Ranking NFL coaches, from Belichick to Judge

By Randy McKay  () 

Few things upset me more than a coach failing to use correct strategy and his mistake costing me money. All football bettors know the feeling.

I have been betting sports since 1999. I have always graded the NFL’s coaches, but in the last 10 years or so I have been making rankings. Rookie coaches are always last on my list until I get more information. I believe all teams should have an assigned strategy coach.

This is a subjective list and, much like power ratings, can be changed. But this is how I rank the league’s 32 coaches, and I hope this list helps you like it helps me during the season when making my picks.

1. Bill Belichick, Patriots

Belichick’s teams never beat themselves, and he’s a master at exploiting opponents’ weaknesses. How could he drop from the top spot? Maybe if he has a few losing seasons without Tom Brady or shows some slippage in strategy. In his last year with the Giants, Tom Coughlin seemed senile on the sidelines and made several mistakes. I doubt that will happen with Belichick, but you never know.

2. John Harbaugh, Ravens

Harbaugh should be everyone’s No. 2. His teams are always well prepared. He almost won two Super Bowls with Joe Flacco, and he helped Lamar Jackson win MVP last year.

3. Sean Payton, Saints

Despite declining in the last few years with some bad playoff losses, Payton is an innovative offensive coach who still deserves this spot.

4. Doug Pederson, Eagles

A lot of people will question this ranking, but credit is due for his go-for-it strategy and winning it all with Nick Foles at quarterback.

5. Andy Reid, Chiefs

Reid finally won the big one — otherwise he would be Marty Schottenheimer. I can’t rank Reid higher because of some questionable strategy throughout his career. He has made adjustments to fit Patrick Mahomes, and this ranking could improve if the Chiefs continue to win big.

6. Pete Carroll, Seahawks

The Seahawks run the ball well and play great defense. Carroll would rank higher if his teams hadn’t choked in a couple of championship games — USC-Texas and Seahawks-Patriots.

7. Sean McVay, Rams

The boy wonder has a great offensive mind. The Rams seem to be declining, but McVay is definitely a top-10 coach.

8. Kyle Shanahan, 49ers

McVay ranks slightly better than Shanahan, another promising young coach. But Shanahan’s teams have blown two Super Bowls, including his offensive coordinator stint in Atlanta, and his clock-management mistakes keep him from ranking higher.

9. Mike Tomlin, Steelers

Tomlin might have done his best job last year, when the Steelers were 8-5 with backup quarterbacks and had a shot at the playoffs. He does make strategy mistakes, but he’s a strong motivator and his teams are low on penalty yards.

10. Mike Zimmer, Vikings

A no-nonsense coach, Zimmer is a Bill Parcells disciple, and he likes to win the same way. He has shown improvement with strategy during his tenure.

11. Sean McDermott, Bills

His future looks bright. Will the Bills be able to take over the AFC East? I like his strong sideline demeanor so far.

12. Bruce Arians, Buccaneers

This year will decide if Arians is a top-10 coach. I do like his aggressive approach, but at times that can lead to his teams losing leads.

13. Mike Vrabel, Titans

The future also looks bright for this former Patriots linebacker. He is a firm leader who reads his team well, as he did last year by switching to quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

14. Frank Reich, Colts

Reich, a former quarterback, is a very good offensive coach. Others might have him higher, but questionable moves, such as not taking a tie against Houston two years ago, land him here for me.

15. Mike McCarthy, Cowboys

He rode the coattails of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to only one Super Bowl win. Too many game-management mistakes — the 2014 NFC title game vs. Seattle, for example. If he  embraces analytics, he could move up with a talented roster in Dallas.

16. Jon Gruden, Raiders

A motivator and a players’ coach, Gruden did not do much in his first two years back in Oakland. He does have experience, but we need to see more wins and improvement from QB Derek Carr.

17. Ron Rivera, Washington

I like his gambling approach as “Riverboat Ron.” Can his success in Carolina help the dysfunctional Washington franchise? He could move higher.

18. Bill O’Brien, Texans

He’s the toughest coach to rank. You never know what you get with O’Brien. Some weeks he’s aggressive, some weeks not. But he has had success getting to the playoffs.

19. Matt Nagy, Bears

He is supposed to be a sharp offensive mind, but defense has bailed him out in his first two years in Chicago. He’s another Andy Reid disciple. Nagy could go up or down.

20. Adam Gase, Jets

Believe it or not, Gase was up to a top-10 coach for me when he was at Miami. He has had trouble with players and some shaky strategy errors to fall back to No. 20.

21. Matt LaFleur, Packers

He had an impressive first year, but will his teams be able to keep winning the close games?

22. Dan Quinn, Falcons

I’m surprised he still has a job. Epic strategic fails in the regular season and Super Bowl.

23. Doug Marrone, Jaguars

Another guy who needs to have an overachieving year to stay. He did lead the Jaguars to an AFC title game, so that counts for something.

24. Matt Patricia, Lions

His three seasons in Detroit have been a failure. Patricia gets a pass for losing Matthew Stafford early last year, but if he doesn’t improve, he will be gone.

25. Anthony Lynn, Chargers

Does anyone feel confident in him when they bet on the Chargers? Way too many head-shaking mistakes and close losses with talented teams.

26. Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals

He had a good first season when many doubters, including me, thought he didn’t belong in the NFL. He’s unorthodox, much like mentor Mike Leach, and time will tell if Kingsbury and the Cards move up. 

27. Vic Fangio, Broncos

A few strategy errors got him off to a slow start with the Broncos. He will have a chance to move up if the team improves.

28. Brian Flores, Dolphins

His team looked historically bad at the beginning of last season. Flores, a former Belichick assistant, gets credit from me for developing the Dolphins. He could move up.

29. Zac Taylor, Bengals

The Bengals were a strong ATS team late last year after he looked lost at the beginning of the season. The true test comes now with No. 1 pick Joe Burrow.

30. Matt Rhule, Panthers

I believe he is the best of the new coaches. Rhule has worked his way up from college, and his approach could work in the NFL.

31. Kevin Stefanski, Browns

He learned under Norv Turner and Gary Kubiak. He could have a decent debut year with Baker Mayfield.

32. Joe Judge, Giants

Judge spent eight years as a Patriots assistant after working for Nick Saban at Alabama. Is he ready for this job?


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