with Caroll’s ability to keep the Seahawks relevant and playing the same type of system despite massive personnel losses.

4. Sean Payton

Great offensive mind, but recent playoff failures had me on the verge of sliding Payton down the list.

5. John Harbaugh

Highly underrated coach in the grand scheme of things. Harbaugh has been a huge winner for bettors and, like Reid, has thrived in the difficult spots on the road and as an underdog.

6. Mike McCarthy

I might be alone in my praise for McCarthy, but as a Packers guy, I had the chance to watch him closely for over a decade. Teams were always well prepared, and he developed stars offensively. Did well with the hand GMs dealt him year after year.

7. Mike Tomlin

Great players’ coach. Teams are always mentally and physically tough. Love the way Tomlin has allowed his offensive minds to adapt to the times.

8. Mike Zimmer

Very underrated coach except in the minds of bettors, as 61-38-2 ATS record speaks for itself. 

9. Bruce Arians

Players seem to sell out for this guy, and now with a talented team, I expect Arians to be very successful with the Bucs in 2020 and beyond.

10. Kyle Shanahan

Shanahan has shown that having the pieces in place can make all the difference. His 49ers teams have been physical and precise in execution.


Mitch Moss

1. Bill Belichick

Easiest ranking ever.

2. John Harbaugh

Always competitive, always dangerous.

3. Kyle Shanahan

Brilliant offensive mind and knows how to adapt. Will be a winner for a long time.

4. Andy Reid

Finally won the big one. I would still rank him here if the Chiefs had lost to the 49ers.

5. Sean Payton

Would rank higher, but he gets a little too cute.

6. Doug Pederson

I would love to see what he could do with an entire roster that remains healthy for a full season.

7. Sean McDermott

Great defensive mind. Buffalo would be a force with a good QB.

8. Sean McVay

This season will be a good test for him. Took the league by storm in his first two years. He deserves a ton of credit for that and making Jared Goff look good.

9. Bruce Arians

Two-time coach of the year. He won with Carson Palmer in Arizona. What’s Tampa Bay’s record last year with a QB who doesn’t turn the ball over 35 times?

10. Pete Carroll

He would be a top-five coach if he had simply pulled his OC to the side and explained: “We have Russell Wilson. Stop running the football!”

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