While it’s the players who tend to get the glory, it’s the best NFL coaches of all time who have been the biggest factors in deciding what teams win and what teams lose the biggest games.
Behind all of the league’s Super Bowl winners, as well as the greatest NFL defenses ever seen, there’s usually a great coach pulling the strings. Obviously, coaches do get a fair amount of credit, not to mention blame when things go wrong, but who are really the best NFL coaches of all time?
Best NFL coaches of all-time
There were quite a few factors that went into ranking the greatest NFL head coaches in league history. Winning, of course, matters a lot. But things like consistency and longevity also matter.
It’s usually the best coaches who find a way to make their teams contenders year after year. While we expect you to disagree with some of our choices, here is our ranking of the 25 best coaches in NFL history.
25. Dick Vermeil
Vermeil is perhaps the nicest coach on our list. He coached three different teams, having a nice run with the Eagles in the late 70s and early 80s without winning the Super Bowl. Vermeil could have been much higher on our list except that he took a long hiatus to go into broadcasting before returning in the late 90s and winning a Super Bowl with the Rams.
He may not have been the most consistent head coach but he had more than enough good years to be considered among the 25 best coaches in NFL history.
24. Dan Reeves
The late Reeves never won a Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have an honorable and respectable career. He coached more than 22 seasons and won 190 games, taking his team to the playoffs nine times.
Unfortunately, he’s among the group of coaches who lost four Super Bowls. But just getting to that many Super Bowls is a notable accomplishment. Plus, Reeves was a successful coach in three different decades, which not everyone on our list can say.
23. Hank Stram
During the 1960s and 70s, Stram was among the best in the business. He oversaw a golden era for the Chiefs between 1966 and 1971 and led them to a win in Super Bowl IV.
That period alone is enough to get him on our list of the 25 best coaches in NFL history.
22. Mike Shanahan
His great run with the Broncos and the two Super Bowls he won with Denver helped to make Shanahan’s career. His time as a head coach certainly didn’t get off to a great start with the Raiders.
But he made the most of his second chance with the Broncos and had just two losing seasons during his 14 campaigns in Denver. Granted, he had three losing seasons in Washington late in his career. But at the same time, there aren’t many coaches with multiple Super Bowl wins.
21. Tom Coughlin
As a coach who’s won two Super Bowls, it was impossible to leave Coughlin off our list. It’s also impossible to ignore what he did as the first coach of the Jaguars. He took an expansion team to the AFC Championship Game in its second season as a franchise.
No other coach has ever done that.
In fact, Coughlin led the Jags to the playoffs in four of the team’s first five seasons, making two trips to the AFC Championship Game. Combine that with his two remarkable Super Bowl wins with the Giants and it’s obvious that he was a special coach.
20. Mike Ditka
Ditka is a special figure in NFL history for winning a Super Bowl with the same team as both a player and a head coach. Unfortunately, three poor years with the Saints late in his career tarnished his reputation a little.
But if you consider just his 11 years with the Bears, Ditka had a great coaching career. He coached some of the best NFL defenses in league history, especially while leading the Bears to five straight division titles from 1984 to 1988. That included a 15-1 season and a Super Bowl win in 1985, making Ditka the coach of one of the greatest teams in NFL history.
19. Marv Levy
Poor Marv, he’s the only coach to lose four straight Super Bowls. Of course, there is something to be said of going to four straight Super Bowls and dominating a division the way the Bills did the AFC East during the late 80s and early part of the 90s.
For the record, he also won two Grey Cups in Canada. Of course, his time with the Chiefs works against him, but Levy is still more than worthy of inclusion on our list despite never winning a Super Bowl.
18. Tony Dungy
Dungy was one of the smartest and most cerebral NFL coaches of his generation. More importantly, he got results.
Between his time with the Buccaneers and the Colts, he coached 13 seasons, going to the playoffs in all but two of those seasons. In fact, he won 10 games in 10 of those 13 seasons and won at least 12 games in his final six seasons in Indy, including the year that the Colts were Super Bowl winners.
17. Jimmy Johnson
It’s a little hard to recognize that Johnson only spent nine seasons in the NFL. He’s so synonymous with the Cowboys because he won two Super Bowls, although he was just there for five years.
Of course, in those five years, he took at a team that was 1-15 during his first season and turned them into back-to-back Super Bowl winners. He also had a decent four years in Miami and led his teams to the playoffs six times in his nine seasons. In other words, Johnson was successful but didn’t stick around that long.
16. Joe Gibbs
In between his time spent in NASCAR, Gibbs found time to become one of the greatest NFL head coaches and the leader of three Super Bowl winners. He would surely be higher on our list but he only coached 16 seasons with more than a decade between his two stints with Washington.
OTD 40 years ago we hired Joe Gibbs, and the rest is history 🏆🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/P8vsuUdB4y
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) January 13, 2021
Nevertheless, he averaged nearly 10 wins per season and was 17-7 in the postseason. Between 1982 and 1991, there was nobody better, as Gibbs led Washington to seven division titles, four Super Bowl appearances, and three championships.
15. Mike Tomlin
Even if his career is far from over, it’s hard not to include Tomlin among the greatest NFL head coaches.
He’s already coached the Steelers for 15 seasons, averaging over 10 wins per season while never overseeing a losing season. Obviously, he’ll need a second Super Bowl win to make a serious jump up the list. However, the level of consistency he’s shown in Pittsburgh is impressive.
14. Bud Grant
Grant is one of the few coaches who turned success coaching in Canada into a career in the NFL. After winning the Grey Cup four times, he coached the Vikings for 15 seasons, taking them to the playoffs 12 times.
The catch is that he lost the Super Bowl with Minnesota four times, somewhat evening out his four Grey Cup victories. However, that shouldn’t take away from Grant’s incredible run with the Vikings in the late 60s and early 70s with the Purple People Eaters, the nickname of one of the greatest NFL defenses.
13. Bill Cowher
Cowher undoubtedly could have built an even better resume, as he walked away from coaching at a young age. However, he had great success during his 15 seasons with the Steelers, finally winning a Super Bowl in his penultimate season.
In those 15 seasons, Cowher took Pittsburgh to the playoffs 10 times, won eight division titles, and coached the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game six times, including two wins. He was also just one win shy or averaging 10 wins per season, which is no small feat.
12. Andy Reid
Twice in his career, Reid has taken a franchise that was down in the dumps and quickly turned them into a heavyweight in their respective conference. Despite not winning the big one in Philly, Reid did take the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game in four straight years and five times in his 14 seasons.
He’s had similar success with the Chiefs and even found success before the team drafted Patrick Mahomes. Despite winning just one Super Bowl, Reid has a winning record in the playoffs and has averaged over 10 wins per season during his career, putting him one or two Super Bowl wins away from being a candidate as one of the five greatest NFL coaches of all time.
11. John Madden
It’s impossible to measure the impact the late Madden had on the NFL, as a coach, commentator, and the creator of an iconic video game brand.
As a coach, he spent 10 seasons with the Raiders, winning 103 games, taking them to the playoffs eight times, and winning Super Bowl XI. While he doesn’t have the longevity to be higher on our list of the best NFL coaches of all time, Madden never had a losing season during his decade as Oakland’s head coach and clearly knew what he was doing as a coach.
10. Bill Walsh
In addition to making the West Coast offense a popular scheme throughout the league, Walsh was a pure winner.
The only thing holding him back is that he only spent 10 seasons as an NFL head coach. If he hadn’t gone back to college or become a GM, Walsh would be on the same level as some of the best NFL coaches of all time.
However, in those 10 seasons, Walsh led the 49ers to seven division titles and three Super Bowl titles. He built what most would consider a dynasty in San Francisco during the 1980s, putting together one of the best runs any NFL coach ever has.
9. Bill Parcells
Nicknamed the “Big Tuna,” Parcells has a resume that makes him one of the best NFL coaches of all time.
No other coach has taken four different franchises to the playoffs, getting three of those teams to a conference championship game and two of them to the Super Bowl. Of course, Parcells also won two Super Bowls with the Giants early in his career. For his career, he averaged over nine wins per season and had a winning postseason record, neither of which is easy.
8. Chuck Noll
Despite playing for the Browns, Noll became synonymous with the rival Steelers, coaching Pittsburgh from 1969 to 1991. While the Steelers weren’t dominant through his entire tenure, Noll is the one who oversaw Pittsburgh’s dynasty during the 1970s.
Between 1972 to 1979, Noll guided the Steelers to seven division titles, six AFC Championship Games, and four Super Bowl wins, cementing his spot among the greatest NFL coaches in league history.
7. Curly Lambeau
One of the NFL’s most iconic stadiums isn’t named after just anybody. Lambeau spent nearly three decades coaching the Packers, including a decade as a player/coach.
He brought Green Bay six championships in the Pre-Super Bowl era, including three in a row from 1929 to 1931. His coaching career petered out toward the end, but he remains tied for the most championships won by an NFL head coach, clearly making him one of the all-time greats.
6. Paul Brown
In addition to being the founder of both the Browns and Bengals, Brown spent time coaching both franchises. His impact on the NFL is felt even to this day.
He did nothing but win championships with the Browns when they were in the AAFC. After Cleveland joined the NFL in 1950, Brown led the franchise to the Eastern Conference crown eight times in his first nine years, including three NFL championships. He later had a few good years with the Bengals in the early 1970s, ultimately winning 159 games and three championships as an NFL coach.
5. Tom Landry
It’s possible to talk about the Cowboys becoming “America’s Team” without talking about Landry. He coached some of the greatest NFL defenses ever seen during his nearly three-decade tenure in Dallas.
It’s worth mentioning that the Cowboys were winless in his first season and didn’t put together a winning season until his seventh year in charge. However, Landry turned that mess into 20 straight winning seasons, during which the Cowboys went to the playoffs eight times and won two Super Bowls. More than 30 years after he coached his last game, there is still a shortlist of coaches with more wins, playoff appearances, or playoff wins than Landry.
4. George Halas
More modern football fans should really learn more about Halas because his contributions to the game are incredible. He also played briefly for the Yankees in addition to his decade playing professional football.
In total, he coached 40 seasons, including several years as a player/coach. He guided the Bears to over 300 wins and six NFL championships. He’s truly one of the most important and best NFL coaches of all time.
3. Don Shula
With all of the years he coached, it’s a shame that Shula can’t be a little closer to the top of our list. He first became a head coach in 1963 and kept going until 1995. Talk about transcending generations.
During that time, Shula piled up 328 wins and coached in six Super Bowls, winning two of them. He also has the distinct honor of taking both the Colts and Dolphins to their first-ever Super Bowl. Shula was also the mastermind behind Miami’s undefeated season in 1974. There should be no doubt that he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of NFL coaches.
2. Bill Belichick
Whether you like him or hate him based on who you root for, there’s no denying that Belichick is one of the greatest NFL head coaches we’ve ever seen. With six Super Bowl wins (and potentially more), there is a strong argument that he’s the best of all time. Be
lichick’s longevity surely gives him a strong case. However, we can’t forget that he had some poor seasons in Cleveland early in his career and didn’t get off to a good start in New England until Tom Brady came out of nowhere. Belichick will always be tied to Brady in some way, although he still deserves a lot of the credit for creating one of the NFL’s great dynasties.
1. Vince Lombardi
With all due respect to Belichick, the trophy given to Super Bowl winners isn’t the Bill Belichick Trophy, it’s the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
That’s because Lombardi is still the best coach in NFL history.
The only caveat with Lombardi’s career is that he only coached 10 seasons, nine of which came in Green Bay. However, he won three NFL championships and then the first two Super Bowls during his nine seasons with the Packers.
He never had a losing season and won nearly 74% of his games while Belichick’s career winning percentage is closer to 67%. Lombardi was also 9-1 in the postseason, and even if he only took Green Bay to the postseason on six occasions, that’s an impressive record in win-or-go-home games, which is what helps to elevate Lombardi above the greatest NFL head coaches as the best of all time.